It’s an idea perhaps as old as families: Your birth order helps shape who you are.
Whether you’re the driven, responsible older kid; the wisecracking, attention-seeking middle child; or the coddled, laid-back baby, your place in the family can be one of the factors playing into who you will be as an adult – and how you, in turn, will parent your children.
Take a quick look through your family tree and see if these birth-order characteristics hold true for you or your siblings. According to Parents.com, first-born children may be: reliable, conscientious, structured, cautious, controlling and achievers. Middle children? They tend to be people-pleasers, have a rebellious streak, thrive on friendships, have a large social circle and can be the family peacemakers. The last born (or babies) may be fun-loving, uncomplicated, manipulative, outgoing, attention-seeking and perhaps a little self-centered.
Liza Tregillus, a Durango parent/youth coach and play therapist, said that many variables come in to play when raising kids beside their birth order, including the temperament of children and parents and whether parents are first-timers or fifth-timers.
“With the first child, this is our first experience with a child,” she said. Parents tend to be more nervous and super-vigilant with a first-born, and then may relax and ease up with subsequent children as their confidence grows.
And birth-order characteristics, she said, are something that just emerge naturally when parents add more than one child to the family. The more children you have, the greater the chance personality traits that tend to be common to birth order will be visible.
Tregillus said that parents should be mindful of trying to avoid putting their kids into specific roles, especially splitting “good” kids vs. “bad,” and to validate kids’ good behavior, such as when your oldest child goes above and beyond with helping out with his or her younger siblings.
Interestingly, she also says that if the space between children’s births is wide enough, there can be a shift in birth order personalities: i.e., the youngest suddenly discovers that he or she is the oldest when her older siblings move out and will begin to take on the character traits common to a first-born child.
Lindsay Sherman of Durango is the mother of five kids with a broad range in age: 26, 24, 16, 10 and 7. “It’s a wide spread,” she said, laughing.
Sherman said she has seen birth order in action, as a mother, an observer of her mother’s siblings and when she was growing up.
“I think that as the oldest of four myself, it’s for real (birth order),” she said. “There’s a lot of real in there. We have a middle child entertainer in our family; and there’s definitely the youngest – the baby; and there’s the oldest: I am hyper-responsible, to be sure.
“It’s definitely the same with our kids, as well,” she said. “The oldest is the most responsible ... and it’s very important for Kay to get to feel what it feels like to be the youngest, to be taken care of.”
“I’m not a baby,” said Kay, 7, youngest of the Sherman kids. She said it’s fun being the youngest in the family because “I get to be on my dad’s shoulders and nobody else does.”
“You get piggy-backs and all those special things everybody is too big for,” Lindsay added, continuing, “My mom is the oldest of seven, and I see it in my aunts and uncles as well, those same themes. The oldest responsible, the youngest less so ...”
And did her mother’s birth order have an affect on Lindsay?
“Absolutely,” she said. “She (mom) was very good at being the oldest, being responsible, and so I learned from an expert.”
But in the end, Tregillus said, birth order aside, one of the important things about having siblings is that they can act as a support during a family’s tough times.
“If there’s something wrong in a family, such as divorce, siblings give you allies,” she said.