Does Birth Order Really Affect Your Child’s Personality?

Birth order has been the subject of many discussions, books, studies and Brady Bunch episodes… But can birth order predetermine destiny, or is this psychological hogwash?

Birth Order Refresher

There are definitely stereotypes when it comes to birth order, and barring a few exceptions, psychologists generally agree on these personality traits that accompany birth order. Here’s a quick refresher:

Firstborns are generally viewed as being leaders who are responsible and follow the rules. They tend to be people pleasers, but also have high expectations of others as they do of themselves. When a second sibling enters the picture, firstborns can feel insecure about their placement and may feel pressure to remain at the head of the sibling unit. They may take on surrogate parenting roles, and compete for parents’ attention by striving for excellence to maintain their “head cheese” status.

Middleborns are usually social butterflies and more likely to challenge the rules. They struggle with finding their place in the family which hones their negotiation skills. They tend to lean on their friends or extended family members for support because they feel their parents’ attention is focused on the oldest or youngest sibling. Not “measuring up” is a common feeling among middleborns.

The Baby is often seen as the pampered, spoiled, and free-spirited sibling. Usually “mothered” by older siblings, and gets the most attention from family members. The youngest quickly learns being helpless can work to their advantage, and manipulation skills can be used to get out of things like chores. Parents tend to be more relaxed by the time the last kid arrives, so the rules the other kids had may no longer be enforced on the youngest sibling. Naturally, this is seen as unfair by the older siblings because the youngest gets away with everything!

How True Are the Stereotypes?

Could our random birth order really determine our place and how we view the world? The White-Campbell Psychological Birth Order Inventory offers a perspective. The test was developed to see if common personality traits related to birth order really jives. Turns out only 23 percent of women and 15 percent of men match the traditional birth order personality traits. That’s great news for some kids! The oldest doesn’t have to feel pressure to succeed, and middle child no longer feels forgotten. But, bad news for the baby, they can’t play helpless anymore and get away with not taking out the trash.

Additional Factors

So birth order does carry a little bit of weight, but there are a lot of outside influences besides birth order that affect your children’s personalities. No pressure here, but you have a lot to do with how your kid turns out:

Birth Order of the Parents: If you’re a first born and your partner is the baby, this can definitely influence your parenting styles. As a first born, you may expect more of your kids than your last born partner, who may identify with being the baby of the family and expect less of the kids. So essentially, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree – unless you want it to.

Gender: Gender differences can create a “special” sibling by putting pressure on the gender that is singled out. For example, an older brother with three younger sisters could fill the “protector” role. Or the youngest brother with three older sisters could be seen as the “baby” and “mothered” by the sisters.

Comparison: It’s normal for siblings to fight, but significant differences between them such as academic, height, weight, perceived beauty or even disabilities can create constant comparisons and intense rivalry.

Parental Unrest: A bad relationship between parents can affect the kids in many ways, especially if one parent projects their personal woes onto one kid and the kid becomes a peacemaker for the parents, or if the parent identifies with one kid and ignores the others. Any way you look at it, it’s unbalanced and not healthy for anyone.

Stereotypes: Our values will trickle down to our kids. If a traditional family vibe (men are breadwinners and women are stay-at-home nurturers) is fostered, then kids may see that as their roles. On the other hand, a nontraditional role in the family will give kids a different perspective of the world and their roles in it.

The Takeaway

Your children’s personalities aren’t set in stone because of their birth order. Many things will influence how your children view the world. Help your child define themselves in terms of who they are as an individual – not if they are the oldest, middle, or youngest child – and their world will be open to countless opportunities and fulfillment.

What are your thoughts on birth order and your kids’ fate? Do the stereotypes make sense, or not at all? Share with us!

Tags : relationships   development   

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