Family Life


Does Birth Order Affect A Child’s Personality?

Birth Order and Personality

Does Birth Order Affect A Child’s Personality?

There are many different factors that influence our developing personality, but birth order is one of the more unusual ones. Your place in your family is determined at birth and though blended and even broken families are more common now, for most people that place does not change much throughout their lives. How then, does that impact your developing personality?

Experts suggest that it is a matter of the cues that you receive from your environment and the people around you. The basic characteristics of who you are are set in your earliest years though, and if a change in your family position occurs after a certain point, a corresponding change in personality cannot be expected. Similarly, if it occurs before that point, then your personality reveals itself to be much more fluid.

Birth Order and Family Dynamics

In each family the children are treated differently. In some ways this is because they are individuals in their own right. A good parent treats their child according to their emerging personality, after all. The two factors of personality and care are intertwined however, and as you alter the way you treat your child to fit their needs, your child alters the way they behave in order to fit they way they are treated. This is one way to explain the observable effects of birth order.

Another way to explain might be to point out that parents are likely to treat firstborn children certain ways simply because they are first. You might be stricter about following the recommendations of parenting manuals or more careful about your child’s illnesses. A middle child might get a more lax and confident parenting style or they might get less focused attention due to the increased number of children the family has to care for. The result is that certain family positions are generally associated with certain traits:

  • Firstborn – reliable, conscientious, structured, cautious, controlling, achievers
  • Middle-born – rebellious, people pleasers, peacemakers, social, friendly
  • Lastborn – fun-loving, uncomplicated, manipulative, outgoing, attention seeker, self-centered
  • Only Child – mature, perfectionists, conscientious, diligent, leaders

The Limits of Birth Order

Of course, there are documented exceptions to this scenario. There is no all-encompassing system that will tell you exactly how someone will turn out, whether you are trying to figure out yourself or your child. One example of an exception is the case of twins. Twins tend to develop the characteristics of either first or lastborn children, but they also develop a clear system of leadership. One twin will be dominant, the other submissive. There are other exceptions as well. All of them point to the conclusion that birth order matters because of the way it affects a child’s family environment, not in and of itself.

Experts have theorized that the traits associated with birth order have developed as a response to the behavior of parents, the behavior of peers, and the behavior of siblings. Presently evidence points towards all three having influence.

Important Considerations When You Have Multiple Children

There is a common stereotype out there of the “lost middle child”. This person is stuck between two siblings. They have a tendency to be forgotten about, because their parents are busy with the youngest child of the family and the older child had the family to themselves when they were younger. This can lead to them becoming misguided, hence the “lost” aspect of this stereotype.

If you have multiple children, it's important to ensure you are divvying up your time and effort as equally as possible amongst them all. Of course, there are going to be times when one child demands more attention than the others. This could be due to an illness or injury, a disciplinary issue, or something else. But, overall, you should be aiming to focus on all of your children equally.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but it's harder in practice than it seems. It's easy to focus a lot on the youngest child in the family, since they are the most vulnerable and they represent your last opportunity to enjoy a child's young years. Just because your other children are older, though, doesn't mean they don't need you just as much. The reasons they need you have simply changed.

It can help to spread your children out over 2-3 years, if possible. This will ensure you don't have too many small children at once. Having a lot of children under 5 can be very stressful, which can lead to you being unable to dedicate the right amount of individual time to each child. Ultimately, try your very best, and everything should be just fine.

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