How Being An Only Child Can Affect Attachment Style

Before digging into the details, it’s important to understand exactly what attachment styles signify. The theory, developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s, says a person’s approach to relationships is developed in early childhood and mirrors the relationships we had with our earliest caregivers. There are four types of attachment style: avoidant, anxious, fearful-avoidant, and secure attachment.

Simply being an only child isn’t enough to shape an attachment style. “The truth is, to a large degree, it really depends on the kind of parenting you have, more than the number of siblings you have or don’t have,” psychotherapist Ken Page, LCSW, tells mbg. In fact, depending on the family, the outcomes can be pretty oppositional.

“Some of the stereotypes about only children are that they tend to be self-involved, unskilled at sharing, independent, and yet in some ways extremely dependent,” Page says. “Some research shows that only children are more likely to get divorced, while other research shows that only children get married at around the same time as children with siblings and will stay married just as long,” he adds.

Clearly, there’s no straightforward answer. Depending on the type of parenting an only child receives, it’s likely for their attachment style to swing one of two ways.

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