As discussed in the January 1 newsletter, birth order plays a significant role in family dynamics and personality. Birth order affects every person, and is often a topic that is neglected when looking at the behaviors and characteristics of children (and adults).
Children are obviously affected by their environment and their siblings. There are often stories of amazing bonds that were forged through circumstances during childhood. Along the same lines, children learn and adapt according to their roles and place in the family.
Alfred Adler researched and developed the birth order theory and included the consistent patterns of behavior and personalities of children in certain roles within the family. Adler’s work has since been expanded and further explained in many books that break down his discoveries into succinct traits.
Oldest children are initially only children and are used to being the center of attention. When another child comes, the oldest often feels threatened and dethroned. In an effort to regain parental attention, the oldest learns to be the helper that can be responsible for completing tasks. This leads to a need for perfection and control. It also usually results in high expectations and a drive to succeed.
Second children are always playing catch up to the oldest. They never get to experience anything first, and often are very competitive with the oldest. The second usually wants to overtake the oldest, but sometimes realizes this desire is futile if the oldest is “perfect”. This often develops into rebellion, as the second child no longer wishes to compete, but rather defies authority.
Middle children (of three children) often feel insignificant and “squeezed” in to the family. They neither have the privileges of the oldest nor the rights of the baby. They often feel that they do not fit in, and have no special place. Middle children tend to have a relaxed, laid back attitude about things, and often are very adaptable. In an effort to stand out from their siblings, they tend to choose very different interests with which they can shine. * Note: Middle children in large families have different characteristics that middle children in a family of five. Literature on this topic will differentiate between the two.
Youngest children are the babies, and often maintain that attitude throughout their lives. They find it difficult to accept responsibility for things and feel that others should take care of them. Youngest children have a tendency to be spoiled and dream big, although they often do not follow through with their dreams. They are usually fighters for bigger and better things, even if they do not feel they should have to do anything to achieve those things.
Only children often have difficulty relating to their peers while they are children, but often are better at relating to adults than other birth positions once they are older. They are typically very mature and responsible, and can be very creative from living around adults their entire lives. They have the potential to be spoiled, but are also independent.
There are other positions a child can have, such as twins, adoptions, blended families, death of children, etc. These all play into the role that children have in a family, and the birth order roles adapt based on the familial circumstances. For example, if a biological child is the oldest and the parents later adopt a child who chronologically is older, the biological child will blend oldest and second characteristics. All of these scenarios can be found in Birth Order and You by Ronald & Lois Richardson.
This book also indicates how birth order affects our lives in other aspects, such as marriage, friendships, employment, parenting, etc. For example, it gives ideal matches for marriage relationships, based on the birth order of each partner. An oldest sister of brothers is best matched with a youngest brother or sisters, as they are used to that role in the family of origin.
Learning about birth order and how it affects your life and the lives of your children not only provides understanding of characteristics but also explains certain behaviors that may be otherwise considered as “bad”. Gaining insight as to why we behave certain ways helps us work with our family members in healthy and positive ways, while making accommodations for their role in the family!