All children develop different personalities and behaviors. One factor that has a big effect on this is their birth order. You can bet that the firstborn child will be different from the second child or the youngest. How many times have you heard that firstborns tend to be responsible or that the youngest tend to be spoiled? Understanding how birth order can affect their personality will help parents know how to relate and deal with each child. Parents need to have a different approach in treating each of their children.

The birth order theory began in the late 1920s with Alfred Adler, Sigmund Freud’s friend and colleague. He argued that birth order can impact an individual’s style of life, how one deals with the tasks of friendship, love and work.

First Child:

“Born first and wants to stay first”

  • an only child at first and the center of interest and attention
  • feels dethroned by sibling and might feel that parents don’t love them anymore
  • after dethronement, may seek undue attention, usually on the constructive side at first
  • if he/she feels overrun, becomes discouraged or may become a “problem”
  • tends to be steady, responsible, dependable, conforming, gets along well with authority figures
  • often a high achiever but overly concerned with his/her own prestige
  • feels he/she has to be first and may exploit his/her own worthiness
  • Frequent typologies: one who has to be right, perfect and superior
  • tends to be bossy and controlling
  • cautious and reliable
  • a natural leader
  • may be protective of others and a good organizer

Second Child: 

“Born behind and runs hard to catch up”

  • opposite of first child: if first is “good”, second is “bad”, and vice versa
  • chooses another field of endeavor where there is less competition from older sibling
  • acts as if he/she is in a race and feels that he/she has to try harder
  • may overcompensate; become hyperactive and pushy

Middle Child:

“Tends to elbow self through life”

  • has neither the privilege of the oldest or the youngest
  • may feel uncertain of his/her place, neglected and unloved
  • may feel that people are unfair to him/her and struggles
  • often is more sociable, but sensitive to injustices and unfairness
  • may feel “squeezed” but may also “squeeze” back in both directions
  • people-pleaser, adaptable, generous
  • often the peacemaker

Youngest Child:

“Born the baby, never dethroned, never wants to leave the paradise”

  • similar to an only child, but has siblings to observe and model from
  • often spoilt by parents and older siblings
  • may not be taken seriously, since he/she is the smallest
  • may lack self-reliance
  • often succeeds in having things done for him/her
  • may become highly successful or develop feelings of inferiority and become discouraged
  • may remain a dependent “baby” until adulthood
  • uncomplicated, fun and charming
  • outgoing and ambitious
  • risk takers
  • may be bored easily

Only Child:

“A dwarf in the world of giants”

  • Adults are more proficient, so he/she may feel incompetent
  • parent’s anxieties may make him/her feel insecure and unsure of himself/herself
  • has no rivals, often pampered
  • the center of interest
  • may feel lonesome and may resent not having siblings
  • has less opportunity to learn how to share, stand up for himself/herself or settle fights
  • may have special opportunities like travels and visits with adults
  • if request is not granted, may feel unfairly treated and may refuse to cooperate
  • may gain approval or solicit sympathy by being shy and helpless
  • may become highly responsible- encouragement is a vital factor
  • frequently is interested in himself
  • a “getter” rather than a “doer”
  • sensitive
  • mature for their age

These are probabilities only. I find most of these are  true for me. Being the eldest, I tend to be bossy and I like organizing stuff. With my youngest sister, well, she can say that she’s charming and outgoing. While some of these may or may not be true, birth order is only one of the factors that can affect our personality. Parenting and schooling also helps in shaping a child’s personality and behavior.

Each position has its own unique challenges. One way to help children deal with this is to acknowledge the difficulties that each child faces. They need to be reassured of your unconditional love. Arrange a one to one bonding moment with each child and encourage them to talk about their emotions.

Do you agree with the birth order theory?

How do you make sure that your child doesn’t feel ignored or neglected?


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