A pivotal role: How parents can leverage the advantages of raising an only child


Parents need to play their role to inculcate resilience and responsibilities in their only child. — 123rf.com

PARENTS must leverage on the advantages of having one child and raise them to be responsible and resilient, even if they have all the resources – financial, physical and emotional – to give into their needs and wants.

While it’s not unusual to see parents giving in to their only child’s demands (after all, there is no other kid to pamper), there are parents who find themselves at the other end of the spectrum – they are autocratic: Because they only have one child, they expect him or her to listen to them.

Senior marriage and family counsellor Dr Nordinah Mohd Kasim says parents should encourage and help their child fulfil his or her potential, whether it’s academic, music, arts, sports or other pursuits that the child likes.

“Academic achievement is still very much seen as the yardstick of a successful child, and therefore, successful parenting, but I think parents should look deeper and understand their child’s interests instead. They should then use those resources to support the child to achieve his or her full potential,” she adds.

“Parents also need to distinguish between what they want and what their child wants. In my work, I still see autocratic parents who don’t allow their child to make choices, like what field to study in university, for example.”

Nordinah says parents of only child might be autocratic because they only have one child whom they expect to listen to them. — NORDINAH MOHD KASIMNordinah says parents of only child might be autocratic because they only have one child whom they expect to listen to them. — NORDINAH MOHD KASIM

Keep communication open

Nordinah, who is attached to the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Counselling and Career Services Centre, says open communication between parents and the child is a must. And if parents do this, they will build a strong connection with their child and help improve their offspring’s mental health and overall well-being.

Her opinion echoes a recent study conducted by the researchers at Ohio State University in the United States, who studied the impact of having siblings on teenagers’ mental health.

Published in the Journal of Family Issues, the research, which was carried out on young teenagers in China and in the US, found that only children have the best mental health in China. The same is true for children in the US, although they are less represented in the study.

Lead author Doug Downey, who is also a professor of sociology at Ohio State suggests that this could be due to the complete attention given to the only child.

“If we think of parental resources like a pie, one child means he or she gets all the pie – all the attention and resources of the parents. But when you add more siblings, each child gets fewer resources and attention from the parents, and that may have an impact on their mental health,” Downey suggests.

Another possibility, Downey says, is that the families that have many and few children are different in other ways that may reduce mental health for kids. “In each country, children from families associated with the most socioeconomic advantage had the best mental health.”

Different phases

Nordinah says different phases of childhood requires different communication appproaches.

“When children are young, parents should teach them, then guide them; and when children become teenagers, they should listen to their children, without compromising their parental autonomy,” she adds.

“Many parents confuse listening to kids with being permissive parents. You can be a good listener and still have boundaries. Listen before you give your parental judgement; and despite what you were told growing up, parents are not always right,” she says.

Parents of only children, she adds, typically would want to give everything for their offspring, but she cautions that this excessiveness is detrimental to the child’s well-being.

“Parents need to play their role to balance the child out; he or she might be the only one at home but in a society, he or she has to be part of a group.”

Nordinah, whose youngest client is 10 years old, says parents also need to realise that if they don’t know how to resolve certain issues in the family in relation to their child, they can seek out a counsellor for talk therapy and behaviour modification.

“I have seen only children who are well-adjusted and are able to excel, so personally, whether one has or doesn’t have siblings doesn’t really matter in shaping one’s personality,” she adds.

“What is more important is how the person communicates, connects and responds to surroundings and for these, parents need to play their part to inculcate resilience and responsibilities in their only child,” she concludes.

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