Have you ever heard the opinion that older children are “more mature” than their siblings? Or maybe you’ve heard that middle children are more “neutral” and laid back. Believe it or not, your birth order may influence your personality and can be tied back to some of your character traits. How is this possible? Many psychologists believe that depending on where you fall in the family structure, you may have to develop different strategies or tactics to gain your parents’ attention or favor. Additionally, parents are different with each child. For example, new parents are often much more cautious than seasoned ones with multiple children.
Do the traits ascribed to your birth order really match your true personality? Read on to see for yourself! In addition, consider enrolling in PSYC 3010: Personality to learn more about different personality traits.
Oldest Child - “The Achiever”
The oldest child is the only child in the family that will completely have their parents to themselves; the firstborn often benefits emotionally from this experience and emerges with a sense of security and self-confidence. Because of all of the attention they receive from their parents as an infant, firstborn children tend to be responsible, well behaved, and possess strong leadership qualities.
The oldest children are often held to a higher standard. They are the first of everything, and their parents are going through it for the first time too. First time parents are often overly concerned that their baby might get a bump or a bruise, or worse. This can cause the parents to be more strict with their oldest than they are with their youngest. The inexperienced parents often have quite high expectations for their firstborn and want them to be successful. Because they want what is best for them, they often micromanage them. Parents seem to be more relaxed when it comes to younger siblings. Oldest children, on the other hand, tend to act like a second parent to their younger sibling, causing them to become protective and responsible in nature.
The Middle Child - “Switzerland”
Middle children are not able to have the title or privileges of firstborns, so they tend to be very good at cooperation, compromise, and negotiation. They often don’t get as much attention from the family so they find other sources for it such as in a small but important circle of friends. They can feel jealous that their older sibling is always accomplishing things first; although when they are younger they often advance quicker because they have their older sibling to watch. They often walk or read sooner than their older sibling did.
Middle children are loyal and faithful in their relationships and are good at relating to a variety of people, both older and younger. They tend to be the family peacekeeper—understanding, cooperative, agreeable, loyal, and flexible, yet competitive. One parent may be helping the older child with their homework while the other gets the baby ready for bed. The middle child may feel they have to compete for their parents’ attention. They often create their own niche, something unique to excel at that is different from their siblings. According to data, more U.S. presidents were second-born than any other birth order (15). Firstborn children are next, with 10 U.S. presidents falling into this category.
The Youngest Child - “The Baby”
The youngest children tend to have more freedom and are often the most independent. Parents are often more hands-off and lenient with the babies; they tend to be less cautious as they have gotten the new parent jitters out of the way. Just as with the oldest sibling, the youngest child often feels special and has a unique place in the family. They tend to be more rebellious and attention seeking, creative, social, and outgoing.
The Only Child - “The King of the Castle”
Only children tend to be more mature than those who have siblings. Only children are typically surrounded by adults, so they tend to be independent, confident, and intelligent. They have a lot in common with firstborn children, although they often are more creative yet less agreeable than those with siblings are.
Personality Isn’t Always Clear-Cut
Do you feel like these descriptions don’t exactly have you pegged? You are not alone. In fact, Alfred Adler, the first researcher to identify the significance of birth order, and his successors also talked about the concept of psychological birth order. They said it is not just the number (where you are in the numerical birth order) that matters but also the way that the child interprets it. In fact, it is believed that it is possible to identify with more than one birth order category, after all every firstborn child has been the oldest at one point, and middle children were once the youngest. The gap in years between children can also have an impact! Many experts agree that five or more years between kids act as a reset button. What about twins? Experts say that these rules don’t apply as twins get a special focus from parents.
Think of this as a fun exercise! Just as it is with any experience that you go through in life, it is your interpretation of how you experience things that matters. If you were a middle child and you felt that you had your parents’ undivided attention and never had to compete with your siblings, then that was your experience and that is great! Learning more about birth order and the effect on our personalities can be helpful for parents to see how they may, unknowingly, be influencing their children. As an adult, it is also interesting learn more about where some of your personality traits might stem from!