The birth order of each of your children has an impact on them individually as well as on the sibling relationship. And your birth order in your family of origin also impacts you as an adult.

Knowing the effects of birth order can help you to be more understanding about the underlying dynamics of sibling rivalries and the overall sibling relationship.

Many studies show that different birth orders carry their own characteristic response patterns because of the different experiences siblings in different birth orders have in their families. Remember that this is not an exact or hard science and that not all children fit these expected characteristics. But it can be interesting to see how much or how little your children match the stereotype.

Simply by virtue of being a couple’s first child, a firstborn will naturally be a sort of experiment for the new parents, a mixture of instinct and trial-and-error. This may cause the parents to become by-the-book caregivers who are extremely attentive, stringent with rules, and overly neurotic about every little thing. First-borns are interested in results and productivity, need to feel on target and tend to be perfectionistic, reliable, conscientious, responsible, well organized, and serious.

Second born or middle children are interested in the quality of performance and tend to be in tune with people’s emotions. Feeling that they belong is very important to them. They often function as mediators, avoid conflict, are independent, extremely loyal to their peer group, have many friends, and are more likely to be a maverick. Third born children are interested in maintaining balance in relationships between people, need to have choices and tend to use humor in dealing with situations.

Youngest children tend to be the most free-spirited due to their parents’ increasingly laissez-faire attitude towards parenting the second (or third, or fourth...) time around. They tend to be tuned into the emotions of the individuals in the family and the family as a group. They tend to use humor to get what they want, and are frequently charming, precocious, and engaging. The baby of the family tends to be fun-loving, uncomplicated, manipulative, outgoing, and self-centered.

If you have a gap of at least five years in between births, another family begins in the birth order structure. A 2-year-old boy with a newborn brother and an 8-year-old older sister isn’t going to adopt middle-child traits, but rather those of a firstborn.

Each birth order has its advantages and disadvantages and no one position is better than any other. Knowing this can help you be more empathic when your children complain about what they see as the disadvantages of their birth order. This understanding can also broaden your perspectives and help you to broaden your children’s perspective about their birth order.

A few other things to remember about birth order. Because no sibling can ever achieve the birth order status of any other, there is always unequal power among siblings; a second child may wish he could be first and a first may wish she could be the “baby.”

Also, in blended families, as new children enter the family, they may lose their original birth order so the oldest may find herself to be the middle child. Such displacement often affects the sibling relationships.

As always, kids need that special one-on-one attention with their parents to feel loved. To a child, time equals attention and attention equals love. If you relate to the challenges each child faces in his or her birth order position, you can mitigate the struggles and enhance the positive of the birth order experiences.

Mary Migliaro is a veteran educator, parenting mentor and consultant who lives in Cherokee County.

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