“Kids learn their role in their family,” Dr. Kevin Leman, a psychologist and the author of The Birth Order Book and The First-Born Advantage, told The Huffington Post. “Firstborns are held to a higher standard. As kids come into the birth order, parents loosen up.”
“Firstborns tend to be responsible, competitive and conventional, whereas laterborns have to ‘distinguish’ themselves and create a specific niche by being playful, cooperative, and especially, rebellious,” Belgian psychologists Vassilis Saroglou and Laure Fiasse wrote in a 2003 paper published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
The Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Alder was the first theorist to suggest that birth order influences personality. According to Alder, firstborns are “dethroned” when a second child comes along, and this may have a lasting influence on them. Since Alder’s time, the influence of birth order on the development of personality has become a controversial issue in psychology. Among the general public it is widely believed that personality is strongly influenced by birth order, but many psychologists dispute this. As any parent is aware, even if you try to treat your children exactly the same, no parent behaves in exactly the same way with each of their children and no two children ever take the same role within the family so it’s very difficult to “prove” empirically that birth order plays a strong role in character development, even if practical experience suggests that this is the case. As a parent, you remember your first born’s early years very well. You were new to the whole parenting thing, and as a result watched their development very cautiously, paranoid about getting things wrong. Every potential injury was cause for panic, and every developmental milestone was cause for celebration. You watched them to make sure they were breathing in their cot, cautiously monitored their weight gain every week, spent hours pureeing organic vegetables when they were weaning etc. Your firstborn is your only child that will ever have her parents to herself: any subsequent children have to share. Your eldest child will probably have more in common with other firstborns than their own brothers and sisters. Because they have had so much control and attention from their first-time parents, they have a tendency to be over-responsible, reliable, well-behaved, careful and smaller versions of their own parents. The firstborn is used to being the center of attention: (s)he has Mum and Dad to him / herself before siblings arrive – statistics suggest that oldest children enjoy on average approx. 3,000 more hours of quality time with their parents between ages 4 and 13 than their siblings will get.If you are a firstborn, you are probably a high achieving perfectionist who seeks approval and has a tendency to dominate any space you occupy. Firstborns can often be found in leadership careers such as law, medicine or as a CEO. As a mini-parent, your eldest child may try to dominate their siblings. Problems start when baby number two arrives and your dominant eldest child may experience a sense of loss and feel jealous and neglected because they are no longer the centre of attention. All of the attention that was exclusively theirs must now be shared with their sibling. Some of the key character traits that tend to characterize eldest children are:Eldest children can often be viewed as born leaders. However, on the flip side this may also manifest itself in the belief that they must gain and hold superiority over other children. Since eldest children are often given the responsibility of babysitting and taking care of the house, they get early training in being the boss!They may choose to keep or try to regain parents attention through conformity. If this fails, there’s a possibility they might choose to misbehave and rebelStrive to help and protect others and to pleaseOften perfectionists, enjoy making other people happyHighly motivated to achieve successHappy to take on a leadership roleConfident: all the one-on-one attention parents provide make them more likely to believe in themselves
Middle ChildrenThe child caught in the middle is often dominated by the firstborn, who is older, wiser and more competent by virtue of their age and the amount of individual attention they have received from their parents. By the time the second baby arrives, parents are usually worn down, worn out and less likely to micro-manage. By now, parents know their baby is not going to break, and therefore, they can be more flexible in both attention and discipline. As a result, the second child learns early on to attract attention and entertain. Whilst the eldest child is programmed for excellence and achievement, middle children have a tendency to be understanding and conciliatory.Middle children often get caught up in the role of “peacemaker”. They have a tendency to place a high value on fairness, be understanding, cooperative and flexible, yet competitive. As a rule, middle children will not excel at the same thing as their elder siblings. The personality trait that defines middle children will usually be the opposite of their elder and younger siblings. Often, middle children will pick an intimate circle of friends to represent their extended family, and it is here that they find the attention lacking in their birth family. Middle children tend to receive the least amount of attention from their parents, and, as a result, this family of their own choice is their compensation. Middle children are in very good company with notable US Presidents and celebrities such as Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Bill Gates and Donald Trump. Though often late bloomers, they frequently end up in power careers that allow them to use their negotiating skills… and finally achieve the attention they crave! Often, the highly developed social skills, which they have acquired through negotiating and navigating within the structure of their own families, can prepare them for a high profile entrepreneurial role. Key features that can characterize a middle child include:Never has parents’ undivided attentionAlways has a sibling ahead who is more advanced so they may act as if in a race, trying to Catch up or overtake the first childTend to develop abilities the first child does not exhibitOften handle disappointments betterGreat negotiator due to their ability to see both sides of an issueLots of loyal friends – make friends easily and once they have them they work hard to keep Them. They usually tend to be good at keeping secrets, too.The Youngest Child: The Life of the PartyBy the time their third baby arrives, most parents are confident in their roles and much of the caution and fear they felt when looking after their firstborn will have disappeared. As a result, parents may tend to be more lenient with their youngest child, and will not necessarily pay attention to his / her every move or milestone, as they did with their older kids. In order to get the attention they may sense that they lack, youngest children learn quickly how to seduce the crowd with charm and likability. Youngest children tend to have more freedom than the other siblings and, as a result, they are often more independent. Youngest children may find that they have a lot in common with their eldest sibling because both have been made to feel special and entitled.Perhaps unsurprisingly, youngest children often find careers in the entertainment business as actors, comedians, writers, directors etc. They also make good teachers. Since their parents are more laid back and lenient by the time they arrive, they can expect freedom to follow their own path in a creative style. And, as the baby of the family, they have had less responsibility, and therefore don’t tend to attract responsible experiences. Typical characteristics of youngest children can include:Outgoing, love to make people laugh and take centre stageMay be considered spoiled, demanding or impatientPersistent – will not give up when it comes to their goalGreat storyteller – whether it’s true or not, youngest kids can spin a great yarn!Affectionate – have plenty of hugs and kisses to give outThey may also feel that they have to work harder to get other people to pay attention to them and that it’s a struggle to be taken seriouslyMay also feel that people treat them “younger than they are”Child Development Institute, Huffington Post, Parents, Scientific American, study by Tiffany L Frank at Adelphi University