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How birth order affects personality

Have you ever looked at your younger brother and wondered how on earth you’re related? How can children in the same family be so different?  You have the same parents, share a similar biological inheritance and grew up in the same environment. What could account for the dramatic difference in personality and behavior? Some researchers believe that birth order has a dramatic impact on personality.

The First Born
The experience of the first born is unique; she is the sole outlet of parental love and affection until displaced by the birth of a new baby. When the new baby arrives, the first born must learn to share the attention and affection of the parents. First borns are more adult oriented; achieve more and are more helpful. Of the seven original astronauts, two were only children and the remaining five were first born.

It’s not all good news for first borns! With increased expectations from parents comes increased pressure to achieve and be responsible. These additional demands placed upon them by parents may account for the increased anxiety and guilt experienced by first borns.  Although found to be more nurturing and responsible with younger siblings, first borns have also been shown to be more jealous, bossy, antagonistic and aggressive than younger siblings. 

Enhancing the positive unfolding of personality in first borns is a challenge for parents. Parents should continue to be responsive to the needs of first borns when a new sibling arrives. Increased involvement from the father with “special private” times can dissolve much of the jealousy.

READ MORE: 6 tips for bringing home baby! 

The Middle Child
Middle children get a bad rap. One reason might be that of all the children, they are the most different from the family. By virtue of their position in the family, they need to carve out a unique identity of their own. Middle children don’t have the rights and privileges of the first born and usually miss out on the attention given to the baby.

The middle child may feel left out or feel they are lacking a place in the family. The middle child may act out or be destructive in order to get their parents’ attention.

The key to managing the middle child is to make her feel special, give her some alone time during the day and take her on solo outings with mom or dad. Help her see that although at times she may feel “lost” in the family, she does have a special and unique relationship with her parents.

The Later Borns
Later born children benefit from parents who are more confident in their parenting skills and tend to be less anxious than first born siblings.  They are usually more playful, creative and easy going. On the down side, later born children may feel that they can never meet up to their older siblings’ accomplishments and become envious, especially if parents lavish extensive praise on the elder child. 

READ MORE: Tips to keep your cool when your kids are driving you nuts

Never demean later borns’ failures or lack of achievement by saying, “why can’t you be more like your brother?” This will only fuel the already incendiary hostility that exists. Respect your later born’s need to be different from his big brothers or sisters.

The Baby
“Babies” have many models and receive the brunt of the family’s attention and are often pampered, even overindulged.

They are usually very easy going and spontaneous, but can often be manipulative. Since they often lack the responsibility given to older siblings, they may grow up challenging authority or the demands made upon them by adults.

For the baby of the family, give him some responsibility. Without being made to contribute in some way to family routine, he may continue to be dependent and feel that people are there to do his bidding and keep him attended to and comfortable.

Birth order is a piece of the complex human development puzzle. Kids have to find out where they fit and parents have to keep the pieces moving together.

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College.

Other articles by Paul Schwartz