Birth order in­flu­ences

Would your smart el­dest child have been less clever if he were the youngest? Or would your mid­dle child have been less stub­born if he were the el­dest? How much does birth order de­ter­mine who your chil­dren are? Shanda Luyt finds out

Your Baby & Toddler - - CONTENTS - YB

EV­ERY CHILD IS UNIQUE – all the way from crown to toe. So, why do so many first­borns across the globe share spe­cific per­son­al­i­ties while mid­dle and youngest chil­dren fit other boxes?

Re­search has shown it time and again: the order in which your chil­dren are born plays a part in their per­son­al­ity.

Michael Grose, au­thor of Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It, says a child’s po­si­tion in the fam­ily im­pacts his per­son­al­ity, his be­hav­iour, his learn­ing and ul­ti­mately his earn­ing power.

“Most peo­ple have an in­tu­itive knowl­edge that birth order some­how has an im­pact on de­vel­op­ment, but they un­der­es­ti­mate how far-reach­ing and just how sig­nif­i­cant that im­pact re­ally is,” Michael says.

Cape Town psy­chol­o­gist Bet­tie Rall be­lieves as the par­ent, you hold the magic wand to make your child a typ­i­cal first­born, mid­dle child or last­born.

“The in­flu­ence of birth order is a so­cial con­struct: it’s about how we han­dle our chil­dren. It has an ef­fect on de­vel­op­ment and how your chil­dren view them­selves,” Bet­tie says.

She says par­ents of­ten treat their el­dest, mid­dle and youngest dif­fer­ently be­cause of prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions such as time and money.

The in­flu­ence of birth order is not set in stone, Bet­tie em­pha­sises. If you un­der­stand how chil­dren typ­i­cally re­act to be­ing treated like an old­est, mid­dle or youngest child, you could ap­proach your par­ent­ing in a dif­fer­ent way…


• Very re­spon­si­ble • Driven • Com­mit­ted • In­tense • Au­thor­i­ta­tive • Help­ful • Born leader • Emo­tional • Per­fec­tion­ist • Con­ser­va­tive • Doesn’t want to dis­ap­point

Is there a big­ger mo­ment than the one when your first child is born?

The best of ev­ery­thing is bought new, and Dad has the soc­cer kit all set out for his fu­ture Bafana Bafana team mem­ber.

Af­ter the birth, the cam­era doesn’t stop flash­ing, the go­gos fall over each other to hold the lit­tle one, and ev­ery­one cel­e­brates ev­ery sin­gle mile­stone.

He’s sur­rounded with ed­u­ca­tional toys, gets hours and hours of qual­ity time, and ev­ery­one be­lieves he’s go­ing to be a win­ner.

The con­se­quences

Par­ents (and the whole fam­ily) ex­pect just the best from their el­dest child, be­cause they think he’s the most won­der­ful lit­tle thing on earth, Bet­tie ex­plains.

“This child is used to be­ing told the whole time how fan­tas­tic it is that he’s around. Par­ents have ex­tremely high, al­most un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions, and this has an in­flu­ence. Re­search shows your ex­pec­ta­tions have a con­sid­er­able ef­fect on how he fares,” she says.

Th­ese high ex­pec­ta­tions re­sult in old­est chil­dren of­ten be­com­ing over-achiev­ers.

“They’re driven go-get­ters, have lots of self-con­fi­dence and are of­ten very dom­i­neer­ing. At the same time, they’re very sen­si­tive to crit­i­cism. They don’t want to dis­ap­point their par­ents.

“You see the ef­fect of all the at­ten­tion and en­cour­age­ment from early on: they quickly be­come in­de­pen­dent, es­pe­cially when the next child comes along. They mas­ter some skills ear­lier than their peers, have more self-con­fi­dence that they will suc­ceed, and find it eas­ier to tackle new things. In groups they of­ten want to force their will on the other friends and take the lead.”

Red light The big­gest dan­ger is be­ing overly re­spon­si­ble, Bet­tie says. “There’s a risk that your old­est takes on too much re­spon­si­bil­ity and then burns out. An­other dan­ger is that he’s dom­i­neer­ing and bossy in groups, be­cause old­est chil­dren strongly be­lieve in their own point of view.”

How to help Teach your child that he doesn’t al­ways need to be per­fect, that it’s ac­cept­able to fail some­times, Bet­tie says. Teach him that ask­ing for help is not a sign of weak­ness.


❯ The IQ of old­est chil­dren is, on av­er­age, three points higher than that of their clos­est sib­ling.

❯ In one study, 41 per­cent of en­trepreneur­s were old­est chil­dren.

❯ Old­est chil­dren are ap­par­ently given more cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment than younger chil­dren.

❯ First­borns fare well in fields that re­quire fur­ther aca­demic study such as law, medicine or engi­neer­ing.

❯ First­borns run a greater risk of be­com­ing obsessive-com­pul­sive.

❯ More than half of all No­bel-prize win­ners in the his­tory of the awards have been first­borns.

❯ Of the 23 first astro­nauts, 21 were el­dest chil­dren. The other two were only chil­dren.


• Peace­maker

• Adapt­able

• Ex­cel­lent so­cial skills

• In­de­pen­dent

• Of­ten re­bel­lious

• At­tuned to oth­ers’ needs

• Cre­ative

• Sus­pi­cious

• In­trepid

• Imag­i­na­tive

The mir­a­cle is not less with baby num­ber two, but with two chil­dren, the time (and money) to find plea­sure in the new bun­dle of joy is.

The al­bum takes longer to fill up, and alone time with the lit­tle one is a lux­ury. Mile­stones are a given. The crux is that mid­dle chil­dren get a lot less time and

at­ten­tion than any of your other kids, be­cause the older one is al­ways there and the baby de­mands at­ten­tion.

The con­se­quences Mid­dle chil­dren are some­times ex­tremely at­ten­tion­seek­ing be­cause of the lack of in­di­vid­ual at­ten­tion, Bet­tie says.

“They can seek at­ten­tion in a pos­i­tive way by, for in­stance, al­ways want­ing to be in the lime­light, or in a neg­a­tive way by re­belling. It’s the group of chil­dren that ex­press them­selves in the most neg­a­tive way, be­cause there’s al­ways an older child who’s bet­ter than them and a younger one who gets all the at­ten­tion be­cause he’s cute.

“Mid­dle chil­dren are usu­ally sus­pi­cious and im­pa­tient. They can also be very stub­born to as­sert them­selves. They ex­pect no-one to lis­ten to them and are for this rea­son prone to be louder than their peers in order to get no­ticed. They can also some­times be very com­pet­i­tive be­cause they feel they’re al­ways sec­ond and never the best. At the same time, they’re also bad losers.”

On the pos­i­tive side, mid­dle chil­dren are usu­ally very so­cial and adapt­able chil­dren – and peace­mak­ers. “They com­pen­sate for the lack of at­ten­tion at home in other places, so they like so­cial­is­ing. They also de­velop very good so­cial skills and are very ro­man­tic part­ners later in life.”

Red light Your mid­dle child is usu­ally the one who be­comes a prob­lem child later and rebels to get at­ten­tion, Bet­tie warns.

How to help You have to go to a lot of trou­ble to spend time with and pay at­ten­tion to your mid­dle child. “Make their firsts ex­tra spe­cial, and take no­tice of their tal­ents and spe­cial char­ac­ter­is­tics – praise them for th­ese, and go on ‘dates’ just the two of you,” Bet­tie says.


• Full of self-con­fi­dence • Re­laxed • In­de­pen­dent • Im­ma­ture • Cre­ative and un­con­ven­tional

• Low ex­pec­ta­tions of self

• Cares about oth­ers

• Ma­nip­u­la­tive and of­ten spoilt

• Good sense of hu­mour: nat­u­ral “clown”

It’s your last chance to spoil a baby, and you make the most of it. The whole fam­ily par­takes of the spoil­ing.

If the chil­dren fight about toys, you’re quick to ask them to give in to his wish, be­cause, “He’s still small.” He calls the shots like a prince – and you al­low that to hap­pen. You’re less strict in rais­ing

him than you were with your older chil­dren.

The con­se­quences “Youngest chil­dren stay de­pen­dent for longer, be­cause they’ll al­ways be the baby of the house,” Bet­tie says. “They later ex­pect to be served – the whole world is their slave! – and they ex­pect this un­til they’re adults.

“They ex­pect the whole world to dance to their tune, be­cause that’s what hap­pens at home. They ex­pect to get their will be­cause ‘they’re still small’ and feel cheated if so­ci­ety doesn’t want to give it to them. They don’t eas­ily ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

On the pos­i­tive side, they usu­ally have lots of self-con­fi­dence, be­cause they’re “spe­cial” and get at­ten­tion. Be­cause ev­ery­one con­stantly took care of them, they’re also car­ing peo­ple, Bet­tie ex­plains. “They tend to be im­ma­ture, but they’re more open to tak­ing risks and for new ex­pe­ri­ences. They’re usu­ally un­der­achiev­ers be­cause they don’t trust their own opin­ions and per­cep­tions – ev­ery­one al­ways con­tra­dicts what they say. Par­ents also ex­pect less from their youngest ones, so they also ex­pect less from them­selves. But you also get a group that’s the very op­po­site: they want to out­per­form their peers and then some­times be­come over­achiev­ers.”

Red light Youngest ones can be very ma­nip­u­la­tive – and spoilt, Bet­tie says. “They could be self-cen­tred. They’re of­ten scared to give their views be­cause they’re the small­est at home and aren’t al­ways taken se­ri­ously.”

How to help The most im­por­tant thing is to watch out from early on that the whole fam­ily doesn’t serve baby.

“Don’t give your youngest his wish just be­cause he’s small. Give him the same re­spon­si­bil­i­ties you gave the oth­ers at the same age. And lis­ten to his opin­ion. He has to learn it’s valu­able.”


Gap If there’s a big gap be­tween chil­dren, the sec­ond or third could be treated like the el­dest, and he might ex­hibit el­dest-child traits, Bet­tie says.

The smaller the gap, the greater the im­pact of birth order. Re­searchers have found that if there’s more than a fiveyear gap be­tween the first and sec­ond chil­dren, the sec­ond child be­comes like an old­est child.

Be­tween later chil­dren, the age gap has less of an in­flu­ence on their per­son­al­ity.

Gen­der The in­flu­ence of birth order is usu­ally greater if all the chil­dren are of the same gen­der.

The first daugh­ter to come af­ter an older brother will also of­ten be­have like an old­est child and vice versa, es­pe­cially if there’s a big age gap.

Dys­func­tional fam­ily In families with lots of ten­sion, like af­ter a di­vorce, the in­flu­ence of birth order is of­ten more clearly vis­i­ble. The old­est will for in­stance act even more re­spon­si­bly and the youngest more like a baby.

Par­ents’ birth order Your own po­si­tion com­pared to that of your sib­lings could play a part in how you han­dle your own chil­dren. You might have a par­tic­u­lar un­der­stand­ing for the child that shares your po­si­tion in the order and per­haps strug­gle to con­nect with your other chil­dren.

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