Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Paying attention to birth order, and each individual child.

The order in which children are born into a family is a fact, but the effect that this order has on their personality and psychology is not a science. Many factors influence the results of birth order including the sex of the children, the physical size of the children and most importantly the spacing between them. The family is the largest influence on a persons development, more so than institutions or cultures outside of the family. Therefore, the influence of birth order in the family structure is worth looking at. However keep in mind when searching for reliable sources on birth order that the only way to discuss birth order is to generalize and stereotype.

Take the following prompt for example from The University of Maine.

Where Do You Fit?

  • Perfectionist, reliable, list-maker, well-organized, critical, serious, scholarly
  • Mediator, fewest pictures in the family photo album, avoids conflict, independent, extreme loyalty to the peer group, many friends
  • Manipulative, charming, blames others, shows off, people person, good salesperson, precocious

If you identified with the characteristics in the first list, you may be an only child or a first-born. If the second list fits you better, chances are you a middle child. And if the last list fits you best, you may be the youngest or baby in the family.

Birth order is not a simple system stereotyping all first-borns as having one personality, with all second-borns another, and last-born kids a third. Instead, birth order is about tendencies and general characteristics that may often apply. Other things also influence birth order.2

The underlying factor in birth order is parental attention. The first born experienced 100% of each parents attention while the second born will never know that reality experiencing only 50% of each parents attention. The expectations and implications of birth order are in the hands on the parents. If you expect the first born to do more difficult chores than the second born based solely on age while typically siding with the younger child in disputes than you may notice a personality development that follows suit.

Putting extra time and attention into treating the children as individuals, and giving them each the attention they deserve independent of each other is a good place to start. Expectations are best adjusted so that the older child is not naturally expected to get higher grades while the younger child is expecting to cause youthful trouble. Holding all children to the same standards, while valuing them as individuals with separate interest and talents goes a long way in avoiding Second Child Syndrome.

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