Posted: Jan 20, 2014 8:00 AM
 
Studies show that birth order affects personality, success and relationships. Perhaps more importantly, moms say the same thing. An early childhood specialist shares the facts about birth order. Are oldest children bound to be bossy? Is being a middle child a people-pleasing sentence? We learned the scoop about birth order!

In a leadership class I took, the moderator had our group of 60 fill out a 10-question survey. Based on our scores, he separated us into four groups and asked us to predict what his criteria was. After some noisy negotiating, we came up mostly blank and he was forced to reveal his sleuthing secret. It turned out that, besides one or two mistakes, he was spot on. How was he able to do this? Birth order.

We've heard the stereotypes: Leader. People pleaser. Spoiled. Awkward. Did you know exactly which birth order status I was pinpointing? Of course you did. With numerous studies yielding books with titles such as The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are and The Birth Order Effect: How to Better Understand Yourself and Others gracing book shelves and early childhood classrooms, birth order is a hot topic.

While some factors do sway the birth order effect (number of years between siblings, multiples, illness, divorce and remarriage to name a few), there are some generalizations that many feel comfortable naming and owning.

In this article in Parents magazine based on Meri Wallace's work in The Birth Order Blues, some common birth order traits were named: 

First born

  • Reliable
  • Conscientious
  • Structured
  • Cautious
  • Controlling
  • Achievers

Middle children

  • People-pleasers
  • Somewhat rebellious
  • Thrive on friendships
  • Have a large social circle
  • Peacemakers

Last born

  • Fun-loving
  • Uncomplicated
  • Manipulative
  • Outgoing
  • Attention-seeker
  • Self-centered

Only children

  • Mature for their age
  • Perfectionists
  • Conscientious
  • Diligent
  • Leaders

The research says...

Parents may at times nurture their children into these traditional birth order roles subconsciously by imposing certain expectations on their children.

So what's the real scoop with birth order? Is there truth to these well-touted traits? Rhonda Richards-Smith, a mental health and relationship expert and a licensed psychotherapist with over 10 years of experience in the mental health field, is passionate about helping people improve their personal lives, relationships with others and overall mental health. A big part of this work is helping people know themselves and their loved ones really well. About how this plays out with birth order, Smith says that there is value to what birth order research shows and that these traits are so commonly identifiable for more reasons than one. Smith explains, "Some factors that must be taken into consideration include involvement of the extended family, the number of years separating each sibling and cultural differences within each family. It should also be noted that parents may at times nurture their children into these traditional birth order roles subconsciously by imposing certain expectations on their children."

Perfectly imperfect parenting

Most parents will say that they parent each of their children with similar rules and expectations. But in reality, this can rarely be the (whole) story. Smith notes that, "In 2008, Brigham Young University published a study suggesting that first-born children spend approximately 3,000 more hours of quality time with their parents than second-born children, while between the ages of 4 and 13. These findings provide one explanation as to why first-born children tend to be high achievers with higher IQs who earn more money than their younger counterparts." By sheer nature of how many children parents are splitting their time, hands and energy between, their parenting changes. And this, in turn, affects their children's development and personalities.

Kelly Olson has taught in early childhood classrooms for more than 25 years. Just as importantly, she's a mother of two. About birth order, Olson says, "I know from having my own children that I was nervous, messy and very cautious with my first child. I basically responded to every demand she had — probably before she finished crying! I also had some pretty high expectations of myself and of her. With my second child, he was very relaxed and I was much more laid back. Nuks that fell on the floor got spit on versus boiled in water and I knew he would develop in his own time. Life was more relaxed and we tended to chill."

We practice on our first-borns, feel more confident but are learning how to split our attention with our second-borns and after that? We're forced to go with the flow.

This pattern of learning as we go and using that knowledge and experience to relax our parenting style affects how our children turn out and is, indeed, a factor of birth order. We practice on our first-borns, feel more confident but are learning how to split our attention with our second-borns and after that? We're forced to go with the flow.

Birth order rules

Smith cautions that, "While children may fall in line with some of these birth order stereotypes, it's important that parents not impose different expectations of their children simply based on the order in which they were born."

When the birth order is disrupted by the sudden inclusion of a new step-sibling, it's not uncommon for children to grieve their previous position in the family and fight to maintain their standing within the family.

Interestingly, Smith also adds that, "With the number of blended families on the rise, birth order theory and its implications for our lives has become even more complex. When the birth order is disrupted by the sudden inclusion of a new step-sibling, it's not uncommon for children to grieve their previous position in the family and fight to maintain their standing within the family."

So while we can't assume that birth order dictates how our children will turn out, we can use this birth order-based knowledge to better understand our children's personalities — and our own.

Share with us!^ What's your birth order status? Would I be able to guess it based on your personality? Can you guess mine? Leave us a comment below!

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