Have you ever wondered why your first child is a bossy perfectionist and your second child is more relaxed and less pedantic? As parents we are often puzzled how two children from the same set of parents can be so different. Could it possibly have something to do with birth order?
Birth Order theories have been around since the 1920’s. Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, was the first to emphasise the importance of birth order and how it affects our lives.
Today’s psychologists tend to believe that birth order is simply one variable that affects, but does not determine what you are like. It is very clear however, that there is a lot more to your child’s personality than what they’ve inherited from their gene pool.
Do you believe your child’s birth order has any bearing on his or her personality and should this affect the way you parent?
Research on Birth Order
Tiffany L Frank, a doctoral candidate at Adelphi University in Long Island, NY, led a recent study on 90 pairs of high school age siblings. It was found that first borns are typically smarter, while younger siblings get better grades and are more outgoing. Frank’s study also suggested that inherent differences between siblings might arise no matter what parents do.
This finding supports the work of Dr Kevin Leman, a psychologist who has studied birth order since 1967 and is also the author of The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are. Leman says “The one thing you can bet your paycheck on is the first born and second born in any given family are going to be different”. Dr Leman believes the secret to sibling personality differences lies in birth order and how parents treat their child because of it.
Child and family therapist, Meri Wallace and author of Birth Order Blues agrees with Leman. “Some of it has to do with the way the parent relates to the child in his position, and some of it happens because of the position itself. Each position has unique challenges.”
For example, a firstborn will naturally be somewhat of an ‘experiment’ for parents and the early years will be a mixture of instinct and trial and error. This may cause parents to be ‘by the book’ caregivers who are extremely attentive and stringent with rules and somewhat neurotic about small issues. This approach may cause a first born to be more of a perfectionist and always strive to please his parents.
A second child, in contrast, might be parented in a more relaxed manner due to the parents’ experiences with the first born; they can often be less attentive and less concerned about smaller things. This may be why the second born child is often less of a perfectionist but more of a people pleaser; she may get less attention compared to her older sibling.
Meri’s belief is that how parents treat their first born and second born is the real influence on their attitudes and behaviour, rather than merely the order in which they were born.
Michael Grose, parenting expert and author of Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It believes that most of us have a dominant birth order personality that matches our birth position. He also believes that personality is influenced by variables such as temperament, gender and other family circumstances.
Michael summarises birth order ‘types’ and their characteristics below. Just for fun, we’ve included some famous people within each birth order ‘type’.
First Borns – leaders, drivers and responsible types. They like to manage others and feel in control. They don’t often like surprises or feeling out of their depth. Often conservative in their outlook, they may be low risk takers. They have a tendency towards perfectionism. Approval of authority is important.
Famous First Born Children: Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Hilary Clinton & Bill Clinton and macho actors such as Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Sean Connery. Two more famous first borns are Oprah and J.K. Rowling
Second Borns – people pleasers, compromisers and flexible types. They are most likely to be motivated by a cause and will enjoy working alongside people. Friendships and belonging are extremely important to this group. They like to keep the peace and are the glue that holds groups together. Note: ‘Second borns’ refers to all children born between the first born and the youngest.
Famous Second Born Children: Bob Hope, Bill Gates, JFK, Madonna, Cindy Lauper, Princess Diana, Cindy Crawford and Brittney Spears.
Onlys – quiet achievers, finishers; they expect nothing less than the best in anything. Only children may raise the bar for everyone around them as only the best will do. Their great strength is their ability to work alone for a long period of time. They are strategic thinkers and great finishers. They can also be secretive and don’t deal with conflict well. Recognition is important to this group.
Famous Only Children: Hans Christian Anderson, Lance Armstrong, Lauren Bacall, Burt Bacharach, David Copperfield, Leonardo Da Vinci, Mahatma Gandhi, Sammy Davis Jnr.
Youngests – initiators, ideas people and challengers. Youngest children are likely to be creative, live for the moment people who put fun into activities. They are impatient and whilst they are great starters, they often don’t finish things. Being noticed is important to youngest children.
Famous Youngest Children: Ronald Regan, Cameron Diaz, Jim Carrey, Drew Carey, Danny DeVito, Billy Crystal & Eddie Murphy.
What do you think? Is there something to birth order and personality type? Do you fit into your birth order group?
Can we and should we alter our parenting style to bring out the best in our child based on their birth order, or does knowing their birth order personality simply help us to understand them better?