Posted by: counselorcarmella | July 28, 2011

The Role of Birth Order

Ever wonder why you and your siblings are so different?  Maybe you’ve wondered this about your own children.  How could kids raised by the same parents under the same roof be so unalike?  There can be many answers to these questions, but one clue may lie in the concept of birth order.  Here are some characteristics people may have that are related to their position in the family: 

 

Oldest Child.  For a while, the first-born child receives all of the attention from parents, and may be somewhat spoiled.  They learn to please, behave, conform, and achieve.  First-borns are generally dependable and hard working. The loss of this position and having to share the attention when younger kids come along is something they must adjust to.  This loss may either make them resentful, or help them to better understand and accept authority.  They often take responsibility for younger children when parents are absent. 

Second-born.  The second child will never have the experience of being  “dethroned” as first-borns are.  From day one, this child must share the attention with his or her older sibling.  Often, second-borns act as if they are in a race to surpass their older brother or sister, as if the two are in an actual competition.  The second born child will pursue talents and hobbies different from those the first-born pursued.  They are often more outgoing, carefree, and creative, and less concerned with rules than are their older brothers or sisters.  They are likely to be the exact opposites of the older child.

Middle Child.  Middle children often feel squeezed out.  They may feel that things are always unfair, and may feel cheated.  However, in some families, the middle child may become the peacemaker.   In this role, the middle child has an opportunity to gain an understanding of family politics and negotiation that can serve them well in the future. 

Youngest Child.  Youngest children receive a lot of attention.  They are often charming, but may become spoiled.  It may be hard for them to ever get rid of their role as “the baby” of the family.  The youngest child may develop interests that no one else in the family has thought about.   

Only Child.  Any child born seven or more years after another sibling is considered to be an only child psychologically.  Only children receive, and often come to expect, a lot of attention.  They may be very imaginative because of the time they spend alone, and may become high achievers.  There is the possibility that they will be somewhat self-centered, and find it hard to share and cooperate with peers. Some only children may become too dependant on a parent.

 

The way a person views his or her position in the family can have a lot to do with how that person interacts with others as an adult.  The family we are born into and grow up in is our first social network.  Much of what we learn about how to relate to others comes from how we related to our parents and siblings.  One area where understanding a little about the typical roles taken on by children in a family can be helpful is marital relationships.  For example, if a first-born marries a youngest child, the first-born may naturally assume the role of decision maker, and may take on more responsibility within the household and relationship.  These two positions compliment each other because the youngest child in a family is used to being cared for by others and being somewhat sheltered from responsibility.  If two youngest children marry, they may feel overwhelmed by having to make so many decisions and take on so much responsibility.  Two oldest children who marry may butt heads because each person is used to being in charge.

 

Of course, these descriptions are not destiny.  These characteristics are not meant to be used as labels or stereotypes.  Neither are they to be used as an excuse, such as, “I can’t help it if I’m bossy. I’m a first born,” or, “I’m self-centered because I’m an only child. There’s nothing I can do about it.”  We are all responsible for our actions.  Each position in the family has its own unique set of positive qualities and strengths. No position is better than any other.  They are simply different.  Gender plays a role, as well. Oldest girls may have different experiences from oldest boys, etc. Understanding how positions in the family may influence personality can help us to better understand ourselves and each other.

 

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