Skip Nav
Forget That Pregnancy Glow — This Photographer Captures Real-Life Maternity Photos
Health and Safety
1 Mom Is Sharing Her Twins' Cribs to Prevent Other Moms From Making the Same Mistake She Did
I'm a Family Psychologist and These Are the 20 Most Common Parenting Mistakes I See

How Birth Order Affects Personality

Does Birth Order Affect Your Child's Personality?

The role birth order plays in shaping children's personalities and IQs has been debated and researched for years. But do the stereotypes hold water?

"They say that children's behavior and development depends . . . a big percent on what role they play in families," Brenda says, asking other Circle of Moms members, "Where is your child at?" Another member named Charlie P. has a similar question. "Birth order and personality: Where do you fit in? Do you think this is an accurate description of you or your children?"

As you parent, Circle of Moms members say it's worth considering your children's birth order, and subsequently how you work through some of the less desirable traits. Read on.


Birth Order Traits

A lot of factors can affect your child's personality, such as age, gender, gap between siblings, family income, demographics, and more. But generally speaking, eldest children "identify with parents and authority, and support the status quo, whereas younger children rebel against it," according to Frank Sulloway, adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the world's experts on birth order and family dynamics.

First-born children are known to be perfectionists, goal-oriented, and self-reliant, yet are sometimes criticized for being self-centered, rigid, and overly critical, among other traits, according to research from Purdue University. Only children are similar to eldest children, yet sometimes can be lonely and feel inferior, according to the research. The birth order report characterizes middle children as mediators who like to avoid conflict, are people-oriented, but can be free-spirited and secretive. And last-born children are described as outgoing, affectionate, and charming people who can sometimes be manipulative and attention-seeking. 

While parenting affects a child's personality, "birth order and parenting play a huge role in my mind," says Circle of Moms member Rosie P., based on her family's dynamics. Her baby brother still lives at home at age 25. "That would be unheard of if it were me or my sister. However, he works, he helps out around the house, and he is a very good kid, but somehow he can't cut the apron strings," she says. Meanwhile, she recalls her husband, who was an older brother, would look after his little sister.  

Tana K. says she and her children fit the stereotypes, as well. "My first is exactly what they say. He's unbelievably patient for a 2-year-old, he is very much a perfectionist, and loves things to go his way," she says. As the eldest child, she also recognizes the "grin and bear it" mentality in herself. And she already can see the traits of the youngest child in her 10-month-old. "He is very much a risk-taker, he gets into more trouble than my 2-year-old does, and he loves attention from anyone or anything. He is also extremely sensitive."

Danielle G. agrees that there's some truth to birth order traits, noting she worked on a college project about birth order and believes her middle child fits the stereotypes to a T. "Middle children tend to be the most independent, and a lot of times that leads to trouble-making or what not. Also a study was done [that indicated about] 80 percent or so as adults said they felt left out being the middle child, even though we spend a lot of time with them. They know the oldest was first, and the baby is the baby, they don't have a 'place.'" 

How to Handle the Stereotypes

Once parents are aware of each child's tendencies, if they notice something negative, they can take steps to improve the birth order behavior. In particular, Circle of Moms members say to watch the middle child to make sure he doesn't feel excluded. "A child can develop middle-child syndrome only when feeling left out by the family," Atasha K. explains.  

"For example, your oldest does really well at school and gets ample attention over good grades and, well, baby is the baby (no need for explaining). Your middle child may feel that they are not as important or loved as the other children," she explains. Venessa N. agrees, saying she "always felt overlooked and left out" as a middle child. "Older siblings get more freedom, younger siblings get more attention. Older than me was two girls and younger was two boys, so I kinda felt I didn't fit in. And honestly I felt like that until into my 20s." 

If you find your child is starting to feel that way, then help your child feel more included so she doesn't crave the attention, Marybeth D. says.

Theresa K. agrees: "Don't expect your middle child to like the same things as your older child, or to excel in the same areas. Allow your middle child to be unique. Resist the temptation to 'compare' children, or to encourage the middle child to be 'like' an older brother or sister. (When Johnny was your age he . . . ) Likewise, don't allow your middle child to compare herself with older siblings either. Stress the idea that they aren't in competition with brothers and sisters, and don't need to try to be 'as good as' them at anything." 

For a younger, strong-willed child, Maureen B. suggests teaching her how to better handle emotions when she wants something. She says her daughter "will fight you tooth and nail" for something that she knows she wants, and she's trying to help her daughter with "guidance and structure" to overcome her expectation of being treated like a baby that is doted on. As Maureen says, "the last couple of years, we have been getting more strict with her, 'cause she seems to think that she can get away with anything 'cause she is so cute." Jessica G. adds that she's trying to teach her twin boys that they aren't "entitled to more things 'cause they are older."

Regardless of what birth order personality traits are apparent in your child, Circle of Moms members say, parents should function as they always do, with patience, understanding, and good guidance that is tailored to each child. "For the most part, whether or not a child is well-adjusted as an only child or one with siblings has to do with parenting," Cassie C. says. "It almost all comes down to parenting whether you have one child or 10. An only child can be completely self-centered, selfish, and socially awkward, but so can a child who has three siblings. It is our job as parents to raise our child/children to be caring, loving, selfless individuals who can stand up for what they believe and help those around them whenever possible, whether we decide to only have one child or multiple."

Tasha agrees, saying personalities depend on how parents "approach it." "If you spend as much time with each of your child as you can, and point out the good in all of them, then I truly don’t think it matters what the birth order is," she concludes.

Source: Flickr user Courosa

Join The Conversation
Commonsensemommy Commonsensemommy 4 years
This is totally taken from decades of research from Kevin Leman and Alfred Adler. If one is interested in this topic, "The Birth order Book" is a great read. I am also an adjunct professor. My students most often choose this over other options and really like it. First borns, middles, lasts, onlies and blended families are many of the covered areas. It'll make readers laugh out loud because we often don't realize there are others out there much like we are! I re-read it every summer and see myself, friends, and family in it. Not everyone relates, but it is definitely where this information came from for the article.
Harv15024107 Harv15024107 4 years
You just have to experience the situations, and then you will understand. That first born. What a joy, what an elation. Photos, baby clothes galore, even before birth, everyone comes to see, the baby and the infant are the star, the only star, the only center of attention. The second born just cannot obtain that much attention. The second born is present, but the first born still demands attention, which is hard to focus on the baby, which basically needs holding and other factors. Then the third, well, the third is a joy. You can really appreciate better how wonderful a baby really is, a seed, a seed which grows into a tree. But the third now must compete with two other kids, all demanding attention. The bottom line is that the first born is just brought up being a star, the center of attention, the only one, getting everything needed, asking and you get, conceited, egotistical, the universe revolves around me personality type. It would take parents of enormous experience and study to avoid the above situation which occurs over and over again. That is just the way it is folks. The first born is the president, the second is somewhat overlooked, and the third is the bonus child, the love child, often the comedian, the happy child. In any case, birth order determines how the baby is handled, brought up, and tended to. This has an effect on personality.
CoMMember13631189244843 CoMMember13631189244843 4 years
Birth order is huge in the development of a child. Inadvertently, we expect our oldest child to bring us things, do things for us, monitor other siblings in the house. The religion I grew up in had large families, and if the oldest was a girl, she took a real beating. I'm still seeing it in other large families. She's number two mother, cleaner, etc., because she is so competent and capable. Many of these girls grow up to not have children, but have terribly high I.Q's and go on to graduate school. By the time baby comes along, parents realize most of what they are doing isn't all that bad, doesn't make that much difference, and they ease up on discipline, leaving the older kids to wonder what in the heck is going on. My older brother really got treated like a miniature adult, was punished horribly, yet grew up to be the most responsible, the hardest worker, and the one with the most arthritis at a young age.
lisamarshall33611 lisamarshall33611 4 years
Yes it does for some reason my child of 12 thinks its bok to treat her sister thats 7 like she dont exist! is this normal?
RachaelAdashio1369492649 RachaelAdashio1369492649 4 years
I also agree to the fact that the parents role in each child determines the outcome.
14819229 14819229 4 years
I know the anecdotes help create an emotional connection with the subject matter, but please, they are meaningless. This data is something that emerges in statistics. Traits in children in any particular family can be just the opposite.
BettyKyle BettyKyle 4 years
I think it can play a little role but its all bout how you do things little ones are like mirrors if you do or say something they are going to try and copy so I think spending as much time with them and showing them as much as you can is going to help them have a much better chance of having a good personality over if your first middle or last. I'm an only child and I did feel very lonely, my mum worked all the time so it was me and my nan I didn't really feel to special even tho I was the only one. I have 3 kids so I try my hardest to spend a little time with each of them one on one every day, I don't want them to feel lonely and as if they have no-one to talk to. When I give them a kiss and a cuddle ill say I love you my special man or my special girl, they know they are special us my daughter asks every time I give my son a hug first I'm special to mum? And I always say you special to me because your my only little princess and our 1st, your brothers special because he is our first boy, and our last he is special because he is our last (I don't say this bit to her as she's only 7 but our last is special also because he was born unexpectedly in our home and delivered unassisted by his father. Sorry rambled a little bit there sleep deprived mum here sorry ladies
Angry Letter to Parent Who Let Child Play Outside
The Most Common Parenting Mistakes
Backhanded Compliments Moms Are Tired of Hearing
Baby Sleep Advice From a Mom
From Our Partners
Latest Moms
All the Latest From Ryan Reynolds