How birth order affects kids

My four kids are no longer babies: My eldest is 14 and my youngest is 8; the other two are 10 and 12. 

Although I’m not new to the parenting adventure, the journey is proving to be fun, interesting and, of course, sometimes challenging, as my kids’ individual personalities are becoming more developed.

Recently, I’ve done some reading on birth-order characteristics and how they can affect many aspects of our identities. Scientists have been studying birth order since the late 1800s, and since then there has been much debate and study on how and why birth order tendencies play out the way they do. 

Reflecting on my own childhood family dynamics, my husband’s, my students', and those of my own children, I’ve found most of the research to be spot-on.

See if you recognize some of these traits in yourself, your siblings, your coworkers, your friends or your own children. 

FIRSTBORNS

  • Tend to be natural leaders, ambitious, motivated to achieve.
  • Rule followers, cautious.
  • Responsible.
  • Perfectionistic.
  • Controlling.

Why? Firstborn children tend to get more undivided attention than subsequent siblings. They learn to please their parents from a very young age. Eldest children learn to be responsible by taking care of other siblings.

Tips: Try not to give firstborn children too much responsibility; keep expectations reasonable and developmentally appropriate. Recognize and celebrate achievements, give credit for hard work and extra responsibility. Verbal praise and expression of appreciation can mean a lot to firstborn achievers.

MIDDLE CHILDREN

  • Tend to be attention-seeking or rebellious.
  • More easygoing than firstborns.
  • Social.
  • Problem solvers, mediators.
  • Can have low self-esteem.

Why? Middle children often act as mediators between their siblings. They’re frequently put in a position to negotiate to get what they want and may feel that the oldest child gets more attention.

Tips: Give your middle children individual time, which can help offset a natural desire to act out to get a response. Teach middle children to contribute to your home as much as firstborns; this will help your children develop a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility. It also helps build your children’s connection to — and identity within — the family.

BABIES OF THE FAMILY

  • Tend to be fun-loving, entertaining, funny.
  • Outgoing.
  • Manipulative.
  • Attention seeking.

Why? Youngest children often receive the least amount of discipline, the fewest responsibilities and the biggest audience. Their parents have loosened up a bit since their early days of parenting and are likely to project a more relaxed parenting style.

Tips: Make sure to give your child a full set of responsibilities; last-born children tend to be masters of getting out of work.

Give your child positive attention. Stay on top of your child’s schoolwork and reading progression. As families grow and get busier — and parents get older — it can be more difficult for parents to find the energy to support their youngest child’s academic development at the same level they did with their older children.

Of course, not every child or family fits these generalizations. Every family is different. 

And these trends are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s published research that also addresses age gaps between children, gender, twins, only children, children in blended families and families with three or more kids.


Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives in Northeastern Minnesota. Follow her blog — Kids, Lakes, Loons and Pines — at megdevine.com.