Only Child and social skills

Only Child, age 7. at Holy Cross School

There’s research  that says only children don’t have problems developing social skills because they get enough interaction with their peers. The backstory of this study is that with families now getting smaller and going down to one child, maybe junior will be socially challenged. Or will he or she?

My son and I, both only children, went to opposite ends of the poles as children. Martin had no trouble making friends and interacting with them from a young age. When he was in his teens our place was teen central, but part of that was because he played in a rock band and they practised in my basement. At least I knew where he was. I think the key here was getting him involved in activities with other children when he was young. He took swimming lessons, did track and field and was on the local kids’ soccer team  – all prior to age 10. When he was a toddler, I took him to a Mothers’ Morning Out Group at one of the local churches. Here the kids played while being babysat by some of the parents (done on a rotating basis per sessions) while the rest of the parents sat and lisetened to a talk on something in the adult area of topics. I took notes and wrote a story about the talk for the local newspaper. With my freelance writing, Martin also was in daycare part-time and then there was school. That’s the one the researchers, Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, an assistant professor of sociology on Ohio State University’s Marion campus and her colleague, Douglas Downey, refer to in their research as the saving grace for only children’s development of social skills.

Not this only child. I was too shy, very easily intimidated and had overprotective parents, so landed in ongoing situations with a couple of people (the nun in the last post was one) who bullied me. The other one was a classmate. (I’ll cover bullying in another post). I had friends that I hung around with in grade school and in high school but in those days (you know, back in the grey ages) parents didn’t put their children into a lot of extra-curricular activities. My mom got me into ballet and tap dancing for one year when I was seven and then after that switched me to piano lessons. I don’t recall making any friends from those dance classes but the piano lessons and recitals brought a few what you might call “passing friendships.”  I really didn’t develop my social skills much until I was an adult and probably my writing helped. When meeting other writers and  editors and expecially getting out there to interview people for stories, you have to sink or swim in the social arena. In hindsight, I wasn’t completely hopeless in my childhood.  As I write in my memoir…

In grade 3 or 4, we girls discovered baseball – not the New York Yanks, but the unnamed Holy Cross Girls recess and after-school teams. By then the school had grown too small for the ever-expanding families of the baby boom, so the school board brought in three portables and dumped them in a corner of the girls’ yard. You could find a brother or sister of most of my classmates in a portable or in the main building. As an only child, I was in the minority. That may explain why I adopted baseball almost like an obsession. Baseball was a way to belong…

Our girls’ baseball diamond, a mixture of sporadic sand pits and weed patches, stood over by the three portables, so we had to be careful we don’t throw or hit the ball through a window. I don’t recall that ever happening although some of those foul balls landed between the portables or on one of their verandas. Not any I ever threw did. I played third base, over by the last portable near the linked fence corner. Whenever someone hit a ball my way, I caught it. It made up for my lousy pitches. I couldn’t strike anyone out even with my eyes open.

But I could hit – not far – just enough to run to first base. I am right-handed in everything else but my technique was to hold the bat over my left shoulder and when I saw the ball coming, swing the bat around and whack – when I didn’t miss…

In winter, when snow, slush and ice made chasing after balls somewhat dangerous, we sometimes spent recess sliding down the small hill at the front end of the girls’ yard, at the fence over by the church yard. Or we’d stand around in a huddle and talk – but that came when we were 12 and 13.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Part 1 – Deconstruct, Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

So I’m not a shining example for this study of only children developing social skills.

The analysis used information that the National Study of Adolescent Health (ADD Health) collected on 13,000 + students  from grades 7 to 12, inclusive, attending over 100 US schools in 1994 and 1995. (I would like to see some more up-to-date data.) The interview method was used with each child listing their peers – five of each gender, and then the total overall votes for each participant was counted. This study was presented at the American Sociological Association (ASA) annual meeting in Atlanta on August. 20, 2010.  For more information on the study go to

And what about only children reading this? And parents of only children? What are your views on only children developing social skills? And what the heck to you think of this study?


Only Child Writes

I’d like to hear some comments about thisfrom only children and parents of only children. What do you think? If an only child, did you have problems developing social skills as a child? And parents of only children,



Filed under Family Size, Only child, Social skills only children

4 responses to “Only Child and social skills

  1. Now in my 70’s and still an only child, I can say I don’t remember having any trouble with social skills growning up or at anytime during my life. Your making a study of this is interesting and might even be more interesting if you factored in a person’s astrological sign, which would give the research another facet. Could even be an additional or separate report from the one you have started. What do you think….. by the way I am an Aries with a Gemini ascendant and moon. Gemini are natural talkers.
    Joan Sheldon
    P.S. do you have any interest in reading my Family biography & Memoir?
    Recently published and available on both Barnes & Nobel &

  2. Fantastic post Sharon. I really love how you intertwine parts of your memoir into your blog. I wonder if your blog will feel different to me now that I’ve met you in person. I hope not (unless it gets better). I love your writing. Though I’m not an only child, I’ve found that my social skills have gone down hill since becoming a writer. I need to get out more!

  3. I can relate to your story although I myself am not an only child. I have o e sibling. I also have an only child. I think we all see our stories from our own perspective an so we conclude it is because we are either an only child or the youngest child etc. I think it is simply just more about who we are regardless of family size. I was a shy child. More of an observer. I took it all in. I rarely reached out to socialize or make friends. On the other hand my only child is not shy at all. She reaches out and makes friends and is certain about what she is interested in. I believe many of the stereotypes of the only child would not exist if we could just look at all of our kids as individuals instead of trying to classify them into family order boxes. Thanks for the interesting read. It was very enjoyable.

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