Does birth order have an effect on personality? Does being first born make people more responsible? If someone is the middle born child, are they going to be more rebellious? If people are last born are they more likely to be on television? Are first born children inconsiderate and selfish or reliable and highly motivated? These, and many other questions are being thoroughly studied by psychologists (Harrigan, 1992). In 1923, the renowned psychiatrist Dr. Alfred Adler, wrote that a person’s position in the family leaves an undeniable “stamp” on his or her “style of life” (Marzollo, 1990).
Research has shown that birth order oes indeed affect a child; however, it does not automatically shape personality. If it did, life would be much more predictable and a great deal less interesting (Marzollo, 1990). Yogi Bera, a famous baseball player, said “Every now and then a reporter who thinks he is Freud asks me if being the youngest is why I made it (playing professional baseball). I almost alw ays say yes, but I don’t think it had anything to do with it” (Harrigan, 1992). Birth order doesn’t explain everything about human behavior.Order now
Personality is affected by many different factors, such as heredity, family size, the spacing and sex f siblings, education, and upbringing. However, there is an awful lot of research and plain old “law of averages” supporting the affect of birth order on personality (Leman, 1985). There are four basic classifications of birth order: the oldest, the only, the middle, and the youngest. Each has its own set of advantages, as well as its own set of disadvantages. While the birth order factor isn’t always exact, it does give many clues about why people are the way they are (Leman, 1985).
If there is one word that describes first born children it would be “perfectionist” (Harrigan, 1992). First born children end to be high achievers in whatever they do. Some traits customarily used to label first born children include reliable, conscientious, list maker, well organized, critical, serious, scholarly (Leman, 1985), self-assured, good leadership ability, eager to please, and nurturing (Brazelton, 1994). Also, first born children seem to have a heightened sense of right and wrong. It is common in most books about birth order that first born children get more press than only, middle, and youngest children.
This can be explained by the fact that the first born child is typically the success story in the family. They are he ones that are extremely driven to succeed in “high achievement” fields such as science, medicine, or law (Leman, 1985). For example, of the first twenty-three astronauts sent into outer space, twenty-one were first born or their close cousin, the only child, which we w ill discuss later on. In fact, all seven astronauts in the original Mercury program were first born children (Leman, 1985). Also, first born children tend to choose careers that involve leadership.
For example, fifty-two percent of all U. S. presidents were first-borns (Lanning, 1991). Researchers say that, in general, first born children tend o have higher IQs than younger siblings. This is not because they start off more intelligent, but because of the amount of attention new parents give to their first child (Marzollo, 1990). Experts claim that a first born’s will to succeed begins in infancy (Lanning, 1991). The extraordinary love affair that many new parents have with their first child leads to the kind of intensity that can probably never be repeated with a younger child.
In the first few weeks, a new parent imitates the baby’s gestures in a playful game. A rhythm is established by mimicry of vocalizations, motions, and smiles. Think what his cycle of action-reaction might mean to an infant: “I’m pretty powerful, aren’t I? Everything I do is copied by someone who cares about me . ” After a couple of weeks of game playing the infant develops a sense of “I recognize you! ” (Brazelton, 1994). This special parent-child interaction helps to instill a deep sense of self-worth in first born children.
In short, the parents put their first born child on a pedestal or throne. Also, new parents are convinced that their child is the cleverest child in the world when he or she rolls over or says “Mama” or “Dada” (Jabs, 1987). Even though the child is a baby it an still sense the profound sense of enthusiasm. So, first borns want to maintain their parents’ attention and approval (Lanning, 1991). This is when the arrival of a second child is often a crisis for the first child. They are knocked off their pedestal by the baby (Leman, 1989). They are no longer the center of mom and dad’s attention.
This often causes them to become resentful toward their younger sibling. To reclaim the position at the center of their parents’ attention, he or she will try imitating the baby. When the first child realizes that his or her parents frown upon a two-year-old who wants bottle or a three-year-old who needs a diaper, he or she decides to aid his or her parents in caring for the younger child (Jabs, 1987). Parents usually tend to reinforce the older child’s decision to be more adult by expecting him or her to set a good example for the younger child.
These experiences help to make the first born a natural leader. However, first borns are sometimes so preoccupied with being good and doing things right that they forget how to enjoy life and be a kid (Jabs, 1987). Along with being the first child comes pressure. Each achievement becomes a miracle in a new parent’s eyes. However, when a mistake occurs it is viewed as an enormous failure in the child’s eyes because their parents weren’t ecstatic, and so the child goes to enormous lengths to make his or her parents happy with their performance.
Some parents may also burden the child with their own unfulfilled dreams and with setting the standard for the younger children (Brazelton, 1994). Norval D. Glenn, Ph. D. , professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, explains that firstborns often suffer from pseudomaturity. They may act grown-up throughout childhood, but because their role models are grown-ups rather than lder siblings, they may tend to reject the role of leader in early adulthood (Marzollo, 1990). Also, a firstborn is not always “the most gracious receiver of criticism”.
An adult’s constant criticism of his or her performance may cause the child to become a worried perfectionist. They m ay come to fear making mistakes before eyes that he or she feels are always watching them. First born children may also come to hate any kind of criticism because it emphasizes the faults that he or she is trying to overcome (Marzollo, 1990). The first born child does not have unlimited time to view himself as the hild in the relationship with parents. When a sibling arrives, he or she tends to eliminate the view of himself or herself as a child and he or she struggles to be “parental” (Forer, 1969).
In short, the first born child will do anything to make everything perfect. In addition to the labels mentioned before, first born children also tend to be goal-oriented, self-sacrificing, people-pleasers, conservative, supporters of law and order, believer in authority and ritual, legalistic, loyal, and self-reliant. They are often achievers, the ones who are driven toward success and stardom in their given fields (Leman, 985). First born children can be found in great numbers in positions like accountants, bookkeepers, executive secretaries, engineers, and, in recent years, people whose jobs involve computers.
First borns typically choose a career that involves precision and requires a strong power of concentration (Leman, 1985). Some first borns that have gone on to become famous leaders, actors, scientists, novelists, astronauts, etc. include Mikhail Gorbachev (Russian leader), Jimmy Carter (president), Henry Kissinger (diplomat), Albert Einstein (scientist), Sally Ride (astronaut), Bill Cosby (actor), John Glenn (astronaut, enator), Steven Spielberg (producer), Joan Colli ns (actress), Clint Eastwood (actor), Peter Jennings (TV journalist), and Bruce Springsteen (singer) (Jabs, 1987; Lanning, 1991; Marzollo, 1990).
In many ways, the only child is like the first born child. An only child is a first born child who never loses his or her parents’ undivided attention. He or she benefits greatly from his or her parents’ enthusiastic attention, as long as it isn’t too critical. The only child also tends to have the first child’s heightened sense of right and wrong (Jabs, 1987). Leman’s “perfect” description of the “Lonely Only” nclude all the labels that were included with the first born child. However, preceding each word would be the prefix super (Leman, 1985).
Where the first born child is organized, the only child is superorganized. Where the first born child is a perfectionist, the only child is a superperfectionist. Labels that are often applied to only children include spoiled, selfish, lazy, and a bit conceited. These labels tend to be applied because only children don’t have to share with other siblings like the first, middle, or youngest children. Dr. Alfred Adler, a famous psychologist, said that “The Only Child has difficulties ith every independent activity and sooner or later they become useless in life. However, most birth order experts, as well as myself, being an only child, disagree with Dr. Adler and the labels given to an only child. (Leman, 1989).
Far from being people who are used to having things handed to them all their lives, only children are among the top achievers in every area of profession. For example some of the more famous only children include Franklin D. Roosevelt (president), Leonardo da Vinci (artist), Charles Lindbergh (pilot), Ted Koppel (TV journalist), Brooke Shields (model, actress), Nancy Reagan (first-lady),
Frank Sinatra (singer), Danielle Steel (novelist), and John Updike (novelist) (Jabs, 1987; Leman, 1989). A problem that only children tend to have is when eager parents interfere with their child’s development. For example, new parents tend to jump in too early to help the child with everything he or she tries. They can’t sit back and let the child struggle. What they don’t realize is that frustration is a powerful learning tool. When a child fights to master a task and succeeds on his or her own, their face lights up with pride. “I did it myself. If a parent tends to jump in to help at every little problem, hen the child could lose his or her will to try to do things by their self. Only children seem to be very on top of things, articulate, and mature.
They appear to have it all together. Yet, often there is an internal struggle going on. Their standards have always been set by adults and are often high, sometimes too high. Only children regularly have a hard time enjoying their achievements. They feel as if they can never do anything good enough. Even if they succeed, they often feel as though they didn’t succeed by enough.
This is usually the start of what experts call the “discouraged perfectionist” (Leman, 1985). Also, many other special problems may develop with only children. These problems are often classified as only children, who are “problem children. ” For example, the “special jewel” or “receiver” child often has a problem with the heliocentric theory that states that our solar system revolves around the sun. The special jewel or receiver child believes that the entire universe revolves around him or her. This type of child generally develops when the parents gi ve in to their child’s every wish.
It is important for this child’s parents to say no. If the child says, “Mom, I want that ! “, her mother should respond by aying, “No, I will not buy that for you, but you may purchase it with money you have earned yourself. ” Once these children realize that they are dealing with someone who won’t cave in to their every demand they become quite pleasant (Leman, 1989). Another “problem child” is the “friend-snatcher”. The child who never learns to share his or her toys, will also have a problem with sharing friends as well.
They become agitated when their friend tries to include other people into the pair’s activities. They may try to bribe their “friend” by offering them toys, food, and maybe even money. For this problem, experts uggest confronting the child by proposing, that mabye, the reason he or she is not having very good relationships with his or her friends is because he or she is not willing to share friends with anyone. Suggest that they need to try doin g activities with more than two people and that they need to stop being so posessive (Leman, 1989). Next is the “target” child.
This child also has a problem with the heliocentric theory. This child magnifies his or her importance in every situation and beleives he or she is the one being singled out for unfair treatment. When life is unfair, as it often is, he an sink into deep depression and bitterness. For example, if a teacher gives them an “F” on a world history test, it’s because the teacher doesn’t like them and not because they didn’t do a good job (Leman, 1989). These are often problems of an only children who has been sheltered from society by their overprotective parents.
Those who are well adjusted know from an early age that life is a mixture of good and bad (Leman, 1989). Middle children are the hardest to classify because they are so dependant different variables, including the personalities of their older and younger siblings and the number of years between them (Marzollo, 990). “What happens to middle children depends on the total family dynamics,” says Dr. Jeannie Kidwell, family therapist and research scholar (Jabs, 1987). Middle children can be shy or outgoing, reckless or responsible, uptight or laid back (Lanning, 1991).
Any number of life-styles can appear, but they all play off the first born (Leman, 1985). He or she may try to imitate the first-born’s behavior. If they feel that they can’t match up, they may go off in another direction, looking for their identity, often in the exact opposite of that taken by his or her older sibling. The general conclusion of all research tudies done on birth order is that second borns will probably be somewhat the opposite of first born children (Leman, 1985). In general, middle born children suffer from an identity cris is.
They are always striving to be different from their older and younger siblings. Middle children feel that they are born too late to get the privileges and special treatment that firstborns seem to inherit by right and born too early to enjoy the relaxing of the disciplinary reins, which is sometimes translated as “getting away with murder” (Marzollo, 1990). Neither the achiever nor the baby, the middle child may feel that he r she has no particular role in the family. They may look outside the family to define themselves. This is why friends become very important to middle children (Marzollo, 1990).
Middle children search to find their own identity and define their personality. Because middle children have to fight for their parents’ attention, they become highly competitive. This generally makes middle children more successful in sports. Lacking the benefit of the exceptions parents make for their first borns and last borns, middle children may learn to negotiate, to compromise, and to give and take, valuable skills that will elp them succeed (Marzollo, 1990). They can become effective managers and leaders because they are good listeners and can cope with varying points of view.
Also, experts have found that because middle children have had to struggle for more things than their siblings they are better prepared for real life. One big plus for middle children is a well developed sense of empathy because they know what it’s like to be younger and older. However, all the competing and negotiating may cause middle children to have an overall low self esteem and a self-deprecating attitude (Marzoll o, 1990). Nevertheless, middle children ave many advantages. They can learn from the older sibling but can also regress to be like the younger one, doubling their learning opportunities.
Yet, they may also have many mood swings between grown-up and baby-like behavior, especially during the teen age years (Brazelton, 1994). Leman (1989) says to “Remember, the average teenager has only two emotional outbursts per year. The problem is they last about six months each. ” Because slightly more than one third of American families today have only two children, many parents find themselves thinking in terms of the first born and second born. Middle and second born hildren share many of the same characteristics.
Like the middle child, the second-born is likely to search for ways to be different from the first-born child (Marzollo, 1990). Dr. Kidwell says, “Problems arise when a family has very rigid expectations. ” If the only thing that matters is straight A’s and the first kid is doing that, the middle kid has a profound dilemma. He or she needs something else to be known for (Jabs, 1987, p. 29). Some famous middle and second children who have found their own identity include Bea Arthur (actress), Glenn Close (actress), Matt Dillon (actor), Linda Evans (actress), Jessica
Lange (actress), Cyndi Lauper (singer), Tom Selleck (actor), Mary Decker Slaney (runner), Richard Nixon (president), Princess Diana (British royalty), George Burns (comedian), Bob Hope (comedian) (Jabs, 1 987; Marzollo, 1990). If a group of psychologists randomly picked out ten youngest born children, chances are that nine of them would have these characteristics: manipulative, charming, blames others, shows off, people person, good salesperson, precocious, engaging, and sometimes spoiled (Leman, 1985).
By the time the youngest child is born, his or her parents have become veterans in the field of child care (Lanning, 991). They are more experienced and confident in their parenting practices, and so they often decide to let the last born enjoy childhood as long as they can (Marzollo, 1990). This is why youngest children tend to be more pampered than older siblings. The youngest or “baby” of the family is often given an extra dose of affection and attention, as well as an occasional exception from the rules (Marzollo, 1990).
This extremely positive upbringing helps to contribute to the youngest child’s fun-loving, affectionate, and persuasive behavior (Marzollo, 1990). The youngest child can grow up to feel the most tre asured, and the ost nurtured of all (Brazelton, 1994). Also, without the pressure of a younger sibling gaining from behind, the youngest may grow up easy going and carefree (Jabs, 1987). However, life isn’t all fun and games for the family baby. The endless praise of last born children may leave them feeling that their families do not take them seriously (Marzollo, 1990).
For instance, a common youngest child remark would be, “If I get upset or try to state my opinion, nobody takes me seriously. To them, I’m the baby. They think I don’t know a whole lot,” (Lanning, 1991). Youngest children often have feelings of insecurity r long periods of self-doubt (Lanning, 1991). For example, a youngest child grows up being coddled one minute as a darling little baby, but the next minute she’s compared unfavorably with an older sibling. He or she is often unfairly compared with older and stronger siblings.
According to Beverly Hills-based psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, M. D. , the self-image of the youngest child may become confused (Lanning, 1991). As a result of conflicting experiences, youngest children can be extremely self-confident in someways and insecure in others (Leman, 1985). For the most part, youngest children learn to cope with the problems of self-doubt. In fact, youngest children often go on to become quite successful, thanks in part to their originality and determination to prove themselves to the world (Lanning, 1991).
Often, they express their unique view of the world through the visual or literary arts. People-pleasing fields, such as art, comedy, entertainment and sales are full of youngest children (Lanning, 1991). Some examples of famous youngest children include Ronald Reagan (president, actor), Eddie Murphy (comedian), Paul Newman (actor), Mary Lou Retton (gymnast), Billy Crystal (comedian), Yogi Bera (baseball player), Ted Kennedy (politician), and Kevin Leman (psychologist)