By Dr Eugene Brink
Where you end up in life, invariably depends on a mixture of luck, drive, hard work and the right circumstances. An individual could be born into a wealthy or gifted family, have an exceedingly high IQ or certain valuable skills – or fall victim to the opposite of this – by no choice of their own.
And yet, children from the same family often vary widely in interests and abilities. Genetics cannot be solely blamed for this as all of them originate from the same gene pool.
Although birth order couldn’t possibly be the sole determinant of things such as success, personality traits (which are often congenital) and outlook on life, it may play some role in who you are. In other words, first-, second- and thirdborns often tend to exhibit certain idiosyncratic traits in line with, among other factors, how their parents relate to them.
“Birth order has a powerful impact upon children’s emotions, behaviour and personality development. By a twist of fate a child is born into a particular spot in the family, and from this position he will have unique emotional experiences. Each spot in the order has its advantages and challenges,” says Meri Wallace, parenting expert and family therapist.
Jocelyn Voo, parenting expert and contributor to Parenting.com, says the firstborn will naturally be an experiment of sorts for the new parents and “a mixture of instinct and trial-and-error”. “Perhaps this will cause the parents to become by-the-book caregivers who are extremely attentive, stringent with rules, and overly neurotic about the minutiae. This in turn may cause the child to become a perfectionist, always striving to please his parents.”
She says firstborns tend to be reliable, conscientious, structured, cautious, controlling and achievers.
“Firstborns bask in their parents’ presence, which may explain why they sometimes act like mini-adults. Firstborns are diligent and want to be the best at everything they do. They excel at winning the hearts of their elders,” she says.
Wallace corroborates this view. “The firstborn child basks in her parents’ undivided love and attention for a period of time, and often benefits emotionally from this experience. She can emerge feeling loved with a sense of security and self-confidence. This will help her to go out into the world and become a responsible leader. Many of our presidents and heads of corporations have been firstborns.”
Penny Travers writes for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that second and middle children are more likely to be the peacemakers of the family. “They are good at negotiating and more willing to go with the flow. They seek attention and often have more friends than the firstborn children to compensate for a lack of family attention.”
Wallace says a secondborn child benefits from calmer, more self-confident parents and enjoys special attention as a baby. “He also has the advantage of learning from, and modelling, his idolized older sibling. As a result, he may be able to read at an earlier age. However, the secondborn child often feels terribly inadequate as he sits on a tricycle and his older sibling whizzes by on a two-wheeler. Unfortunately, he lacks the understanding that the problem has to do with the childrens’ age difference. The secondborn is always rushing to catch up to the firstborn in order to feel that he is valuable.”
Voo says middle children, in general, tend to be people pleasers, somewhat rebellious, peacemakers and thrive on friendships.
According to Travers the youngest child is inclined to be more outgoing and charming to get attention. However, they have a greater sense of independence as their parents’ laissez-faire attitude towards parenting grows. “They tend to have more freedom and are subsequently more likely to try new things and do what they want to do.”
Voo says the youngest children tend to be fun-loving, uncomplicated, manipulative, outgoing and attention seekers.
Ultimately, any child’s personality and traits are contingent upon how they were born and their inherent attributes, but there is no doubt that familial relationships play a large role during their formative years.
Jocelyn Voo, 2019, “How Birth Order Affects Your Child’s Personality and Behaviour”, https://www.parents.com/baby/development/social/birth-order-and-personality/.
Meri Wallace, 31 May 2016, “The Effect of Birth Order on Children”, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-raise-happy-cooperative-child/201605/the-effect-birth-order-children.
Penny Travers, 3 January 2017, “Birth order: How your position in the family can influence your personality”, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-26/how-birth-order-can-influence-personality/7959170.