Ciara McDonnell questions whether the order in which we are born defines who we are as people
As a parent, the last thing you want to do is stereotype your children. Each is totally individual and perfect in their own way; it’s hard to apply labels to your amazing offspring.
Although the theory of birth order and its accompanying personality traits can seem mind boggling and over-complicated, there are a few highlights that can help us on our parenting journey. According to the research, each birth order comes with its own set of personality traits. Some children will display all of these traits, and others just a few.
The attention’s on you
So, what’s the point? Well, the idea that eldest, middle and youngest children come with their own package of personality traits has been around for a long time. In the 1920s an Austrian psychologist called Alfred Adler began talking about the importance of birth order on personality and behaviour. He believed that as humans, we have a strong need to be
accepted and valued, and our family is the first social group where we look for this sense
of belonging. His theory, and those of several experts after him, boils down to this: children
in any family strive for their parents’ love and attention. The bigger the family, the more
difficult it is, and each child reacts and responds to this differently, depending on where they come in the family.
First comes love
Adhering to this idea, generally first-borns are seen as the dependable, confident, highachieving leaders. This is considered to be the result of the responsibility that is placed on eldest children from an early age. The firstborn takes on the role of surrogate parent to
subsequent children, wielding a certain level of power over their younger siblings. Another
factor that bolsters this theory is that firstborns initially receive all the attention and
their achievements are usually applauded wildly because, as much as it is a first for the
child, it is a first too for their parents. With parental involvement so high for first-borns, it’s thought that this is the reason why they tend to perform well academically – they know that striving for greatness will bring the praise they crave.
Second-borns or middle children are usually thought of as sociable, fun people. They tend
to look for attention by being centre stage, and this is largely due to the fact that middle
children may feel in competition with their older siblings. It is thought that middle children
can struggle to define themselves because so much attention has been bestowed upon the
first-born. This is more emphatic when there is a small age gap between siblings. While the
first-born may struggle socially but will excel academically, often middle children revel in the attention that their social circles afford them.
Last one’s the charm
The youngest child of a family is usually free of the emotional trappings that their older siblings succumb to. Generally, at this point, parents are more experienced at spreading love and attention, and are more confident in their parenting skills, thereby making the
youngest child feel little competition with their older siblings, or responsibility where
the family is concerned. The youngest child is therefore free to develop their personality
at their own pace. As a result of this, youngest children can appear slightly
aimless and without direction. They can take a little more time ‘growing up’ than
their older siblings. This can lead to them being spoiled or babied by their parents
much more than their other children.
The key to understanding
The order in which we are born is by no means a blueprint, by which to run our families; merely it offers us keys to communication within each of our individual units. Despite this, it’s worth taking stock of your child’s personality and considering the factors that have shaped their development. From there, you can alter your parenting methods to suit each
child, and answer their needs in a more loving and immediate fashion.
Typically: Leaders and responsible types with a tendency towards perfectionism.
Approval from authority figures is very important to first-borns.
They are low risk-takers and tend to be conservative in their outlook.
Like to: manage others and feel in control of situation.
Don’t like: surprises and feeling out of their depth.
Famous First-Borns: Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis.
Typically: People-pleasers, compromisers and flexible types. Second-borns are likely to be
motivated by a cause and enjoy working with other people. They are peace-keepers and tend to be the glue that holds the family together.
Like to: have lots of friends and be surrounded by people.
Don’t like: to make decisions.
Famous Middle Children: Madonna, Bill Gates, Britney Spears, Cindy Crawford.
Typically: Quiet achievers who accept nothing less than the best. Only children raise the bar for themselves and everyone around them. They can be secretive and are great strategic thinkers.
Like to: work alone for long periods of time.
Don’t like: to deal with conflict.
Famous Only Children: Lance Armstrong, Cary Grant, Alicia Keys, Charlize Theron.
Typically: Initators, ideas people and challengers. Youngest people tend to be creative types who live for the moment. Being noticed is important to youngest children.
Like to: make everyday activites fun. They will find a game in all aspects of life.
Don’t like: to finish tasks. Youngest children are not great at seeing projects through.
Famous Youngest Children: Cameron Diaz, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy.
Expert ADVICE David Carey, psychologist
“The great psychiatrist and colleague of Freud, Alfred Adler, was the first to suggest that birth order influences personality. He described cases of the eldest child being the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ often being ‘dethroned’ by the birth of the second-born child and the second-born struggling hard to outrank the first born. He spoke and wrote of the impact of being the
‘baby’ in the family or being the middle child. Adler attributed personality traits such as leadership to the first-born and a sense of helplessness to the last born. The impact of birth order on personality has been a controversial theory ever since Adler wrote about it.
Family size Among the many reasons that birth order has not stood the test of scientific scrutiny is the associated impact of family size. Obviously if a significant number of school teachers are the eldest in the family and if most of these teachers only have one sibling then family size may be the determining factor. The simple truth is that most of the evidence about birth order has been inconclusive. Until now that is!
There is good evidence from Norway that birth order affects intelligence, with the higher the birth order position resulting in higher intelligence. There is also evidence that birth order affects our choice of friends: first-borns choose more first-born friends, middle children choose middle friends and so on.
Another interesting but highly controversial study was on the impact of being a male child with older male siblings and sexual orientation. The ‘fraternal birth order effect’ as it is
called indicates that having greater number of male siblings increases the likelihood of a male child having a homosexual orientation. The effect appears to be quite small however
and remains one of the most controversial and hotly debated aspects of birth order research. It is largely discounted now.
So, what can we say for sure about birth order? Well, not much to be honest. The research is inconclusive at best. No studies have clearly identified a significant effect. There are many factors that influence personality development including social factors. My best advice is to recognise each child in the family for the gifts they bring, cherish each equally, avoid comparing one to another and encourage every child to grow to their full potential.” -
Would you agree with the personality types highlighted above within your family? leave us a comment…
Article provided by: easy parenting Photograph: Steve Wisbauer/Getty Images