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Think You're One and Done? Read This First

Photograph by Twenty20

Oh, the joys of having an only child. There are never any arguments over toys, television or who gets to sit next to Mom at a restaurant. It is a peaceful space where parents are free to do their own thing while the child plays quietly alone, never quite mastering the art of sharing.

And, if you believe that, you might want to keep reading.

Being an only child does not mean that your kid will never learn to share or that he or she will grow up to be a spoiled brat. Even in a worst-case scenario, where parents are oblivious to the "only child syndrome," most schools will nip that in the bud on Day 1.

But what about this myth, the one that says parents with only one child have it easy? Where did THAT come from?

It's true that parents with an only child have less responsiblity and are able to spend more time and money on higher-level activities than those with multiple children. But what does this really mean?

According to Jiang Qiu, a professor of psychology at Southwest University in Chongqing, China, and director of the Key Laboratory of Cognition and Personality in the ministry of education, it means that the brain of an only child is, get this, scientifically unique.

Evidence from a recent behavioral and anatomical structural study led by Jiang and his team of researchers, along with 250 college-aged Chinese students, confirms that the brain of an only child is different from children with brothers and sisters.

Using standard tests of intelligence, creativity and personality type to measure creativity, IQ and agreeableness, scientists determined that only children exhibited no difference in IQ. However! They had higher levels of flexibility, which is one measure of creativity. They also had lower levels of agreeableness than kids with siblings (Haters, we hear your "No duh." But keep reading.)

Brain scans, which were used to establish the authenticity of these findings, showed notable distinctions in the brain regions associated with flexibility, imagination, planning and agreeableness, as well as emotional and mood regulation.

If an only child lives in an unhappy home, there is a good chance their creativity will be stifled.

Though most have their own theories for why these variations may exist, Jiang and his crew believe theirs to be true: That creativity in the human brain is greatly influenced by family structure, parental views and the interactions and expectations that arise from day to day.

So, how does this translate to those (parents) who are just trying to do the best they can with whatever cards they were dealt? Are they bad parents for not managing their time better or for skipping the latest upgrade on that iPad mini?

It makes sense that parents with only one child would have more time (and money) to dedicate to their kids, because—guess what?—they’re not busy breaking up fights or doing 16 loads of laundry like those with multiple children. Nope, these hopeful predecessors are free to engage with their child while looking for new ways to stretch those creative muscles.

What's more, parents of only children tend to have higher expectations and give their child more independence, further cultivating those imaginative little minds

Rich or poor, one kid or 12, there are benefits to each scenario and neither is ideal.

But it’s not a perfect science.

As with anything, it all boils down to circumstance. If an only child lives in an unhappy home, there is a good chance their creativity will be stifled. Hell, they might even have a bad attitude. The same goes for families with multiple children.

Nutshell: Rich or poor, one kid or 12, there are benefits to each scenario and neither is ideal. Though an only child will never know the pleasure, and pain, that comes with having a brother or sister, they will forever be the primary focus of the two most important people in their lives.

On the flip side, parents don't always have time to interact with their children—even those with an only. Because of this, singletons are often left to fend for themselves, and the world can be a mighty lonely place when there's no one around to play with.

We can't choose our families, but we can learn from them and carry on.

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