Even before I had three children, I was interested in the impact of birth order on the personalities of people. In my classroom, my students and I would have conversations after reading specific research articles describing how birth order affects personality, achievement, and expectations. We would have good discussions, and more than not, my students found that they fell into the stereotypical roles of their birth order. First borns felt like the leaders of their families, playing out the high expectations of their parents. Middle children never felt like life had been fair to them, and the babies had it made. Within my groups of students there were outliers. The only children often played the role of the first born and the baby, while kids with three or more siblings identified more with the sibling to whom they were closest.
Now that I’m a mother of three, I really enjoy the way my children fall completely into the roles that psychologists describe. My oldest has been organizing other children since he could talk. I’ll never forget going to different mall play centers and watching him coordinate children he had just met into some sort of game or competition. He feels compelled to do that in almost every situation, and scientists would say this is normal. According to Dr. Gail Gross in her article The Achiever, the Peacemaker and the Life of the Party: How Birth Order Affects Personality, “Because they have had so much control and attention from their first-time parents, they are over-responsible, reliable, well-behaved, careful and smaller versions of their own parents.” The downside to these mini-adults, is that they often put immense pressure on themselves to do things as perfectly as possible. I see this with my own child as well. When I sense myself putting too much pressure on him, I try to remind myself that he is a child and setting unrealistic expectations will only do harm.
Our middle child is pretty stereotypical as well. He is the fairness police, making sure everyone knows that the score will never be in his favor. I hear stories from my students about middle children being left places, but my middle would never let this happen. He is our connector, our social butterfly, and if it is too quiet, he is missing. Sure, I’ve shown up to the pool and realized he was the only child without shoes, but hey, it was a pool. We could never forget him. Although middle children are often more socially driven, if the oldest child isn’t falling into the leadership role, the middles will often step up. Many presidents have been middle children, and psychologists say this is why.
Finally, the babies. They have the advantage of their parents’ age, financial security, and experience. The youngest children walk on water, and they are usually pretty proud of that fact. Sometimes the babies feel that they aren’t being taken seriously, and this is when behavior problems can occur. I can see this with my daughter. She wants her voice heard, and to be honest, it’s often the loudest voice in a collection of children, but when she feels her opinion isn’t valued, she gets pretty upset. Parents can help their youngest children feel respected by really listening to their opinions and engaging in intellectual conversations with them.
Although most of our first, second, third borns, and beyond fall into these categories, there are factors that negate these stereotypes. Real Simple magazine mentions temperament, gender, physicality, and age spacing to play factors in these personality traits.
No matter what, all of our children want to feel valued and loved. Parents can do this best by zeroing in on what makes each child so special. Mentioning and remembering what parts of each child’s personality makes us happy can help all kids feel like they play an important role in their family no matter where they fall in birth order. Do your children fit into their birth order? We’d love to know!