If you are a parent of multiple children, you most likely notice that each one is different from the others. Birth order plays a role in these differences. Many experts believe that the order in which one is born affects parents’ treatment of the child. This can impact the latter’s personality and behavior.
Typically, firstborns have focused attention from their parents. Given that they spent the most amount of time in the presence of their caregivers, they are more likely to act like adults and to be confident. Given their placement among the siblings, they are often comfortable taking leadership positions and may be perfectionists. The oldest children may be overachievers because their parents, nervous in their role as first time parents, may be overprotective, cautious and demanding. Firstborns may feel responsible for their younger siblings and may be tasked with care giving assignments. Because of the increased attention and control from cautious first time parents, firstborns tend to be responsible, reliable, rule-followers, cautious and high achievers.
Middle children often feel left out and in search of an identity. They are not the oldest, where a milestone was so significant. They are not the youngest, whose big life events may be met with much attention and fanfare as they are the last in the family to achieve them and serve as an emotional marker in the parenting journey. Thus, middle children tend to be flexible, free spirited, competitive and attention seekers. They may be more rebellious as they attempt to distinguish themselves or feel noticed. They often have large social circles because they feel left out in their families and seek attention elsewhere. They often demonstrate strengths around negotiation and compromise because of their role in the family. They may be especially concerned with fairness. Firstborns had alone time with their parents, and the youngest most likely will too when the older members move out. Middle children are always sharing parental attention.
The way in which parents engage with and discipline their children will most likely look very different from their first child to their last. Their parenting style is typically more laid back as they acquire more confidence in their parenting skills and as they most likely become increasingly more tired. The youngest tends to be outgoing, creative and fun loving. The freedom they were allowed makes them more comfortable to take risks and to feel confident in doing what they want.
Temperament, genetics and socioeconomic status are strong factors in personality development. Experts are now considering birth order to be just as influential. Parents may treat children differently based on birth order and this affects personality and development. Parents’ anxiety level tends to decrease as they have more children. This impacts how they parent, the attention they provide, and the expectations given, all of which can have a role in shaping personality. Understanding how birth order may impact behaviors as well as parenting style can help one set up an environment that best supports children in becoming successful.
Graziella Simonetti is a parent educator for EAC Network’s Long Island Parenting Institute and works as an early childhood social worker for the New York City Department of Education. She holds an advanced certificate in parent education from Adelphi University and is a NYSPEP credentialed parenting educator. Simonetti is a former Kindergarten teacher.