How Birth Order Affects the Behaviour and Personality of Children

How Birth Order Effects Behaviour and Personality of Children

The first theory of personality development was developed by Alfred Adler, who established the field of individual psychology. According to Adler, it was important to understand a person in the context of their interactions with other people. As such, he postulated that personality traits and behaviours emerge from early childhood, such as birth order. This is to say that the order in which you are born can influence your character. While the birth order may not be as influential as, gender, socioeconomic status, educational qualifications, and so on, it certainly can have an effect on the person you become.

What is Birth Order?

Birth order is the position of a child in comparison to their siblings. A child’s birth order is not definitive, that is it cannot quantify human personalities as a set of codes. There is no ideal order position; in fact, the characteristics pertaining to birth order can be diluted by three overarching factors. First, parental attitude or parenting techniques, as they are your role models. Next comes parental birth order itself, and finally the gap between each child.

How Parent’s Behavior Changes According to Birth Order of Children

Birth order and parenting techniques are quite interlinked. For instance, the first child is often going to be a parenting experiment involving a blend of intuition and trial and error methods. Having a child can often frighten parents into becoming strict guardians, doing things according to pre-established doctrines of discipline. On the other hand, they might be lax with their second and third children due to their prior experiences. Further, they might be less involved with future children as now they have more than one to take care of.

Birth Order and Child Behavior

There are several birth order effects on the personality that have been observed. Here are a few of them:

1. Firstborns

Firstborn children tend to be natural leaders who are goal-oriented and responsible.This usually emerges from being the only attention-receiver in the house, granting them the personal security of having constant protectors. Further, when younger siblings arrive, firstborn kids develop a protective nature for them, giving them a heightened sense of responsibility. Firstborn children are hardworking and eager to please their parents and teachers.

However, if parents are too strict or demanding, it could cause the first kid to try harder and harder to please them, even at the cost of their own peace of mind. Perfectionism is a common character trait, leading to intellectualising their surroundings rather than developing their emotional maturity. Studies show that signs of anxiety and depression are most common among firstborns for this reason. It is also possible for them to develop feelings of jealousy and insecurity if the parents are ignoring them in favour of younger siblings, especially if the age gap is small.

2. Middle Borns

Middle kids are often sociable, egalitarian and peaceful. Since they don’t have the authority of their older sibling or the cuteness factor of their younger sibling, they develop diplomacy techniques. These kids are often surrounded by friends, dependent more on them than their parents who might be focussed on their first or last kid. These children are very friendly, working great with teams and being thoroughly supportive of their peers.

Birth order and personality development are not as simple when dealing with middle-borns. This is simply because of the possibility of multiple middle children, wherein it is quite difficult to pin specific character traits on the different middle-borns.

3. Last Borns

Commonly, the youngest kid is the most taken care of, both by parents and siblings. And at this point their parents have probably relaxed their rules, allowing them to explore their rebellious sides a lot more than their older siblings. These children are often the pranksters and daredevils, but also tend to be highly creative and innovative. Youngest children are often the best at sports, music or art. This comes from a competitive drive to do better than their older brothers and sisters.

The negative aspect to be noted here is that lastborns tend to be irresponsible and highly dependent on the older members of their family. This could lead to them giving up tasks easily in adulthood as they have nobody to do it for them.

4. Only Child

Only children grow up into confident adults due to the love and affection received from their parents. Further, they prefer being alone most of the time and tend to be intelligent and articulate as they only had their parents around for conversation.

The only child has nobody to compete with in the parental care department. They are excessively coddled, expecting this nature from everyone they meet. They tend to be dependent and selfish, being less able to form peer groups than kids who have siblings.

Are There Any Exceptions to Traditional Structure of Birth Order?

There may be a few exceptions to this structure in the following cases.

1. Blended Family

Blended families include those that arise from divorce and remarriage. In this case, the child will have to share their parents with step-siblings or half-siblings, throwing off their sense of balance. Firstborn kids might be pushed off their positions by an older stepchild, or the youngest might have to share attention with a newborn. However, unless the child is under five years old, their personality is not going to change drastically even if merged with a different family. This makes it complicated to blend families with older children as they will find it harder to handle the shift in the hierarchy.

2. Families Within Families

Families within families include cases like twins, wherein neither child has any particular birth order. Twins, whether born first, in the middle or as the youngest, always behave like a unit. This is why twins are usually considered a single unit, commonly referred to as such rather than by individual names. They don’t fit into the birth order, preferring their own special position.

3. Gap Children

These kids are born at least five to six years apart, repeating the birth order pattern. For example, a five-year-old middle kid with a twelve-year-old and one-year-old sibling is more likely to develop the personality of a firstborn rather than a middle born.

4. Adopted Child

Adoption is similar to having gap children. If the adopted child is very young when taken in by a family with two older kids, say, then they will automatically become the baby of the family, irrespective of their actual birth order. But if the child is over six years old when adopted into a family with older children, they will retain the traits of their original birth order.


How Does Birth Order Affect Child’s Personality?

Birth order personality traits often carry on into adulthood. For instance, older firstborns remain competitive and ambitious in a bid to win the approval of their parents and other authority figures. As expected, most people in leadership positions such as company heads, doctors, and so on tend to be first born. The people-pleasing middle child is just as convivial and helpful as an adult. Furthermore, middle borns tend to focus more on keeping others happy than paying attention to their own needs, which could make them feel directionless or lost. Last-borns are quite pleasant to be around, with the self-assurance and charm of a child. But this childlike nature can often be misconstrued as childish or immature, which prevents them from being taken seriously. When it comes to only children, their adult versions tend to be less insecure about change or lack of attention. This is usually because the realisation of their self-centredness sets in when they have to interact with other adults in a group setting.

Key Players that Influence Child’s Personality

The key players that influence a child’s character development include parents, siblings and friends. Research is divided on the topic, with some experts claiming that siblings are the most influential while others insisting that peers do the most. However, all studies have found that the presence of a parental role model is absolutely crucial in the development of their child’s personality.

Is Personality Fixed By Birth Order?

Fortunately, no personality traits are decided by birth order. Some of the steps to improve your child’s character traits include:

  • Understanding

This involves learning about their position and role in your family and peer circles. Once you know the different sets of traits applicable to your children, you will be able to support them better.

  • Identification

This involves pinpointing their various emotional disturbances and their sources. Identify your child’s various moods, their fluctuations, and what is causing them. Is the middle child frustrated because they feel less loved? Is the youngest angry at being treated like a baby all the time?

  • Decision

This is the point where you actually do something to change your behaviour, rather than just dwelling on it. Talk to your oldest, convince them that you love them no matter what and that they don’t have to try so hard for approval. Give your middle child some much-needed affection, spend one on one time with them, even if it’s just going for ice cream or to the park. Give the youngest or only child more responsibilities and chores, with a clear reward for their completion. This will reduce their dependency on you and others around them.

Does Birth Order Affect IQ Score of Children

This one has become quite a hot topic of debate in recent years. While some studies show that birth order and intelligence are linked, others claim that intelligence has more to do with genetics, socioeconomic factors and parental guidance. A major study performed by a German university found that the best IQ performances were given by oldest and only children, but no statistical difference in the IQs of younger siblings. Further, they observed no correlation between birth order and creativity, emotional maturity or talent.

Factors Apart from Birth Order That Affect the Personality of Children

There are various other governing factors that can decide a child’s personality. A few of them include:

  • Gender

This is one of the most important factors when it comes to familial roles. For example, having a firstborn boy and a second born girl means that she will not have to struggle for approval or attention from the parent. By virtue of her gender, she automatically is different and tends to take on first-born characteristics. Further, parents who prefer one gender over the other could also disturb the birth order hierarchy.

  • Age Gap

As mentioned earlier, age gaps can play a massive role in your child’s personality development. Siblings with closer intervals tend to be more competitive with each other, especially if they are the same gender. The ideal gap between children to avoid this seems to be five years, giving both siblings enough time to make a space of their own. This does not apply to twins, however, as there is almost no competition between them.

  • Mood

Genetic factors are deeply involved in personality development, so at least half of your child’s temperament is already predetermined. For example, your firstborn might not be protective of their younger sibling, or your middleborn might be aggressive and bad-tempered. This is where it is up to you to show your child the right way to interact with other people, and thereby become emotionally stable, happy adults.

  • Body Size

Bullying is quite common in multiple children households. The older kids can push the little ones around as they are usually larger in size. Sometimes the power dynamic can reverse if the younger sibling is stronger or more dominant, which can make the older one feel powerless and lonely.

  • Talent

All kids are special, but if a particular one shines at something, for example, sports, music or academics, parents are usually more focused on them. These kids will get all the love and attention they have always wanted, but it could cause the other siblings to become upset and resentful. Similarly, families with disabled children might disturb the birth order hierarchy as they sometimes require extra care.

While birth order effects seem plausible, most research done on them are not internally consistent. As already explained, excluding powerful factors such as social standing, financial status, parental education, parental presence, race, and many others have a greater impact. Birth order positions do influence the personalities of children, but it is important to remember that sufficient care, love, and mutual respect within the family are more crucial when it comes to shaping the individuality of your children.

Also Read:

Parent Child Relationship
How to Deal with Sibling Rivalry?

Previous article «
Next article »