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Family Dynamics

Birth Order and the Third Child

Each child may have unique emotional experiences.

The news has been ablaze with stories about the birth of Prince Louis, Prince William and Kate Middleton's third child. And there has been much speculation about the personality of this child, the third in the birth order.

The third-born enters a household with parents who have had years of experience in raising children, and feel more relaxed about each sniffle or diaper rash. As a result, the thirdborn is often a calmer, more easy going child.The youngest (even of two) tends to be smiley and charming and gets a lot of attention for his sunny disposition.

However, our little cherub has some unique challenges. The older children are loud and demanding and the youngest child can get lost in the shuffle. The oldest kids constantly face new challenges that require a great deal of their parents attention, for instance, starting middle school or having a first sleepover. Often the youngest ends up being dragged from one sibling's activities to another, and may not get a great deal of individual attention. Parents certainly do not have as much time to sit and read 10 books to the youngest, as they did with their first child!

As a result, the youngest child often clamors for attention, and will try hard to get it anyway she can. She may become a great jokester or the entertainer of the family to draw attention to herself. Sometimes, however, the youngest may become a screamer, or engage in negative behaviors to keep the family focused on her.

Busy parents have little time to teach the youngest how to tie his shoes or dress himself and find it more expedient in the chaos of family life to do things for him. Even older siblings will jump in and slip on his coat. So, often the charming little fellow ends up lacking in skills, and becomes very dependent.

Another challenge that the youngest child faces, is that the older children often reject her. They may refuse to include her in their games, (after all she may not comprehend the rules or be able to carry out complicated maneuvers), and they resent having her tag along. As a result, the youngest can feel left out, and grow up fighting hard to be accepted.

The older siblings also reject the youngest because they are jealous of the amount of attention the parents need to give him with his care, for instance, feeding him and changing his diapers.The middle child used to be the baby, and resents the youngest for taking away his or her role. Studies have shown that there is a greater amount of competition if the two children are close in age.

Let’s take a look at how these dynamics play out in the royal family. Three year old, Princess Charlotte, has many similar needs to a baby. She still needs her mother's lap, and constant interaction, and will likely feel jealous and worry that she has lost her mom.These feelings can cause her to have difficulty sleeping, or engage in negative behaviors to get Mom’s attention, especially when Mom is feeding the baby and the two look very intimate. However, one thing that Princess Charlotte has going for her as a middle child, is that she is of a different gender then the other two, and will receive special kinds of attention, as a result. When it's time for a manicure with Mom, she will be the one to enjoy this special activity.

What about Prince George’s experience, as the oldest? In a royal family, it is clear that he has a special position in the family- he is closest in line for the throne (which ultimately may cause Louis and Charlotte to feel some envy). But Prince George will experience some jealousy and push Louis away at times. He now has to share family life with another boy and will be wary of the youngest boy catching up to him. For example, Louis may turn out to be a better soccer player or student than his older brother.

Another challenge that the youngest of three will experience, is that he has two older siblings who can do so much more than he can. He will be sitting on a tricycle, while his older siblings whizz by him on two wheelers. As a result, he may worry that there's something wrong with him, and grow up feeling inadequate.

It is clear that drawing attention to herself and defining her identity will be huge issues for the youngest as she grows. She is likely to be very competitive as she tries to equal her siblings, and may even rebel and dye her hair purple to establish a unique identity.

Whether parents are royalty, or not, there's much that they can do to help the youngest child. Some guidelines for the youngest include: spending one-on-one time with him, playing with him, reading to him and going on special outings; teaching him how to do things independently, (making sure that family members are not always jumping in and taking care of things for him); encouraging him to make age appropriate decisions such as picking out his clothing, and giving him some responsibilities, for instance, helping set the table. Parents should involve the youngest in family discussions and be careful to listen to what he has to say, and make sure the older children include him in their play and give him opportunities to go first or choose the game. Parents should encourage the youngest child’s interests, for instance, enroll him in a class if he likes to draw, and praise him for his daily accomplishments.

It is crucial to explain to the youngest why he cannot do what the older kids can do. For instance, they might tell her, “Your older brothers couldn’t ride a two wheeler when they were your age.When your legs grow longer you will be able to ride a two wheeler too.” These explanations are not obvious to children, and actually calm them down and raise their self-esteem.

More from Meri Wallace LCSW
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