It doesn’t matter if you’re the firstborn, a middle child, the baby of the family, or are an only child, odds are you’ve heard every stereotype in the book about where in the family you fall—and what that means for your personality. And while we can easily write off assumptions about firstborns being rude and bossy or heavy-handed tales of only children who make it through their whole life without ever learning to share, it might be worthwhile to give credence to some of what you’ve heard about birth order.
“When it comes to birth order, there can be some differences between the children based on their position in the family,” says Dr. Jaime Kulaga, Ph.D, LMHC. Though not every assumption you’ve heard may be true, we’ve rounded up 20 stereotypes about birth order that are all-too-accurate. And to find out how those other members of your family impacted who you are today, discover these 15 Ways Your Siblings Shape Who You Are.
First children are born leaders.
If you’re looking for a leader, look no further than your nearest firstborn. Thanks to their assumed position as a role model to their younger siblings, firstborns tend to take on leadership qualities at an early age. In fact, according to a survey conducted by membership-based CEO organization Vistage, firstborns are more likely to become CEOs than their younger siblings. And if you want to impart some leadership skills on the next generation, discover these 30 Ways to Make Your Daughter a Better Leader.
Middle children seek attention.
While it’s not always true that middle children act out, they do tend to seek more attention than their older or younger siblings—and with good reason. Being stuck in this position often means that middle children are eager to entertain, impress, or just generally direct the spotlight toward them whenever possible, knowing that it’s not often shining in their direction at home.
“The second-born child may try to find their own spotlight,” says Kulaga. “If the firstborn is this responsible overachiever, the second born must find their spotlight, too. This is where you might see the second child rebelling or being very competitive.”
Youngest children are more confident.
While the eldest in the family may have had parents who were worried about every bump, bruise, and B earned in school, by the time they have a few more children, they’re not quite so freaked out by every minor thing that could happen to their kids. As a result, youngest children often enjoy more independence than their older siblings—and the confidence that comes along with it. And when your own self-esteem could use a leg up, start with these 70 Genius Tricks to Boost Your Confidence.
Only children are shy.
While only children tend to bear the brunt of our assumptions about family structures, there is some truth to a few of the rumors about them. Namely, only children do tend to be shyer than their counterparts with siblings. Since only children get so used to playing alone, they often are slightly more reticent to approach a potential playmate at the park than someone living in a house full of other children might be.
First children are particularly anxious.
First-time parents are often worriers, and with good reason: their oldest child is their only child for a period of time, and they tend to express more anxiety over their sole child’s well-being than parents with larger broods. As such, first children often absorb some of their parents’ anxiety, becoming worried about the same things their parents express concern over.
“Parents are more anxious when rearing their first child. Parents feel pressure to meet demands of developmental milestones and transfer that anxiety to their kids,” says therapist Carrie Krawiec, LMFT. “First time parents are anxious about safety because everything as it relates to this baby feels fragile.”
Middle children are neglected.
Unfortunately, middle children do tend to get less attention from their parents than either their older or younger siblings. While older children tend to need more parental guidance, thanks to their more complicated social lives and never-ending school and extracurricular work, and younger children need to be monitored constantly for safety reasons, middle children inevitably get the short end of the stick in terms of their parents’ attention.
“Middle children are expected to not be a baby any more once a new baby comes along, yet they don’t get attention for achievement nor attention for being youthful, so often they feel low they have no place in the family,” says Krawiec.
Youngest children are coddled.
No matter how old they get, many parents will always see their youngest as a baby. And as their last opportunity to raise a child, many parents will treat their youngest with kid gloves, often allowing them benefits: they’ll be allowed to live at home longer, or will receive help with bills through their early 20s.
“Parents of younger siblings recognize how quick these baby phases pass and may regret rushing their older kids through milestones. They may compensate by keeping their youngest in phases longer like nursing, co-sleeping, etcetera,” says Krawiec.
Only children have trouble relating to their peers.
Though the idea that only children are necessarily friendless is certainly inaccurate, there is a grain of truth behind the idea that they have a tougher time relating to their peer group. With no peers at home to get to test their social skills on, only children are often content to fly solo and sometimes have more difficulty figuring out how to navigate social interactions. And for more insight into only child behavior, check out these 15 Dead Giveaways You’re Dealing With an Only Child.
Firstborns are high achievers.
If you think that it’s a myth that the eldest in families tend to be high achievers, think again. Many famous people—from Beyoncé to Emma Watson to Taylor Swift—are the firstborn in their family, and having the benefit of being the sole object of their parents’ attention for a number of years often means these folks set high standards for themselves, with only adult role models to base their own behavior on.
“Until another child is born, only adults are present, and they grow to respect authority and seek approval through perfectionism of those they see above them,” says Krawiec. “Firstborns get to see parents and grandparents beam with pride for every first-time achievement, fueling the need for these kids to get their worth from achievement. And when you want to maximize your own achievement, discover the 40 Best Ways to Jumpstart Your Career.
Middle children have a hard time finding their place.
Neither the family leader nor the baby, middle children do often test out a wide variety of identities before settling on one that fits. While it may stem from their older and younger siblings getting pigeonholed by parents or a desire to get some extra attention, middle children often seem like a different person on a weekly basis. “They seek to find interests that don’t already belong to other family members making them feel foreign to their parents and themselves isolated and secretive,” explains Krawiec.
Youngest children are more playful.
With plenty of parental attention but fewer rules to abide by than their older siblings, younger children tend to be more playful. According to a study conducted by YouGov, the youngest children in families were considered more easygoing and relaxed by both themselves and their older siblings.
Only children are loners.
Only children learn how to keep themselves occupied from a young age, meaning they’re often content to play by themselves when they get older, too. And while this doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have a circle of friends to call on, it means that they’re less likely to seek constant company than those who grew up in homes with siblings.
Firstborns are approval-seekers.
In addition to being ambitious, firstborns tend to seek approval more than their younger siblings. With only their parents to please for a period of their life, and an assumed leadership position later on, firstborns are often eager to be told they’re doing a good job, as they have few peer examples to follow. “They are kind of like a mini-grown up when there are no siblings to make up their peer group,” says therapist Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, co-founder of the Wright Wellness Center. “Firstborns tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves, craving approval from their parents.”
Middle children are needy.
Since middle children are often shorted when it comes to parental attention, they often seek more time and resources from their parents than their older siblings. As such, their behavior can occasionally come across as a little needy—but it does stem from a place of actual need.
Youngest children are irresponsible.
As the pressure put upon kids tends to wane with each subsequent child, younger children often play fast and loose with the rules. This often means they’re less straight-laced than their older siblings, and tend to toe the line when it comes to acceptable behavior.
“Parents of more than one child have more confidence and less anxiety about health and safety and thus don’t hover over these kids quite as much, so there is more space to mess up—or, at the very, least take risks,” says Krawiec.
Only children are mature beyond their years.
With their parents, rather than siblings, serving as their primary role models, only children tend to have an air of maturity not often seen in their counterparts with siblings. “Only children are like older siblings in many ways—particularly when it comes to their maturity. Super responsible, perfectionistic, and also have difficulty handling criticism. This is true because they must shoulder all of their parents’ expectations—a heavy load,” says Krawiec.
Firstborns are controlling.
Firstborns often find that their status as the main object of their parents’ affection is significantly altered by the presence of one or many siblings. This often leads to firstborns trying to regain some control, or being particularly rule-abiding. Apparently, plenty of firstborns know this about themselves, as well: according to YouGov’s data, firstborns consider themselves more responsible and more organized than their siblings.
“Firstborn children have only their parents to look up to, whereas kids who are born second, third, fourth, etc., look up to other children (their siblings) for social cues and how to be. It puts the firstborn child in a natural position of leadership over the siblings, which can create a perception of control. That perception can continue into adulthood, creating a controlling adult,” says Wright.
Middle children are more emotional.
The lack of parent support that middle children often feel can lead to them being emotionally expressive than their younger or older siblings. In an effort to regain some status with their parents, middle children often display a degree of emotional response that might seem foreign to the siblings on either side of them.
Youngest children are charming.
All that attention lavished upon the baby of the family often means that they continue to seek out that same attention when they’re older. However, unlike middle children, many youngest siblings do so by learning how to turn on the charm. In fact, the results of YouGov’s survey revealed that youngest children were considered particularly funny by both themselves and their siblings.
Only children like peace and quiet.
The kid in a library who offers a practiced, librarian-like shush to people talking at a normal volume? Probably an only. Never having to get used to the chaos at home that generally accompanies having siblings, only children tend to seek calm and quiet, even if that means isolating themselves to do so.
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