Can birth order influence your personality?
Some experts believe that children’s personalities are largely determined by their position in the family. Find out if you fit the description of a firstborn, middle or youngest child…
As an only child, I’ve always been fascinated with sibling relationships. I’ve noticed that the eldest is often the bossy one, the middle child tries to keep everyone happy and the youngest is a charmer.
I never thought that my anecdotal observations could possibly be backed by science, but it turns out that several leading parenting experts consider birth order to be one of the most important predictors of personality. Other influences include gender, genetics, temperament and parenting styles.
Michael Grose, author of Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It, believes that parents should use their knowledge of how birth order influences personality to inform and adjust their parenting styles.
“[Birth order] should be considered when looking for ways to raise happy, well-adjusted children,” he said.
In this article, we will cover:
- Firstborn child traits and parenting tips
- Second or middle child traits and parenting tips
- Youngest child traits and parenting tips
- Twins and other exceptions to the birth order rules
Scroll down for more!
The firstborn child
Eldest children tend to receive a lot of attention and adulation from immediate and extended family. While this position has its perks, it often comes with high expectations and pressure to perform. Firstborns are also likely to be subjected to stricter discipline than their siblings.
When other children come along, firstborns have to work extra-hard to prove their worth to their parents. They may also be expected to grow up faster and be role models to their siblings.
- High achievers
- Approval seekers
- Rule followers
- Detail oriented
“I fit the description of a firstborn to a T,” says marketing manager Tamara. “I’ve been trying to win my parents’ approval my whole life – especially my dad’s – and I’m super competitive and controlling. Whenever my younger brother and sister have a success, I’m happy for them but I also feel a twinge of ‘Oh god, now I’ll have to work even harder.’ Ugh, it’s so embarrassing saying this out loud, but it’s the truth!”
Grose’s parenting tips for firstborns:
- Try to ease the pressure on them because they’re hard enough on themselves
- Encourage instead of criticizing
- Give them special “eldest child” privileges
The second or middle child
Second or middle children tend to feel short-changed because they don’t receive the firstborn’s adoration or the youngest’s easy ride. They often feel invisible and generally have more friends than their older sibling to make up for lack of family attention.
They’re adept negotiators who do their best to keep the peace in the family. Second or middle kids also tend to be more independent and resilient than their siblings.
Second or middle child characteristics:
- Free spirits
“My brother is such a middle child,” says Tamara. “He acts like he doesn’t need me and my sister because he has so many friends, but deep down I know he cares what we think. He was always breaking up fights between me and my sister when we were growing up. His favorite saying was ‘Relax your brains” because he said we were too wound up!”
Grose’s parenting tips for second or middle children:
- Give them one-on-one time to make them feel special
- Listen when they speak
- Help them find a talent or interest that is uniquely theirs
The youngest child
Parents have usually relaxed their parenting style by this stage and the youngest child makes the most of it! Youngest children know how to turn on the charm and be manipulative to get their way.
They often take more risks and follow more creative pursuits than their siblings. They don’t have high expectations placed upon them, so they have to be pushed harder to do their best. One of their most positive traits is persistence – they learn early on that they can wear their family down if they keep pushing and this characteristic serves them well in life.
Youngest child characteristics:
- Risk takers
“Growing up, my little sister just had to switch on her puppy dog eyes and my parents would give her whatever she wanted,” says Tamara. “It drove me crazy! Now she’s a graphic designer who thinks completely outside the box. I admire her creativity and am a little envious of it because I’ve always been a ‘color in the lines’ type of person. It amazes me how me and my siblings fit into these birth order boxes so neatly.”
Grose’s parenting tips for youngest children:
- Make sure they have some responsibilities and encourage them to make their own decisions
- Gently push them to do their best
- Avoid babying them
Twins and other exceptions to the birth order rules
While I find all these birth order rules fascinating, as an only child and a mother of twins, I was left with some unanswered questions. So, I did a little digging.
It seems that only children have similar characteristics to firstborns, but they’re generally more confident and well-spoken than other children. I’ll take that!
When it comes to twins, research suggests that the larger and healthier twin at birth tends to become the more dominant twin. Because the firstborn twin is often the largest and healthiest, birth order rules generally remain true. The one exception to this rule is with boy-girl twin pairs – the girl tends to be the alpha regardless of size or birth order.
Well, I hate to blow up this theory, but when I gave birth to my fraternal twin girls, the firstborn was smaller and the second needed oxygen. So, twin A was healthier and twin B was bigger. They’re almost five now and I honestly can’t tell you which is the dominant one. They each have their strengths and situations where they exhibit more confidence than the other twin.
It’s also worth noting that some studies have debunked the birth order theories outlined above. I guess what it boils down to is that our personalities can’t be attributed to a single influence because they’re the result of a complex set of genetic and environmental factors.
And the uptight firstborns among us (including me) are just going to have to live with that uncertainty!
- Want more sibling content? Read 12 tips to building a stronger sibling bond and How to manage sibling fights during social distancing