How Birth Order Affects Your Child’s Characteristics and Psychological Development
There is a lot of debate among psychologists and child development experts about whether or not birth order has an impact on a child’s personality and behavior. In other words, there are some people who believe that whether a child is the “oldest” or “youngest” in a family may determine some of his or her personal characteristics but others say that these theories about the impact of birth order simply aren’t true. The real truth is probably that birth order can play a role in impacting your child’s personality but it is only one factor out of many factors that contribute to the total personality that your child develops.
Some Basic Birth Order History
The first person to suggest that birth order was important to a child’s psychological development was a psychologist named Alfred Adler who worked in this field during the early twentieth century. Adler believed that children born first in the family ended up having to take on an abnormal level of responsibility than the other children which could result in psychological problems. Likewise, he believed that the youngest children in the family would lack any need to take responsibility for themselves or others and therefore would have issues related to this lacking. The birth order theories that have developed over time expand upon and alter those ideas suggested first by Adler.
Some Common Beliefs About Each of the Birth Order Traits
Here is a look at some of the most common traits that are believed to be associated with specific birth order placement:
Oldest children often bear the brunt of responsibility for their younger siblings. They are placed in a care providing and protective role for the younger siblings and therefore may tend to be more responsible in their lives in general. This can result in a desire to control the people and situations around them. Oldest children are usually the “good” children of the family who follow the rules and set the examples for younger children. Positive traits that are typically associated with oldest children include their leadership abilities and ambition.
Middle children often have a difficult time trying to figure out who they are and what their role is within the family. The middle child is always competing with both the oldest and the youngest children in the family. This often causes the middle child to do things to get attention which may be in the form of acting out or may simply be developing outgoing characteristics that garner him or her the attention that is desired. Positive traits that are typically associated with middle children include an ability to get along with almost anyone and a generally easy-going approach to life.
It is typically believed that youngest children are used to having things taken care of for them and therefore don’t develop a strong sense of responsibility. They may suffer from low self-esteem because they don’t learn to do things for themselves and are always trying to catch up to older siblings. At the same time, this child is usually spoiled and expects to receive what he or she wants. Positive traits associated with being the youngest child include a strong sense of creativity and a sense of humor.
Only children are considered to be in a different category than other children because they do not have sibling interaction and therefore grow up primarily around adults. Only children who grow up as the sole center of parental attention may have trouble separating from parents, difficulty getting along with other children and may seek to always be the center of attention since that is what the child is used to at home. Positive traits of the only child include a sense of maturity and a strong sense of self-control.
Beliefs about the Variations on Birth Order Placement
Psychologists today who believe that birth order does have an impact on psycho-social development tend to believe that this is far more complex than just simple traits of “oldest”, “middle” and “youngest” children. It is believed that big gaps in age between siblings, differences in gender, blended family issues and other factors can significantly alter standard traits of birth order. It is also believed that many other factors within the household environment and the family dynamic can significantly change the way that a child behaves in terms of birth order issues.
Some Common Sense Thoughts on Birth Order
My personal opinion is that some merit can be given to the role that birth order plays in creating personalities but that it isn’t the defining characteristic for most people’s psychological development. The interaction between siblings certainly plays a role in teaching kids how to interact with the rest of the world around them so it makes sense that someone growing up in the role of an eldest child / caretaker may behave differently in society than someone growing up in the role of a baby of the family. However, there are so many other things that happen within the interaction between family members that it doesn’t seem safe to assume that birth order along will determine how your kids act.
How Parents Can Deal with Birth Order
You obviously can’t determine in which order your children are born. And for the most part, you probably shouldn’t worry about the birth order of your children. However, parents can benefit from a basic understanding of birth order issues. This allows parents to compensate for some of the areas that may have the most significant impact on development. For example, a parent who knows that putting too much responsibility for caretaking on the eldest in a family can make proper accommodations for an outside care provider to play that role so that the eldest child in the family can develop in a healthy manner without that sense of responsibility.
Enjoy Your Children For Who They Are!
Ultimately you probably aren't going to be able to have a huge impact on whether or not birth order helps to shape who your child is. That's okay. Your child is unique because of all of the things that have contributed to create him or her including the relationship with siblings. Celebrate your child's individuality no matter what the birth order situation is in your family!