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We’re all familiar with terms like middle child and only child syndrome, but is there any truth to theory that your child’s personality is determined by their birth order?

How many mums out there believe that your child’s personality is developed based on their birth order? We certainly think there is some truth to it. Personally speaking, when my second child arrived, it began to dawn on me and my partner from as little as 6 months that he would be considerably different, personality-wise from our firstborn. Whereas our first son was quiet, agreeable and chilled out. In contrast, our second son/youngest child (now six years old) is rowdy, non-compliant, and super opinionated. We felt set up. We had such an easy ride the first time round the parenting rollercoaster, that we assumed it would be equally straightforward the second time. When we expressed these thoughts to parents who have also had more than one child, we’re often greeted with a sympathetic smile and words like ‘Ahhh, you’re genuinely surprised by the fact that your lastborn is a bit of a ‘handful’ (the more PC term for asshole).’

Although on the surface theories like birth order might seem like psychobabble, it is in fact a subject that has been written about and analysed for decades, initially devised by a psychologist/researcher named Alfred Alder who developed the concept and published his findings in 1927. He wrote: “It is a common fallacy to imagine that children of the same family are formed in the same environment. Of course, there is much which is the same for all in the same home, but the psychic situation of each child is individual and differs from that of others, because of the order of their succession”

And while it goes without saying that there are always exceptions to the rule when it comes to birth order, and things aren’t often as cut and dry as these classifications suggest when we bear in mind other factors like culture and parental attitudes.  However, the concept remains a valuable tool that can help you to examine your children’s personality, outlook in life, and possible career aspirations and trajectory. So, let’s unpack some of the common associations with birth order and how it shapes the personality of your offspring.

Firstborn personality traits

Firstborn children are likely to have benefited from the unfaltering attention you most likely bestowed upon them from the moment you found out you were pregnant. From incessantly snapping your bump, reading copious amounts of books and articles about pregnancy, to obsessing over your bundle of joy – like most mums to be, you probably documented every single detail. This is all good stuff, but it also results in a colossal amount of undue pressure on the firstborn when it comes to you and your partner’s expectations regarding your child’s life. As such, first born children tend to be ambitious, type A personalities who place a lot of value in achieving success in their careers. Famous firstborn adults include Oprah, Beyonce and Hilary Clinton who could hardly be considered slackers. Firstborns tend to be found in leadership roles like senior managers and in the teaching profession. On the downside, due to such high expectations placed upon them firstborn children are prone to fear of failure and are reluctant to step out of their comfort zone due to being raised in a more rigid environment compared to their younger siblings.

Famous firstborns: Beyonce, Oprah, Richard Branson, Winston Churchill

Character traits of firstborns: Natural leaders, mature, conscientious, reliable

Middle child personality traits

There’s an ongoing joke in popular culture that the middle child is the forgotten sibling that’s often outshined by their ‘golden child’ older sibling, or the youngest child who is considered the baby of the family and typically fawned upon. We’ve all heard of the term ‘middle child syndrome’, which is based on the theory that those in the middle remain unseen and are considered a bit of a spare part. Although it may seem like harmless fun to joke about the plight of the middle child, it can cause those in this position to feel resentful of the fact that they’ve drawn the proverbial short straw when it came to birth order selection. But on the plus side, middle children have an enviable freedom from the shackles of parental expectations that comes with being a firstborn, and often pursue their goals and follow their interests. Personality wise, middle children are master negotiators and peace makers – having to always cooperate with both older and younger siblings. They are also master communicators as they are used to fighting for their voice to be heard.

Famous middle children Jennifer Anniston, Sarah Jessica Parker, Miley Cyrus, John Legend

Character traits of middle children: Peacemakers, independent, good negotiators

Lastborn personality traits

Lastborn children are typically the rebellious, non-conformist of all siblings (which explains our second child/lastborn’s feisty disposition). They are the most likely to question your rules (or ignore them altogether), because as the baby of the family they have experienced a more chilled out, easy going version of your parenting style in comparison to your oldest child. This often manifests in confident, free-spirited children who know their own mind and are single minded in their pursuits. It’s often been said that last born children shirk responsibility, as they are used to being the baby of the family and having things done for them.

Famous lastborn children: Willow Smith, Ariana Grande, Harry Styles, Prince Harry

Character traits of lastborn children: Rebellious, free spirited, entertaining, creative

Only child personality traits

Only children tend to inhabit similar personality traits as firstborns, having also experienced receiving the unwavering attention of their parents, in this case, for all of their lives. Consequently, they tend to be hard working, goal orientated and successful in their career pursuits. Only children often get a bad rap and have historically been viewed as self-absorbed, unsociable, and a bit of a loner, hence the term ‘only child syndrome’. However, research shows that being the only child often pushes the offspring to become independent, adept at manoeuvring in social situations and confident in their abilities, due to spending the bulk of their social time among adult company, or having to keep themselves entertained.

Famous only children: Adele, Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez

Character traits of only children: Mature, independent, confident

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