Oldest child syndrome adults

Dealing with first-born syndrome

My first-born needs to be first at everything. He seems to feel that being first to put on his socks, first to take off his socks, first to shower and first to get in and out of the car is his birthright. The competition between my boys has gotten so stiff that I often find myself being literally pushed aside so they can jostle for the title of “first down the stairs”.

I’m first in the birth order in my family, too. My son’s competitive nature frustrates me, but then I find myself needing to be fastest in my spin class, and the first in my rowing class to reach 2,000 metres. It has led me to wonder about this “me first” syndrome that seems to afflict many first-borns.

According to parenting expert Beverley Cathcart-Ross, co-author of Raising Great Parents and founder of The Parenting Network, you don’t even need to have a sibling to have the “me first” attitude, but it definitely contributes.

“First-borns always compete for their parents’ time and attention and they measure everything, from how many hugs and kisses they get to how many grapes,” she says. Plus, they compete for time with their younger siblings.

Sometimes this will result in difficult behaviour, or in your child saying something like, “I don’t like my brother.”

“You know that’s not true, but you have to think about what’s motivating them,” says Beverley. She advises parents avoid banter with their child. “Saying ‘that’s not nice,’ is missing the point. It’s not helping them.”

Often what that first-born is feeling is that they are no longer as special or wanted. They feel hurt and they begin to do something about it, like press for more attention, compete with their sibling or physically hurt them.

Parents tend to think this is just the child’s personality, but according to Beverley, it’s environmental. “We are creating that personality. Kids aren’t born like that; we bring it out in them,” she says.

It begins when that child is born. The first year goes by with them feeling like the centre of the universe. By the time they are two, they believe they are entitled to all this attention and become demanding. Parents sometimes give them what they want because it seems easier, faster or better.

“We reinforce the idea that they are most important and then we try to undo it,” says Beverley. “We need to move that child from egocentric to group centric. If they don’t learn it early enough, it will be quite an adjustment when a sibling arrives or they start school.”

It’s important to raise kids who are a good member of the family group. She says it may be a painful lesson at first, but it’s better in the long run, and parents will be able to see the difference in their child’s behaviour.

Make a change

Look for chances to teach them that they won’t always be first. “You walk down the stairs first or give the first piece of cake to someone else so they will learn how to take turns being first,” says Cathcart-Ross.

Work on long-term goals for all your children, especially if they are lagging in certain areas. Teach them that you value being kind, independent and respectful. Model and teach acceptance of mistakes as opportunities to learn. Accept their efforts, don’t require perfection and be aware of imposing high expectations.

Don’t overdo the praise. “We think that praise is important for a child’s self-esteem, but what we have learned is that too much praise can be damaging,” says Beverley. Parents tend to shower their children with comments that put them on a pedestal, which creates a sense of entitlement and children who are addicted to praise. “Change your language and focus on what they are doing. Instead of saying, ‘You’re the greatest artist,’ say, ‘It looks like you worked really hard on your art project.” Focus on the fun of participating, not the goal of winning, being first or best.

Praise versus encouragement

It is often hard to know the right things to say to your child and when. Beverley Cathcart-Ross, co-author of Raising Great Parents and founder of The Parenting Network, offers some advice about how to be encouraging rather than overdoing the praise:

Instead of overpraising: You are the best runner ever!

Encourage: You ran like the wind on the field today! Were you having a good time? (describe what you noticed)

Instead of overpraising: I can’t believe you went on the potty – I am so proud of you!

Encourage: You went on the potty twice today – that must feel great! (internal motivation)

Instead of overpraising: I like it when you clean up so nicely.

Encourage: You put away the toys and picked up all the books – what a difference a clean room makes! (focus on improvement)

Instead of overpraising: Wow, you ate all your dinner – I am so proud of you!

Encourage: Wow, you ate all your dinner – you must have been very hungry! (internal motivation)

Instead of overpraising: That is a beautiful painting – I love it!

Encourage: Look at all the different colours in that painting – is there a story that goes with it? (self-evaluation)

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, July/August 2015.

First-born children susceptible to depression in later life ‘because of the weight of their mother’s expectations’


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The idea that the person we become is partly defined by the order in which we come in our family was first proposed by Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler. Adler believed that sibling hierarchy has a profound effect on our personalities, and can influence everything from the career choices we make to the people we fall in love with.

Studies suggest that the differences between oldest, middle and youngest siblings have more to do with nurture than nature. Oldest children often have higher IQs, but this isn’t necessarily because they are genetically more intelligent. It’s more likely that they will have had both more input from their parents, and taken on the role of teacher for their younger siblings, thus strengthening their own knowledge.

Although Adler’s theories have been challenged over the years, there are certain characteristics and life choices that seem remarkably consistent in oldest, middle, youngest and only children.

Oldest children

Typically responsible, confident and conscientious, they are more likely to mirror their parents’ beliefs and attitudes, and often choose to spend more time with adults. Oldest children are often natural leaders, and their role at work may reflect this.

Because they are more likely to have authority over younger siblings, or take on the role of surrogate parent, they have a tendency to be bossy and want things to be done their way. Oldest children can be perfectionists and worriers, and may put pressure on themselves to succeed.

Middle children

Likely to be adaptable, diplomatic and good at bringing people together, middle children are often popular and patient. However, because their role in the family changes from youngest to middle, it is thought that they often struggle to establish a clear role for themselves, and many go through a period of rebellion.

Middle children can be competitive: they do not have the time on their own with their parents that oldest children enjoy, and their role as the baby of the family is supplanted, so they have to find other ways of getting their parents’ attention.

Youngest children

Charming, impulsive and good

at getting their own way, the youngest child’s role as baby of the family means that he or she is likely to be indulged. This may mean fewer responsibilities and more opportunities for fun, but youngest children often find that they aren’t taken as seriously or given the independence they crave. Youngest children often rebel as a way of distinguishing themselves from older brothers and sisters. They are more likely to take risks, and often choose a career that is different from other members of their family.

Only children

Only children enjoy the same parental attention as first-borns and are often confident, conscientious and socially mature, due to the amount of time they spend in a largely adult world. They may have a tendency to assume that others know how they are feeling, or think the same way as they do, without question. They may be dependent on their parents for longer than other children, spending more time at home and delaying decisions about their future.

Tough At The Top: How The Oldest Child Of The Family Gets The Hardest Discipline

We have a thing called “middle child syndrome” where in some cases of social and psychological behaviour in adults, growing up as the kid in the middle of a family of older and younger siblings has created problems in later life. We have also understood the pros and vast cons of being an only child, even being one of ten kids can have it’s difficulties, yet it seems that there is another fault many parents have to contend with, or at least, blame themselves for (as if parents don’t have enough of that) and that’s guilt of being too tough on the oldest kid.

A new study in America, published in The Economical Journal, has found that the oldest child in the average family have a tougher time growing up than any of the other children born afterwards. It appears that the oldest child comes under greater fire and harder discipline when growing up in the family unit, whereas parents tend to be more relaxed on younger children in the family and even allow them to get away with murder, when it comes to behaviour. So it would be about right when we hear in the news and particularly in TV shows when we repeatedly see the younger or youngest child of the family being the most cheeky, naughty and likely to get into serious trouble. So we are too hard on the oldest child, across the world – we are more likely to stop their allowances, ground them and generally make them work too hard on school work or pocket money Saturday jobs, than we would on the next child down and even the next child after that, in fact, the youngest could set alight to the living room rug and we would forgive them, but why? We are stone guilty of using our oldest one, and why? Because we use the first born as a punch bag, for want of a better term – we use them as an example, and a yardstick, to teach the others below what it means when us parents get angry and even, or at least, this is what the experts say. According to one of these experts, Professor Joseph Hotz at the Duke University, who himself could come under the “middle child syndrome” category, said, “My older sister always complains that she never got away with anything when she was growing up, and we all agree that my younger sister got away with murder. That’s the story of this paper – tough love.” Yet all this “tough love” does not necessarily turn out well rounded and happy adults. After careful analysis, chaps in white coats at the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, discovered that these poor, ‘first out of the block’ children were more likely thrown into the darkest realms of independence left to fend for themselves than younger children in the pack who were given financial help and support in the their first taste of adulthood. Yet of course, what happens as a result of this is that younger children are more likely to try drugs and crime simply because their parents are too soft of them. There seems to be rather a double edged sword here – as parents we are too tough on one and too soft in the other – in turn, we have a an older child who cuts us off completely in adulthood and a younger child who is in and out of drug rehab and jail, as usual, us parents can’t win. Also authoring the shuddering report, Ginger Zhe Jin, who is the assistant professor of economics at the University of Maryland, told new reports of the finds, “Tender-hearted parents find it harder and harder to engage in ‘tough love’ since, as they have fewer young children in the house, they have less incentive to uphold reputations as disciplinarians. As a result, the theory predicts that last-born and only children, knowing that they can get away with much more than their older brothers and sisters, are, on average, more likely to engage in risky behaviour.” So there you have it – it is better to have just one perhaps, and face a child who just won’t ever leave….

Being the eldest child is a blessing and a curse

I didn’t ask to be the eldest child. I didn’t ask for whatever advantages or disadvantages being the eldest child brings. Would I change being the eldest of five children? No chance.

Watching the video that went viral last week of a young girl crying as she realised that her little baby brother would not stay like that forever got me reminiscing. I had the best time watching my four siblings grow up, learning new things, sharing exciting experiences, guiding them as best I could – usually by advising them not to repeat my mistakes – and being there when they needed their ‘big brother’.

I was the shock news that greeted my parents on a wet and windy morning in November 1988. Five months later I arrived; the guinea pig that would lead the way for the next generation of our perfectly dysfunctional little family.

I was four and a half when my sister was born. It was amazing. I finally had a role. I wasn’t just the toddler who had every day to himself; there was another little person to fuss over. Our parents still frequently recall stories of how I became an overprotective older brother, one who would insist on holding onto my little sister tightly no matter where we went.
The fun wasn’t over yet as we welcomed another sister and two brothers. By the age of 11 I was probably best described as being an adult trapped in a child’s body. I’ve always been a bossy, headstrong character, so took to the role of being the eldest quite easily. A short-lived novelty.
I was 11 and a half when my Dad had several major heart attacks and underwent a triple bypass. Looking back, I can’t believe I was so aware of what was going on at such a young age. At the time my age did not feel like a factor. I was the eldest; I’d seen enough films and read enough books to know that I was the one who had to step up and be there for my Mum and siblings. What if Dad didn’t make it through the surgery he faced? I remember preparing myself for the worst early on.

Thankfully that was not the case. Life undoubtedly changed a lot, with Dad having to rediscover himself and his role within the family unit. I secretly felt like I was needed to become a third adult for that extra support, but looking back, I think Mum feels guilty that I grew up so fast, but I wouldn’t change that.

Intrigued by my own personality, I attempted to discover myself online through the reading of numerous ‘eldest child syndrome’ papers. While most did paint a picture that felt very familiar, I found myself looking for further explanations to figure out if such ‘syndromes’ did play a role.

Earlier this year, the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex published groundbreaking research which showed that firstborn girls are 13 per cent more ambitious than firstborn sons. It suggested that an eldest female daughter was statistically more likely to end up with the highest qualification of the family. The paper goes on to note that it has been observed that children in larger families have significantly lower levels of aspirations than those from smaller.

I have often wondered if the eldest of two or three children would experience ‘eldest child syndrome’ to the same effect as someone with more younger siblings. However, the paper’s lead researcher Feifei Bu said that her data found “no evidence” to suggest that the birth order effect differs between small and larger sibling groups.

She further explained how the research showed that a larger gap between each child did show an effect on educational attainment.

When publishing the study, she noted: “It is interesting that we observe a distinct firstborn advantage in education, even though parents in modern society are more likely to be egalitarian in the way they treat their children.”

As the years have gone on, I believe the disadvantages of being the eldest have presented themselves more. I’m admittedly still quite needy. I had had over four years of attention before my sister was born, a substantial block of time to enjoy the only-child experience. There’s no doubt about it, I was the centre of attention and I always liked that alone time with my parents.

Child psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew said that she sees a “number of effects that being the eldest sibling can have” from the adults and young people she sees.

My own teenage years – from bullying to an overdose, and being diagnosed with depression – were far from normal, so I had a lot of time at home where I was either spending time with siblings or mixing only with adults outside of the family unit. I never mixed well with people my own age, perhaps a negative side effect of how I had become older than my years so early on.

Dr Andrew confirmed that as the eldest, being given responsibility constantly can see the child “having more in common with adults rather than their peers. They can also internalise that in order to be loved/accepted that they need to work hard and be responsible. These patterns can lead to depression in adolescence/adulthood, particularly if in spite of working hard, success does not seem to be achieved”.

Now aged 25 the role can still have its complications. With the age gap that exists comes the difficultly of also having a sometimes confusing adult/child relationship. The second I have to switch onto adult mode is clearly frustrating for them, and those boys just love to make a “you’re not Dad!” fuss. Kids of 11 and 15 want their big brother, not another pair of adult eyes watching their every move.

Dr Andrew explained: “Other siblings may find it hard to accept changes in eldest siblings often because if an eldest child changes their behaviour, it will often have a knock on effect on the other children and the parents and the way a family functions.

“Often, eldest siblings I’ve met have felt liberated when they have taken a stance against being responsible or chosen to accept themselves as they are, rather than viewing themselves as only loveable when they achieve certain things,” he said.
Christmas 2014 was a defining Love family moment. After a quarter of a century I finally said goodbye to that Christmas morning Santa excitement, as the baby of the family was let in on that secret. It was the end of an era.

I’m sure we all have moments where we resent our positions within our respective families. I’ve argued the points with fellow eldest children, middle children and youngest children many times. I can only speak from personal experience, and while birth order has certainly played a role in shaping the people my siblings and I are, we are far from tied to descriptions of what is expected of us.

I still think it’s the best feeling in the world to feel needed and important to your siblings. I hope that never changes, because they’ll always be my baby sisters and brothers who will need protecting and guidance. (Especially when they don’t want it).

Truity’s Personality and Careers Blog

Only children can’t share. First-borns are bossy. And the youngest child gets away with murder. We all know the stereotypes connecting personality with birth order, and no matter where you sit in your family tree, you likely have some assumptions about how your position in your family helped to shape your personality.

But is it true that your birth position can drive your personality and behavior? We wanted to find out. So, we asked visitors taking our TypeFinder Personality Test (based on Myers and Briggs’ typology) to share their family history. Some 5,747 people generously responded, and we correlated those responses with volunteers’ personality types to see what trends, if any, we could uncover.

What do you think we found? Are first-borns really our natural leaders? Are sandwich kids as harmony-oriented and fairness-loving as we think they are? Do the babies of the family enjoy more independence than their older siblings—and the confidence that goes along with it?

I won’t leave you in suspense—the stereotypes are, by and large, absolutely true. When we analyzed the data for all 16 personality types in Myers and Briggs’ system, we found some startlingly familiar trends in the four preferences and birth order.

Here’s what we discovered:

First Borns Take the Lead

If you’re looking for a natural leader, look no further than your firstborn. Being the oldest translates into certain family responsibilities that require leadership skills from an early age. Parents tend to invest much more time in their first borns, and expect them to serve as role models to their younger siblings. As a result, parents describe their first-born children as:

  • Responsible
  • Conscientious
  • Diligent
  • Structured
  • Achievers, in terms of educational and career achievement.

Looking at this list of traits, we can predict that oldest children will favor fact-oriented personality traits, namely Thinking (in Myers and Briggs’ theory, this indicates a person who makes decisions based on logic) and Judging (the desire to be organized and have decisions made). TJs like rules and guidelines, are conscientious, and respect and trust authority, which explains why they’re overrepresented in the leadership and management ranks of corporate America.

Does the data support these assumptions? Yes—and the results are striking. When we looked at our respondents’ personality results, first-borns, by a fair margin, were Thinker-Judgers. Roughly 19.5 percent more ESTJs were first-borns than we would expect to see if birth order and personality were completely uncorrelated; for INTJs, the figure is 17.5 percent.

Bringing up the rear are the ESTPs, ESFPs and ISFPs with far fewer of these personalities being a firstborn child than we would expect to see if personality traits were distributed by chance. It’s not easy being a free-wheeling Perceiver when your parents are overwhelming you with so much structure and attention.

Type Prevalence Among First-Born Children (Percentage Compared to Expected)

Middle Kids Make Connections

Middle kids are in a bit of a bind. Unlike firstborns, they never had the parents to themselves, but they didn’t get to enjoy all the fuss and privileges of the youngest child either. They get the short end of the stick in terms of parental attention—and are perceived as being eager to please and impress as a result. Here are some of the stereotypical traits we expect of middle children:

  • Easy going
  • People-pleasers
  • Thrive on friendships
  • Gold-star negotiating skills
  • Peacemakers

The prediction here is that middles would exhibit high Feeling preferences, making decisions based on compassion and what is important to people. You might also expect them to lean towards Perceiving (over Judging) since there’s an advantage to being easy-going and flexible as you navigate the middle ground.

So what does the data show? You guessed it—there’s a strong likelihood that a middle child will be a Feeler. Way out in front, ISFP types are a whole 41.67 percent more likely to be a middle child than chance would suggest, with ESFP and ISFJ following close behind. We do note the relatively small sample size for ISFPs, which means these results are more prone to error. But, even if the trend is less exaggerated than these data show, it certainly signals an area ripe for further exploration.

For middles, there’s a negative correlation with Thinking types across the board. In terms of the individual traits, middle kids are 6.93 percent more likely to be Feelers, and 7.23 percent less likely to be Thinkers than if personality had no relationship with your position in the family hierarchy. This is significant!

There’s another trait to consider here and that’s Extraversion. All that floundering in the middle often leads sandwich children to develop many and varied friendships, since parental attention is normally devoted to the firstborn or the baby of the family. Introverts typically find it less appealing to maintain a large network of friends, so it’s no surprise to learn that middles are more likely to be Extraverts than Introverts.

Or, to put it another way, locating an INTJ who is also a middle would be an extremely rare find. Which explains why INTJs are a full 30 percent less likely to be middle kids than if personality happened by chance!

Type Prevalence Among MIddle Children (Percentage Compared to Expected)

Youngests Just Want to Have Fun

Although the youngest gets the “baby bonus” of parental coddling, it’s not all easy for these kids. Parents tend to be less impressed by their accomplishments because they’ve “been there, done that” with older children. And there’s just no time left to police these kids, so they get to play fast and loose with the household rules. This means that youngest children are more willing to take risks than older kids, and they often develop “out there” ways to attract attention, such as being the family clown.

Other stereotypical youngest-child traits include:

  • Uncomplicated
  • Outgoing
  • Attention-hungry
  • Rebellious
  • Self centered

What’s the personality prediction here? We reckon that last-borns would be Extraverted and Perceiving for sure, and may exhibit a slight leaning towards Sensing (living in the moment) over Intuition (future focused), although the latter is a tougher call.

Once again, the data shows this prediction to be true. ESFPs and ESTPs are 22.22 percent and 14.29 percent respectively more likely to be younger children than if personality had no connection with birth order. The opposite is true for NTJs, who are significantly underrepresented in the baby-of-the-family group.

Overall, though, being the youngest child seemed to have the least impact on individual personality traits.

Type Prevalence Among Youngest Children (Percentage Compared to Expected)

What About Onlies?

Only children occupy a special place. They enjoy the full attention of their parents for their entire lives, and do not have to share resources such as their parents’ time or money with anyone. Not only do they get more attention than siblings, they typically have adults rather than peers to latch onto and learn from. Essentially, this makes the only child something like a “super-firstborn” but with a bit more freewheeling self-confidence thrown in—these kids can take more risks than firstborns as they have exclusive access to the parental safety net.

In terms of specific traits, onlies are expected to be:

  • Confident
  • Perfectionist
  • Independent
  • Outside the box thinkers
  • Wise beyond their years

The prediction, then, is for onlies to be Thinkers like firstborns, but with less propensity for Judging. In fact, we might speculate a preference for Perceiving. Without siblings to boss around, onlies can afford to be a bit less structured than firstborns.

There are a few interesting trends to take note of here.

First, our ESTP respondents were 100 percent more likely to be only children than if personality and birth order were completely uncorrelated. This is an extraordinary result, and possibly one that should be taken with a grain of salt since ESTPs— and SPs generally—were woefully underrepresented in our respondent group. (The data potentially tells us more about an SP’s attitude to surveys than it does about their birth order personality, so we’re not reading too much into this finding.)

But there are some other trends which are really pronounced—for instance, there are 32 percent more INTP only children than we would expect to see by chance. On the flip side, ESFPs and INFJs are significantly less likely to have grown up as only children, by 44 percent and 34 percent respectively.

Type Prevalence Among Only Children (Percentage Compared to Expected)

Across the board, it seems that being an only child has the most impact on individual personality traits of any family position. Onlies are much more likely to be Thinkers (rather than Feelers), perhaps because they’re not under as much pressure to be agreeable with no siblings about. They’re also more likely to be Perceivers (rather than Judgers), and slightly more likely to be Intuitives (rather than Sensors), although the reasons for this difference are harder to guess at. It could be that only children get more time to daydream, wonder, and explore in their smaller, less busy families—or it could be that the complexity of parenting an NTP kid leads parents to decide that one is enough!

As to Introversion/ Extraversion, you might theorize that only children would be more introverted since they’re lacking sibling company. Or, maybe they’d be more extraverted, since they have to make more effort to socialize. In fact, the data shows a very slight Extraversion bias—but the data here is underwhelming. Being an only child doesn’t appear to have a significant impact on Introversion versus Extraversion at all.

The Meaning of Birth Order

We did this analysis to see if there were any trends in birth order in relationship to personality type. We were curious to know whether there were certain types that were more likely to occur in a particular birth position, or if particular preferences were influenced by the family structure. What’s fascinating is that overall, the data suggests that what we assume about birth order and personality is mostly true—whether you’re firstborn, middle child, last-born, or only child, birth order can have a big effect on your personality in all the ways that parents have observed.

One discovery that we found especially interesting is that some types are much more (or much less) likely to occur in a particular birth position. INTJs, for instance, are unlikely to be middle children. ESTJs are likely to be firstborns. INTPs are often only children and ESFPs are almost never only children.

So, perhaps these findings can help you to better understand what makes you (and your siblings!) who you are. In the meantime, psychologists continue to chip away at an understanding of how our personalities are formed. Birth order may only be a small part of what makes us who we are, but it seems to be a significant one.

Which leaves us with a final question: how do you think your birth order influenced your personality type?

What to Know About Older, Younger, and Middle Child Personalities

Molly Magnuson

Birth order only explains a small part of who we are, but personality changes definitely exist between siblings, says expert Frank Sulloway, PhD, author of Born to Rebel (Pantheon). “It’s the roles siblings adopt that lead to differences in behavior,” he says. And parents tend to reinforce these roles, whether they realize it or not. Here’s how to explain the personality differences between your only, oldest, youngest, or middle child.

Oldest Child Characteristics

Since firstborns follow their parents’ lead, they like taking charge and have oodles of confidence, says Kevin Leman, PhD, author of The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are (Revell). They don’t have older siblings to tease them when they learn to tie their shoes or ride a bike. Adults take them seriously, and that boosts their confidence. When parents gush over the oldest sibling’s “firsts,” it motivates them to achieve. Proof of this: Leman recounts a corporate seminar he conducted for CEOs in which 19 of the 20 attendees were firstborns.

  • RELATED: 10 Tips for Parenting Firstborns

It’s easy for ambitious firstborns to become perfectionists; after all, they see adults coloring inside the lines and pouring milk without spilling. Your firstborn wants everything just so, Leman says, and he wants to get things right the first time around. To this end, he may resist pouring his own milk or coloring on his own because he doesn’t want to make mistakes. These perfectionist oldest child traits also mean firstborns may have trouble admitting when they’re wrong.

It’s not difficult to see how firstborns can become so tightly wound: new to their roles as Mom and Dad, first-time parents can be overprotective and tentative while at the same time strict and demanding, says Leman. This can lead to “oldest child syndrome” and the conscientious desire to overachieve.

Parenting the Oldest Sibling

  • Parents tend to view firstborns as role models for younger siblings, and that can be a lot of pressure. “Watch for the effects of stress,” cautions pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, MD, coauthor of Touchpoints 3 to 6: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development (Perseus Publishing). Be careful using “should”—as in, “you should’ve known better.”
  • While you’re doling out extra responsibilities to your oldest, grant some privileges, too, like a later bedtime.
  • “It’s easy to put too much responsibility on the firstborn,” says Dr. Brazelton. Your oldest might volunteer to bring the baby a toy when he’s fussy or hand you a diaper, but don’t expect her to help all the time.

Middle Child Characteristics

Middle-born children are often completely different than older siblings. “Once a role is filled by the firstborn, the second-born will seek out a role that’s completely the opposite,” Leman says. Because of this, they’re hardest to label, since middle child personalities emerge in response to how they perceive the next-oldest sibling in the family. If the older sibling is a parent-pleaser, the middle child might rebel to get attention. “Middle child traits are the hardest to categorize, but whatever traits he develops play off the first born,” says Leman.

  • RELATED: All About Middle Child Syndrome

In the eyes of the middle child, oldest siblings reap all the privileges and the babies get away with everything, so middles learn to negotiate to get what they want. “Middle-borns are the most willing to wheel and deal,” Sulloway says. They are agreeable, diplomatic, and compromising, and they handle disappointment well. They have realistic expectations, are the least likely to be spoiled, and they tend to be the most independent. Because they often feel left out, they tend to gravitate toward friends outside the family.

Parenting Your Middle Child

  • Thank her when she steps in to mediate a sibling squabble.
  • Respect his need for peers. Create opportunities for him to meet new friends at the park or on playdates.
  • Firstborns have their parents all to themselves initially, as do last-borns once their other siblings grow up and leave home. But the middle kids always have to share parental attention. Set aside extra time for your middle child to make her feel special, recommends Dr. Brazelton: “Do it for every child, individually, but especially for that middle child.”

Youngest Child Characteristics

Parents tend to let things slide once the last child comes along—they aren’t nervous, first-time parents anymore. As a result, lastborns usually do get away with more than their siblings do, says Leman. They shoulder less responsibility, so youngest child traits tend to be carefree, easygoing, fun-loving, affectionate, and sociable, and they like to make people laugh.

But being the youngest isn’t all roses. Because lastborns view their older siblings as bigger, faster, and smarter, they may attempt to differentiate themselves by being more rebellious, says Sulloway. Leman, himself the family baby, agrees with this youngest child syndrome: “Lastborns have an ‘I’ll show them’ attitude.” And if older siblings baby the baby, lastborns might be spoiled and manipulative.

  • RELATED: 6 Small Ways to Make Each of Your Kids Feel Special

Parenting the Youngest Sibling

  • Lastborns often feel they aren’t taken seriously. Let her make some family decisions—like where to go out for dinner or which video to watch together.
  • Acknowledge his “firsts.” When he learns to tie his shoes or pees in the potty, call the relatives like you did with the firstborn. And be sure to make a big deal of his artistic accomplishments, displaying his drawings on the fridge, as you did for his older siblings.
  • Give the youngest child some responsibilities, even something simple like putting napkins on the table. Lastborns can end up with few family duties because they’ve learned to duck out of work or other family members have dubbed them too “little” to be able to handle things, says Leman.

Only Child Characteristics

Because only children spend so much time alone, they’re self-entertainers and often tend to be the most creative of all birth orders. In fact, Leman calls only children “Super Firstborns.” Like oldest siblings, they are confident, well spoken, pay enormous attention to detail, and tend to do well in school. Plus, spending so much time around grown-ups often makes onlies act like “little adults.”

Only children have never had to compete for their parents’ attention or share toys with their siblings, so they do run the risk of developing a self-centered streak. They’re also used to feeling important and may have a hard time when things don’t necessarily go their way, Leman says. Because their role models are competent adults, onlies are even more susceptible to perfectionism than firstborns.

  • RELATED: 12 Tips for Raising an Only Child

Parenting Your Only Child

  • Since they aren’t used to sharing with other kids at home, only children especially can benefit from playgroups.
  • Onlies lean toward perfectionism, so model acceptance of your own mistakes. Remind him that you couldn’t cut out a perfect circle at his age either.
  • Don’t seize every opportunity to teach her a better way to do something—if she makes the bed with a few wrinkles, don’t remake it. You don’t want to send the message that she is not measuring up.

What About Twins?

“Twins don’t usually follow typical birth order roles,” says Nancy Segal, PhD, twins expert and author of Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins (Harvard University Press). “Most parents tend to be very fair and not emphasize order of birth, at least in Western nations.” However, when twins are born vaginally, the firstborn is usually bigger, and the second-born has a greater risk for health problems. In these cases, parents may unconsciously treat the first twin more like a firstborn.

  • RELATED: Understanding Your Child’s Personality

Factors That Affect Birth Order Personalities

“Many things contribute to human behavior,” says birth order expert Frank Sulloway, PhD. “Birth order only explains a small chunk.” Here are some other factors that alter traditional birth order roles.

Gender. Being born first doesn’t necessarily guarantee firstborn status. In some cultures, a boy may be treated like a firstborn even when he has four older sisters, because he’s the firstborn male.

Age differences. Birth order effects are strongest when siblings are two to four years apart. With large age gaps, siblings might act more like only children or firstborns. Siblings separated by fewer than two years are almost like twins. “When sibs are close in age, there’s a physical equality,” says Sulloway. It’s hard to grab that truck from your younger brother when he’s not all that little.

Special-needs sibling. When a child is born with special needs, younger siblings may take on the firstborn role.

  • By Natalie Lorenzi

American Baby

How Parents Can Manage Personality Traits of the Oldest Child

First borns are a enigmatic group. Twenty-one US Presidents were first borns or first born sons, as are the majority of CEOs. There are a number of personality traits of the the oldest child that psychologists tell us are common, but these traits can become positive or negative. Of course nothing is universal, so not all first borns fit into this schematic. They won’t all act exactly the same, but they do have a lot in common.

Leadership Qualities vs. Becoming Overbearing

First born children are often pushed into leadership roles from a young age. In the beginning they are the center of the universe for new parents, and so they get all the attention. Once younger siblings arrive, they are expected to help teach the younger brother or sister right from wrong and simply how to do certain things.

Parents should avoid being too strict or demanding of their first born child. Putting too much pressure on the oldest child to be a role model for others can make them act out or develop negative tendencies as they grow up such as becoming bossy, always wanting to have control over a situation, and being unable to delegate. This can also lead to the inability to admit mistakes.

Parents should be encouraging of leadership roles, and at the same time be patient, good listeners, and practice good communication skills.

High Achiever and Conscientious vs. A Perfectionist

First born kids want to please their parents and usually become successful in all areas of their life from school to sports, and later in a career. Many believe this is because they were given more quality “alone time” with their parents like night time reading, which teaches them the value of an education. They also recognize the importance of being organized, punctual, and competent in all that they do.

Unfortunately, this drive to succeed can turn an ambitious child into a perfectionist who is unable to be satisfied with anything but coming out on top. This desire to be the best can result in an unhappy child and adult when they can’t always be crowned the winner of every activity.

Give your first born a chance to be a kid. Give him or her plenty of opportunities to play and relax. Yes, give them responsibilities and chores, but don’t overload them. Moderate your expectations and don’t expect your child to be perfect every time. Rather than chastising them for receiving a B grade on a test at school, praise them for doing their best.

Self Confident vs. Feeling Jealous and Inferior

As the oldest in the family, children become confident in their ability to teach younger siblings and care for them. They know that parents rely on them to take on certain chores and do their best.

Problems arise if parents don’t devote as much time to the older child, which often makes them feel less important than their younger siblings. When they no longer are the center of attention, jealousy is a normal reaction. One specific example is if parents often use the phrase, “You should know better because you are older,” to criticize their eldest child.

Counteract any feelings of jealousy or inferiority by giving the first born extra perks for being the oldest like a later bedtime or other privileges. Add in special time alone with just you in order give them your undivided attention for at least a few moments each day.

Goals for Parents

Birth order has a great impact on a child’s behavior, emotions, and personality development, all of which are easily manageable by parents if they know what to look for. Contact the team at TLC Pediatric Therapies today if you have concerns about your oldest child and any bad personality traits.




The Birth Order Effect

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Most of us have heard the long-held theory that the order in which you and your siblings are born has an impact on your personality as an adult. While it may not hold up for every person in the world, studies have indicated there is a great deal of truth in that theory.

Average children per family in U.S.


Utah 2.21


West Virginia 1.71

5 years

Gap when birth order is restarted

The First-Born

These children quickly learn how to please their parents — becoming conscientious, organized and reliable and serving as surrogate parents to younger siblings.

First-born characteristics:

  • Reliable
  • Conscientious
  • Structured
  • Cautious
  • Controlling
  • Achieving


How much more quality hours spent with first children between the ages of 4 and 13 than their next sibling

Top careers for first-borns

  • Government
  • Information technology
  • Engineering
  • Science


Astronauts who’ve gone into space who were either eldest children or eldest sons

Famous first-borns

Walter Cronkite

Once the “most trusted man in America,” Cronkite famously reported on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the 1969 moon landing.

Key birth order trait: Reliable

Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey went from local Chicago TV reporter to one of the most influential (and wealthy) women in the world.

Key birth order trait: Conscientious

Winston Churchill

Churchill’s steadfast refusal to consider defeat helped inspire the English during World War II; he’s regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders in history.

Key birth order trait: Controlling

The Middle Child

Difficult to categorize, they avoid being boxed in and have a more go-with-the-flow attitude than their older siblings. They tend to be unbiased and levelheaded and are good at negotiations, most likely from playing mediator between their siblings.

Middle-child characteristics:

  • People-pleasing
  • Somewhat rebellious
  • Good friend
  • Social
  • Peacemaker

Top careers for middle and second children

  • Public service
  • Caretaking
  • Law enforcement
  • Construction
  • Education


Percentage of middle children who put money into their savings accounts each month (more than their older and younger counterparts). They are also more likely to be asked for money from a sibling.


Percentage of middle children who remain faithful to their partner

(compared to 65% for first-borns an 53% for youngest children)

Famous middle children

Barbara Walters

A TV journalist known for her celebrity interviews, Walters was the first woman to co-host a nightly evening news program.

Key birth order trait: Social

John F. Kennedy

A president whose life was cut short by an assassination, one of Kennedy’s biggest achievements was avoiding a nuclear incident during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Key birth order trait: Peacemaker

Martin Luther King Jr.

Leader of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, King’s message of non-violence in the face of attempts at repression helped galvanize popular thinking in favor of his movement.

Key birth order trait: Rebellious

The Baby

These children usually receive the least discipline, the fewest responsibilities and the biggest audience. As a result of being babied, they tend to be tender and altruistic. They learn that being funny and adorable gains attention and approval.

Youngest characteristics

  • Fun-loving
  • Uncomplicated
  • Manipulative
  • Outgoing
  • Attention-seeking
  • Self-centered

Top careers for youngest children

  • Art
  • Design
  • Editing and writing
  • Information technology
  • Sales


Percent of youngest children who suffer from nightmares, compared to 25% of oldest children.

Famous youngest children

Mark Twain

The beloved American author and humorist has been called the father of American literature.

Key birth order trait: Outgoing

Stephen Colbert

The youngest of 11 siblings, Colbert shrewdly portrays an oblivious, arch-conservative newsman.

Key birth order trait: Attention-seeking

Prince Harry

The younger of the two English princes has provided tabloid fodder over the years with his somewhat reckless behavior.

Key birth order trait: Fun-loving

The Only Child

These children are typically mature for their age due to time spent with adults. Many are high achievers, with a few rebelling and following their own path.

Only child characteristics:

  • Mature
  • Perfectionist
  • Conscientious
  • Diligent

Top careers for only children

  • Information technology
  • Engineering
  • Nursing
  • Law enforcement


Percentage of one-child families

Famous only children

Elvis Presley

The best-selling solo artist in the history of music, Presley remains one of the most important figures in American culture.

Key birth order trait: Perfectionist

Frank Sinatra

A singer and actor expelled from school as a teenager, Sinatra defined an entire genre of popular music and represented a particular swanky lifestyle.

Key birth order trait: Mature

Franklin D. Roosevelt

America’s longest-serving president, Roosevelt grew up with a mother who lavished attention on him.

Key birth order trait: Diligent


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