Born to be wild
Is your first born a little miss bossy boots? Ever wondered why one of your kids can wrap you around their little finger with just a cheeky smile? Do you constantly clash with one of your offspring? Fact, fallacy or pop culture hype, there are those who tell us our characters are intricately shaped by our family birth order.
First born's are highly organised achievers, responsible, and critical thinkers, according to author of 'Why you are the way you are', Dr Kevin Leman.
‘First born's are clearly the natural movers, shakers and leaders of this world,’ he says. But, they can also be driven perfectionists.
In contrast, the baby of the bunch is often a free spirited larrikin; they love attention, and all of life's surprises. And while last born's are natural charmers, they can also be manipulative. So how then does the middle child fit into the family portrait? Typically they're compromising, diplomatic, loyal and fiercely independent.
‘Born too late to get the perks and privileges of being born first but too early to get the easy ride that the youngest receive, middles often feel squeezed between these two siblings and wonder, ‘why me?’ or ‘It's not fair!’ says Michael Grose - Parenting Educator and author of 'Why first born's rule the world and last born's want to change it.'
Austrian Psychiatrist, Alfred Adler first suggested birth order affected a child's personality almost a century ago. His belief was that birth order left an indelible impression on the individuals - and it seems many researchers agree.
According to a Norwegian study, first borns have more than their share of sibling smarts. The 2007 study of 250,000 children showed first borns usually are more intelligent than their siblings, on average 1 IQ point, in turn the next born is one point lower, and so on.
New research from Brigham Young University shows that first-born children get about 3,000 more hours of quality time with their parents up until their teenage years - could that be why?
Some studies have also shown results that contradict typical birth order stereotypes. A study by Professor Bram P. Buunk examined relationships between jealousy, personality and attachment styles - and concluded youngest sibs are more jealous than firstborns.
Middle kids might seem to be doing it tough, but according to Kevin Leman they have fewer problems in life than any of their siblings. And as for only children - well they're a lot like 'super' first borns according to Michael Grose. They share a lot of the traits of first born's, they're motivated to succeed, assertive, and organised, but these character traits are intensely magnified, he says.
There are also gender differences that need to be factored in. ‘For example if you have a boy first, then a girl, she will sometimes leapfrog to first child position, because of the maturity gap between boys and girls,’ he says.
In blended families birth order also gets shuffled around when two families unite. And there's also a cultural imperative, according to Michael. ‘In some cultures - boys are treated as first borns no matter where they're positioned in birth order.’
But is there an inherent risk in placing too much faith in birth order? Some experts argue that buying into the belief that character traits are predetermined can lead to a type of self-fulfilling prophesy. For example, a child may grow up thinking, ‘well I'm the youngest, I'm not going to try too hard, and no one expects me to anyway.’
‘There is a danger in trying to come up with formulas and generalisations - life really isn’t that simple,’ says Psychologist Vera Aubach.
A child's birth order is only an influence, not a fait accompli - there are many factors that will shape your child's unique personality. For starters, humans have a distinctive biological temperament - irrespective of their birth order. Parents also need to consider the circumstances of their child's birth. Every pregnancy comes at a different time at people's lives, every baby has a different meaning to the couple, and to each parent, she says.
‘We can't overlook the ghosts in the nursery - the parent's hopes and dreams, their expectations and state of mind at the time the baby was born,’ says Vera. Was the baby born after a miscarriage? Was it a much-longed for first child, or born at a time of loss?
Equally as compelling is the school of thought that a parent's own birth order dictates their parenting style. ‘First born parents tend to be more controlling with their own kids - last borns are usually very laid back parents,’ says Michael.
Feisty first born
When a sibling comes along, not only do first born's have to share toys, but there's a fuzzy headed little squealer, competing for attention once solely bestowed on them. ‘Parents need to reassure their firstborn that their heart is big enough to love more than one child,’ says Vera. You also need to let your child know they don’t have to share all their possessions - they can put aside some favourites that are off limits to their siblings.
First borns can also feel intense pressure to excel at everything they do. As new parents cheering on every milestone, it's also important to give them permission to be less than perfect - they don’t have to succeed at everything.
Kids in the middle
Middle children can feel as though they're overlooked within the family unit - as a result they're unlikely to even demand their rightful share of your attention. ‘Spend some special one-on-one time with your middle child,’ says Michael. ‘Encourage them to find a unique talent or sport they don’t have to share with their siblings.’
Don’t always pass on hand me downs to your middle child - make sure you buy them some new things. Also allow them to make some family decisions such as what DVD to watch, and to occasionally do things you'd automatically allocate to your oldest - lining up to get ice-creams for the family.
Laid back last born's
While first born's have lots of responsibilities the reverse is true for last borns. As the baby of the family, these charming cherubs are adept at getting their own way - and they're often the least disciplined. Build a sense of self reliance and independence in your youngest, by resisting the urge to do things for them, and make them accountable if they break the rules.
Last borns often feel that nothing they achieve is special, after all their parents have seen it all before. Take lots of photos of them, and applaud their efforts as they try new things, and master new challenges.
Only children can be more comfortable relating to adults than their peers - so provide them with lots of opportunities to be around other kids.
Just like first borns they also set high expectations of themselves - and are prone to be perfectionists. ‘The big struggle when they are young is often for them to be just kids,’ says Michael. ‘They'll also pick up parent's traits more - all the good stuff and sometimes their hang-ups as well.’
Only children also need to learn the art of give and take, and that good things come to those who wait, so try to avoid overindulging your only child.