Marketing to the Only-Child Family

As families downsize due to economic pressures, dual working parents and the rise in children born by IVF (usually just one precious gift), the micro family is widespread. The only-child is a special market demographic. What can your school offer the parents and the offspring of this growing market? 
Lily Brownwood, a primary school teacher has noticed an increasing number of only-children in her school. “We see the trend with our younger families,” says Mrs Brownwood. “Women who establish themselves in a career before having children often find little time left on their biological clock to have more than one baby.”

The use of assisted reproductive technology is also a growing trend. A report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing reveals that 3.3 percent of Australian babies are made this way. Statistically this means that an IVF child is likely to be in every classroom. 

Characteristics of the only-child 

My market research with parents of an only-child agree that a good education is an essential investment in their child. Many spoke of the self-denial they endure to enable their only-child to go to a good school and to have whatever was needed to fit in with the other kids. With just one child to raise they are willing and able to pay the price. This makes parents of only-children very attractive customers for any school.

If schools are going to cater for the micro family they need to understand the characteristics of this market segment. 

I am the mother of an only-child and married to a man with single-child status, so I have a keen interest in the characteristics of the only-child and their special needs. 

Over two decades ago I began research on this subject, interviewing parents and children from single-child families and their teachers. This lead me to conclude that the stereotypical, attention-grabbing, foot-stamping, tantrum throwing only-child is a myth. 

My research findings paint a profile of the only-child as self-assured, mature, knowledgeable, and one who knows how to get its own way. This derives largely from the closeness that only-children have with their parents and other adults. 

Generally speaking, I have found that parents of only-children raise their child thoughtfully. 

Teachers say that the only-child tends to show sensitivity at school. 

“From my experience, the only-child works hard to please their teachers and they hunger for recognition for good effort,” said Mrs Brownwood.

 “I find that only-children are intuitive and responsive because they are used to mixing with adults and they seem better able to respond to non-verbal cues, such as angry body language. They know when to disappear!”

Mrs Brownwood notices that only-children in her class have a tendency to be peer leaders. She believes that they are self-sufficient and are used to directing their own show and getting their own way from an early age.

“As young as kindergarten I see onlies skillfully manipulating the group to do what they want,” she says. 

Maree Avoca grew up as an only-child in a dysfunctional family. As a child she remembers that she clung to her teachers. “I’m gregarious by nature and I longed to be close to my teachers because I didn’t have anyone else. I craved their attention and approval. School provided great relief for me from the hurt of rejection I received at home.”

Tuning into the needs of the only-child 

Only-children are quick to point out the advantages of growing up without siblings. But parents are concerned about shortcomings that schools need to recognise and discuss when developing strategies to attract the single-child family.

Many parents are painfully aware of the stereotype of the over-indulged, self-centred brat. They know the dangers of being over-protective, or too fussy, or too wrapped up in their child. 

Concerns about child abductions and lack of neighbourhood spirit dictates that only-children are often confined to the indoors and tend to have an electronic ‘friend’ to wile away their leisure hours. This worries parents who often express the desire for their child to be part of an active school community with its focus on team endeavour, creative initiative, discipline and responsibility for one’s actions.

So what can schools offer this niche market? 

It may not be necessary to change the school’s provision in any way to appeal to this market, but you will undoubtedly need to assess the needs of the only-child and empathise with this market in a sensitive way, placing emphasis on the activities and values from your wide school menu that fit the needs of this particular group.

A good place to start is to address the emotional concerns of parents about loneliness. 

By providing a variety of clubs and extra curricula activities that keep students busy, a school can offer a healthy way of coping with loneliness and onliness. 

School-initiated opportunities for the only-child to foster meaningful relationships with other students and develop a sense of belonging to a community are an attractive proposition for this target market.  See “Ten Things Your School Can Offer The Only-Child” below.

In terms of pastoral care and discipline, a school would do well to emphasise the school’s philosophy regarding tolerance for others, friendly competitiveness, team spirit and caring for others through service-based- activities, such as reading programs, peer support schemes and community assistance.

While a generalised picture of the only-child can be helpful in understanding this niche market, it is important that a school explores the individual characteristics of each only-child and the parents’ perceived needs. For example, the idea of co-operative learning may be attractive to some only-children, but it is equally likely that onlies will prefer solitary pursuits such as computer-based activities, photography, reading and be less interested in group activities and team sports.

It is up to the school to find out about each child and match the school’s features to the needs of the individual. This is the essence of good marketing.

Ten Things Your School Can Offer The Only-Child

A wide range of activities such as clubs and hobbies where the only-child spends leisure time productively and meets other children and staff
Provision of extra subjects and coaching, such as music, drama, art lessons
Sporting activities that involve the only-child in team sports
Programs that provide leadership opportunities and teach delegation and sharing of responsibility
Debating & public speaking where the general knowledge of an only-child is an asset
Holiday and after school activities that keep the only-child occupied out-of-school hours
Pastoral care and discipline that fosters school and community spirit and effectively deals with bullying and teasing. School
School initiated opportunities to develop relationships with other like-minded students that might relate to cultural background, intellectual ability, sporting prowess
You may be able to offer weekly boarding or casual boarding to suit the only-child
Parent seminars that cover managing peer relationships, coping with conflict and living with an adolescent. Parents of an only-child often ask, “What is ‘normal behaviour’ because they do not have past experience to draw upon

About the author

Dr Linda Vining was the Director of Marketing Schools 

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