“I can’t believe you two are siblings! You’re like night and day.” Have you ever been on the receiving end of comments like that, or even wondered yourself how two siblings in a family can have such opposite personalities? Alternatively, maybe you’ve noticed that your partner has a dramatically different perspective from you on your own children.
We like to believe we treat our children the same. But studies by psychotherapist and personality theorist, Alfred Adler, have proven something pretty remarkable:
Birth order affects how each child is parented.
As it turns out, birth order doesn’t just affect their personality, but it affects a person’s academic performance, career choices, and relationships, too. Of course, while birth order is an important influencer, it’s not the only one – culture, family dynamics, and gender can all impact a child’s developmental growth, as well.
Keeping all of this in mind, it’s worth taking a look at how birth order plays out in families—particularly if you’re a parent yourself—since being aware empowers you to better support each child based on their individual needs.
Read on for the most common birth order characteristics and tips on how to parent based on birth order.
A note on siblings five years or more apart: sibling order status starts all over again if there’s an age gap of five or more years between siblings. For example, if the second sibling is younger than the first by five years, both children are then given firstborn status.
The Driven Firstborn
Firstborn children are generally driven, have perfectionistic tendencies, and like to get approval from authority figures.
Why? For starters, parents typically have the highest expectations of the child firstborn into their family. And we may not like to admit it, but we think that when our kids shine, so do we. It’s not first-time parents’ fault that they tend to hyper-focus on their first child. It’s perfectly understandable because it’s our inaugural experience as parents, too!
Through constant—and sometimes very intense, enthusiastic parental praise—the firstborn strives for the best and adheres to rules much more than his or her younger siblings. They are also highly responsible, tend to be more self-confident, and, many times, easily take on leadership qualities.
Tips for Parenting Your First Child
- Keep in mind that, although they are the oldest child within your family dynamic, first born kids can still feel insecure and needy. They may not show it the way your younger kids do, but it’s still there.
- Give your first born the freedom to relax. This is a wonderful ways to encourage him or her to strive for their best without inducing negativity and anxiety borne from pressure.
- It’s very common for the oldest sibling to be jealous of their younger sister or brother when those little ones come along. They don’t want to act like a baby, yet struggle with the fact that their praise comes from achieving milestones—not because they are little.
The Easygoing Second Born
Middle children often find themselves in an identity crisis: they can’t always be first in line like their older sibling and refuse to regress to behave like their younger one.
So, what happens? Most middle children excel at going with the flow. And, they often become great negotiators. “Kids learn their role in their family,” says Dr. Kevin Leman, psychologist and author of The Birth Order Book and The Firstborn Advantage.
In the case of middle children, they learn to be flexible and highly social. They strive to make all things fair because they want that for themselves, which means they’ll usually be the first one to fight for the underdog.
They often make up for the lack of attention at home through relationships they forge outside of their family circle. Leman further notes that the middle child tends to be the family peacekeeper and possesses traits like being agreeable and loyal. Being a social butterfly and having a large circle of friends is definitely a big perk for middle children.
Tips for Parenting Your Middle Child
- Make it a priority to carve out one-on-one time for middle children. It’s essential to fill up their emotional banks, so to speak. Consistent individual play times or special moments are key to meeting their need for feeling safe and loved. It doesn’t even have to be big events or activities—a simple walk to the park or an afternoon board game can make them feel like they are getting attention, too.
- Their strong sense of justice—what they consider to be fair or unfair—can often lead to frustration at home, and this is evidenced by negative behaviors when they feel something’s unfair.
The Carefree Last Born
The baby of the family inevitably steals the show at home. Because they are developmentally the youngest, it’s hard not to focus on them. Yet, because they are the last, parents are usually more tired and worn out by the time their youngest arrives. Rules get bent, and nursing or co-sleeping is often prolonged. The baby of the family learns to use this to get even more attention.
Youngest children are confident, charming, and carefree. Their built-in support system of both seasoned parents and older siblings allows them to take many supervised risks. This encourages creativity and a sense of adventure. Your lastborn babies also tend to be the family clowns, making normally mundane moments funny and memorable.
Tips for Parenting Your Youngest Child
- Lastborns can be secretive, pushy, and passive when it comes to feeling excluded, according to Cliff Isaacson and Kris Radish in The Birth Order Effect. So, instead of reacting to their attention-seeking behaviors, help them develop the ability to express themselves verbally with age-appropriate words.
- The baby can also be the rule breaker, so they definitely need boundaries just as much as their older siblings. It’s easier to let things go with the youngest, but be wary—problematic behaviors may develop, especially when you factor in their remarkable ability to get attention. Continue encouraging their carefree personality, add a healthy dose of structure, and you’ll strike a wonderful balance.
- Youngest siblings tend to get their way, which often fuels their older siblings’ angst and frustration. Take the time to be aware when this happens. Even if it’s inadvertent, it’s important to conscientiously balance the dynamics between your children and you as the parent.
The Enterprising Only Born
Only children are in their own unique category. They neither have to be competitive to beat their oldest sibling, nor yield to a whining younger brother or sister.
Your only child probably tends to relate well to adults. They can also gravitate towards being ambitious, enterprising, energetic, and are willing to make sacrifices to be a success, writes Leman. But that doesn’t mean that they’re in a golden, challenge-free position.
Only children can feel lonely at times. Leman notes that, without any siblings, “Lonely only-ies tend to be critical—and even more than a bit self-centered.” The result is that some only children have a hard time learning how to share, negotiate, and be tactful. And yet there are plenty of bright sides to being an only child, too. They are born leaders, have great confidence in whatever they decide to do, and thrive on making goals and lists.
Tips for Parenting Your Only Child
- As a parent, it’s beneficial to be aware of when you see your only child become overbearing to their peers or authority figures.
- Parenting only children can be naturally very structured and focused. Make sure to add lots of relaxed playtime at home and with their peers. This way, your only child will learn the same healthy social and communication skills that they’d otherwise develop alongside their siblings.
This article was originally published on September 19, 2018.