Even though they share the same genetics, your kids are all totally different. What order they were born in may have a huge impact on their development. I came across a fascinating article in Parents Magazine by Linda DiProperzio about this topic.
Jake is the oldest of Elizabeth Moore’s three children. He is always the first to help, while Sam, the youngest, likes to complain. Her middle son Ben barely makes it out of the house. “He gets held up looking for his shoes. By the time they’ve turned up, we’re done,” relates the West Caldwell, NJ mother. “It amazes me how different my children are from one another.”
Why is it that three kids growing up with the same genes under one roof turn out so strikingly different? “For siblings, the differences in many aspects of personality are about as great as they could be between a brother and a sister,” says Frank Sulloway, Ph.D. the author of Born To Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives. Sure there are other factors which are important, like, “My kid came out of the womb performing Stravinsky (ahem, genes) but understanding the dynamics of birth order can help you give your kids the leverage they need to rise above family dynamics.
Ahh…To Be First. Famous firstborns: Oprah, Hillary Clinton, Winston Churchill, Sylvester Stallone and Bill Clinton
Strengths. First born children tend to enjoy 3,000 hours more quality time with their parents than middle and last born children. That’s right, 3,000 hours! It’s no wonder these kids tend to score higher on IQ tests. “Many parents spend more time reading and explaining things to firstborns. It’s not as easy when other kids come into the picture,” says Frank Farley, Ph.D. a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia who studies personality and development. “That undivided attention may have a lot to do with why firstborns tend to be overachievers.” Additionally these kids tend to out-earn their brothers and sisters, making at least $100,000 annually, according to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey).
Challenges. The downside is, “Firstborns often have an intense fear of failure, so nothing they accomplish feels good enough,” says Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., a child and family therapist in White Plains, NY. Because they tend to want to get everything right, “They’re typically inflexible–they don’t like change and are hesitant to step out of their comfort zone,” she elaborates. And because they’re the oldest, they tend to be the recipients of more responsibilities than their siblings. This can lead to excess stress for kids who already feel pressure to be perfect. “I’m constantly reminding my oldest daughter, 9-Year old Posy, that I’m the mom; I should be the one worrying about everyone else,” says Julie Cole, mother of six from Ontario.
Redress. Although firstborns are constantly receiving acknowledgment for their achievements, they also need to know it’s ok to blow it now and again, says psychologist Kevin Lehman, Ph.D., author of The Birth Order Book. So make sure to share with your firstborn the times you didn’t succeed and what you learned from those experiences. It can make all the difference if your kid has the freedom to make some mistakes and actually learn from them, rather than beating herself up.
Ahh…To Be Young. Famous younglings: Jim Carrey, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Cameron Diaz and Rosie O’Donnell.
Strengths. Those born last tend to be natural charmers with an outgoing, social personality. Since they’re not usually the smartest (where did those 3,00 hours go?) they tend to develop their own winning formula with high scores in “agreeableness”, according to Dr. Sulloway’s research. These hearty adventurers also tend to take more physical risks than their older siblings, choosing sports like football and soccer as opposed to track and tennis.
Challenges. Since their older siblings have walked and talked before they did, their accomplishments tend to get lost in the shuffle. “None of their accomplishments seem original.” Dr Lehman notes. “Their siblings have already learned to talk, read and ride a bike. So parents react with less spontaneous joy at their accomplishments and may even wonder, ‘Why can’t he catch on faster?’”. They also tend to be less disciplined. “My youngest is carefree and doesn’t worry about details,” says Christine Kiefer, a mother of five from Freedom, Pennsylvania. “I expected more from my oldest when he was his age.”
Redress. Since you want to prepare your kids for the world you don’t want to make it too easy on any of them. While it’s easy to cut slack for your youngest, too much babying can do a lot of damage. Even a 2-year old can help with his share. “Keep a consistent set of rules that all of the kids must follow,” says Dr. Maidenberg. “If you don’t make them follow the rules you really can’t be angry when they get in trouble.”
Stuck In The Middle With You. Famous middles: David Letterman, Richard Nixon, Madonna and Princess Diana.
Strengths. Learning how to navigate both the older and the younger sibling, the middle child is the master negotiator. Dr. Sulloway notes mid kids score higher in agreeableness than both their older and younger sibs. Since they often receive the least attention at home, middletons tend to reach outside of the family for bonding. “They’re usually the first of their siblings to take a trip with another family or to want to sleep at a friend’s house,” says Linda Dunlap, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY.
Challenges. Middle kids tend to feel ignored, never getting the attention of the oldest or the youngest sibling. Consequently they feel their needs and desires are often ignored. “Middle kids are in a difficult position in a family because they think they’re not valued,” says Dr. Maidenberg. “It’s easy for them to get left and lost in the shuffle”. And there seems to be some truth to this from the parents side. TheBabyWebsite.com found that a third of parents with three children admitted to giving their middle child far less attention than they give the other two.
Redress. Do whatever you can do to empower your middle child and make them feel special. Since their biggest complaint is not being “heard” by their parents” even a small gesture like letting them pick the family movie or the next restaurant meal can be a big source of empowerment. “A lot of the time, middle children end up deferring to the oldest’s wants and the youngest’s needs,” Dr.Maidenberg says. Do what you can to make them feel in control.
One Is Enough To Fill Our Lives With Love. Famous only children: Robin Williams, Natalie Portman, Rudy Giuliani.
So what is the dynamic of an only child, you ask? Only kids tend to grow-up to become movers and shakers with similar traits to the firstborn. Since they spend so much time with their parents (3,000 hours and counting…) they are very comfortable interacting with adults. The only negative is they may have difficulty relating to kids their own age. “So make sure your child spends time with his peers from early on,” says Dr. Maidenberg. Playgroups and organized sports are great activities for only kids. And what about twins, you ask? Since from the very first day twins are treated as one by family and the world, they tend to grow-up as their own “super-kid”. Therefore the rules of birth order will tend to apply to them both, since that is how they are perceived by the world.
As I sit in wonder at how these dynamics are affecting my own child (yes, one is enough to fill my life with love the song “It’s your Kid” goes through my head. Being a parent is amazing work! See you next week, xo Amelia