How Could Birth Order Impact Your Child’s Personality?

Parents, professionals weigh in


Published:

Images courtesy of Advent/Shutterstock.com

Lisa Southwick and her husband, Dan, parent six kids in Apex — five biological and one adopted. “I have often said how different my kids are,” she says, “which surprises me since five of my six kids are from the same two parents!”

One reason siblings are so different is their birth order, says psychologist Kevin Leman, author of “The Birth Order Book” (Revell, 2009). Whether kids are born first, second, third or even farther down the line, birth order affects them in countless ways. 

For instance, studies show that firstborns perform better academically than their younger siblings. An October 2013 Duke University study titled, “Strategic Parenting, Birth Order and School Performance” suggests that “trickle down” parenting is one reason for the disparity. Parents have higher expectations and more stringent rules for firstborns in hopes that younger siblings will take note.

While many exhausted parents can relate, Leman says other factors can also determine how birth order affects their child(ren). Mental or physical illness in one of the siblings, large age gaps, gender, adoptions and divorces all play a role.

Therapist Meri Wallace, author of “Birth Order Blues: How Parents Can Help Their Children Meet the Challenges of Birth Order” (Holt Paperbacks, 2014), says that despite the many subtleties of families, kids who share a birth order often exhibit similar strengths and share common emotional challenges. Wallace says parents who recognize the validity of each child’s experience can help kids build self-esteem and alleviate sibling rivalry in the family.

 

Firstborns

Leman describes firstborns as either the first child born into a family or the first child of their gender. Only children also often share similar traits as firstborns. Leman says that the oldest child tends to receive the most attention and praise. However, parents of firstborns are the least experienced.

Southwick can relate. “As new parents we were completely challenged by our firstborn,” she says.

Leman says that firstborns tend to be natural leaders, reliable and conscientious. They also favor black-and-white thinking. Firstborns might prefer a sensible adult to their peers and act wise beyond their years. They also tend to be competitive overachievers.

Perfectionism is a firstborn’s worst enemy, Wallace says. This is especially true since their inexperienced parents tend to have unrealistic expectations of them. 

“Some firstborn children go through life feeling that they cannot measure up,” Wallace says. “Lacking in confidence, they might drop out and refuse to compete altogether.”

Wallace advises parents to avoid criticizing their firstborns or comparing them to others. Instead, she encourages parents to praise their kids’ efforts, even when they fail. “Emphasize the distinction between his performance and his value as a person,” Wallace says. 

Leman also advises that parents remember that their firstborns are still kids. As such, they shouldn’t be expected to fully care for their younger siblings or take on more than their share of work in the home.

 

Middleborns

Leman says middle children’s personalities are the hardest to pin down. “They’ll be the opposite of the child above them in the family,” he says. “If the firstborn is very conventional, the second will be unconventional.”

Southwick agrees. “When we had our secondborn, Kelsey, we were amazed at how much more easygoing she was than our firstborn,” she says.

Leman says middleborns can be skilled diplomats and negotiators, but that they also march to the beat of their own drum. They form tighter relationships within a friend circle as a way to carve out their own place in the world.

What middle children lack, however, is attention, Wallace says. Middleborns often report feeling overlooked and under appreciated. They compare themselves to their older siblings and feel inadequate and jealous. However, they also experience the pressure of younger siblings advancing in age behind them. 

Feeling this squeeze, middleborns can become attention seekers, Wallace says. They may dress or act flamboyantly, become people pleasers or clowns, or resort to negative behaviors. 

Wallace advises parents to reassure middleborns that although there are unique challenges to being a middle child, they are equally loved. Wallace also says spending special time with middleborns can reduce misbehavior and build self-esteem.

Leman advises making sure middle children aren’t always stuck with the hand-me-downs, if possible. Leman also warns that middle children tend to be more secretive, so it’s important that parents listen carefully when they explain their views and feelings.

 

Lastborns

“These social, outgoing creatures have never met a stranger,” Leman says of the youngest family members. For lastborns, life is one big party. Since parents are less likely to punish lastborns, their siblings often accuse them of “getting away with murder.”

Southwick has another take on the situation however. “My oldest is 27 and my youngest is 9,” she points out. “I’m parenting them in completely different worlds. Their personalities are different, too, and I’ve learned a lot. So I’m not going to parent them both the same way.”

Despite what their siblings might think, Leman says lastborns live with great ambivalence. They are adored one minute, then left out and ignored as the baby the next. Leman, who was the youngest in his own family, says lastborns can carry this ambivalence with them into adulthood. However, youngest children can also be very stubborn and persistent, determined to prove that they can do anything.

Wallace points out several ways parents can help lastborns thrive. Tension among siblings can trickle down to the youngest, who is least able to defend himself or herself. Parents need to be careful that older siblings aren’t dominating lastborns. Older siblings can quickly grow impatient with their youngest brother or sister, too. 

Parents can support lastborns by helping siblings find developmentally appropriate ways for them to play together. To reduce resentment among siblings, parents can also include lastborns in all parts of family life, including chores.

No matter what order your child was born in, unconditional love mixed with consistent discipline and customized parental oversight can help him or her become a kind, emotionally stable, contributing member of society who will hopefully someday follow your example when raising his or her own children. 

 

Christa C. Hogan is a freelance writer and local mom to three boys.


Birth Order Quizzes

Want to learn more about how birth order may be affecting you or your child? Try taking these online quizzes.

Does Birth Order Affect Who You Are?

What’s Your Birth Order Personality

What Birth Order Personality Do You Have?

 

Children’s Books About Siblings

“The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo” by Judy Blume (Yearling, 1982)

“The Pain and the Great One” by Judy Blume (Athenium Books for Young Readers, 1974)

“Charlotte the Scientist is Squished” by Camille Andros (Clarion Books, 2017)

“Big Sister, Little Sister” by LeUyen Pham (Hyperion Books for Children, 2005)

“My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother” by Patricia Polacco (Simon & Schuster, 1998)

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Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Website »

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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Chip, chip, hooray! The first Zambrero in the Southeast is opening on January 24 with zingy, zesty activities! Bodacious Burritos and Bowls: $5 burritos and bowls all day Delicious Drawing: A...

Cost: Free

Where:
1 Glenwood Ave
#105
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: (919) 863-2561
Website »

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Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Take a hike after dark and enjoy the sights and sounds of a quiet night along the American Tobacco Trail. We will walk to the Beaver Creek bridge and back (about one mile total). Free for ages 4...

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
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Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Join the Museum and the Raleigh Astronomy Club to help you see the big picture — of the Universe! From comet crafts to solar observing, lectures to rocket launches, space enthusiasts of all ages...

Cost: Free

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in February!   This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »

More information

Family Wildlife Series: Tricky Tracks Saturday, January 25 10-11 a.m. Come dressed for the weather so you can roam the park learning the fine art of “tracking”.   Make a cast of an animal...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Telephone: 919-870-4330
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

RALEIGH (Jan. 16, 2020) – The North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools will host its first school fair during National School Choice Week on Saturday, Jan. 25. The fair will take...

Cost: Free

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: NC Association of Public Charter Schools
Telephone: 336-669-9996
Contact Name: Rhonda Dillingham
Website »

More information

Join the statewide kickoff to Black History Month at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. Named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society since 2015, the 19th...

Cost: 0

Where:
North Carolina Museum of History
5 East Edenton Street
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
View map »


Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

Winter days find many animals curled up in their dens. They sleep warmly, awakening in spring ready to enjoy the renewed Earth. Discover how animals deal with cold weather and which ones hibernate...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for all family members,& childre

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Join us in Arendelle for Frozen-inspired STEAM activities for the whole family! Included in the ticket cost is dinner and dessert for the whole family, make your own sock Olaf and Frozen bouncy...

Cost: $35 per family

Where:
Kidzu Children's Museum
201 S. Estes Dr.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Sponsor: Kidzu Children's Museum
Telephone: 919-933-1455
Website »

More information

AML Wrestling presents our 5th Anniversary Celebration! WHEN: Saturday, January 25th, 2020WHERE: Winston-Salem Fairgrounds in theHome & Garden Building 408 27th Street NW/Gate #9 Winston-Salem, NC...

Cost: $5

Where:
Winston-Salem Fairgrounds
408 27th Street NW/Gate #9
Winston-Salem, NC  27105
View map »


Sponsor: AML Wrestling
Telephone: 336-831-0646
Contact Name: Tracy Myers
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

More information

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Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.