The Effect of Birth Order on Children

Birth order impacts on children's emotions, behavior, and personality

Posted May 31, 2016

Birth order has a powerful impact upon children's emotions, behavior and personality development. By a twist of fate a child is born into a particular spot in the family, and from this position, he will have unique emotional experiences. Each spot in the order has it's advantages and challenges.

The firstborn child basks in her parents' undivided love and attention for a period of time, and often benefits emotionally from this experience. She can emerge feeling loved with a sense of security and self-confidence.This will help her to go out into the world and become a responsible leader. Many of our presidents and heads of corporations have been firstborns.

However, he also faces some difficult emotional challenges in his spot. His inexperienced, loving parents, often have very high expectations for him. Parents  want very much for their firstborn to be a success. (It certainly makes them feel good about themselves as parents, as well.) As a result of this wish, they often micromanage and critique every move he makes. It is not uncommon to hear parents say, “Sit up tall”; “That's not the way to draw a tree”; “What? You only got 98 % on your spelling test? What happened to the other two points?”As a result, the firstborn child can end up feeling very pressured to succeed and become a perfectionist, often equating love with success.

A firstborn child experiences terrible feelings of loss when she gives up her old crib to the new baby, and must now share her parents' love and attention. She feels jealous because of the special care and attention her adorable little sibling gets; feels intruded upon because the younger one tends to mess up whatever she is doing ; and is resentful because she is generally required to behave better and do more for the family. However, one of the most positive experiences she receives as a first born, is nurturing a younger sibling. This experience expands her ability to love and to be sensitive to other people's needs.

The secondborn child benefits from calmer, more self-confident parents and enjoys special attention as the baby. He also has the advantage of learning from, and modeling, his idolized older sibling. As a result, he may be able to read at an earlier age. However, the secondborn child often feels terribly inadequate as he sits on a tricycle and his older sibling whizzes by on a two wheeler. Unfortunately, he lacks the understanding that the problem has to do with the childrens' age difference. The secondborn is always rushing to catch up to the firstborn in order to feel that he is valuable.

A secondborn child also feels jealous because her older sibling is always accomplishing new firsts, such as performing in a play, or getting ready to go to high school. These events tend to consume a great deal of her parents' time and attention, and she can feel left out and invisible at times. The secondborn is often dominated by her faster talking older sibling who tries to maintain his number one position by criticizing her and bossing her around.

The middle child shares the positives of being both a younger sibling and an older one. He has an older sibling to learn from, who can watch over him, and he has a younger sibling who looks up to him, whom he can nurture. But as the middle child, he faces some of his own unique challenges. He feels upset about losing his role as the baby, and often feels left out and jealous because both his older and younger siblings command so much attention. It's not unusual for one parent to be helping the older child with her homework, while the other parent gets the baby ready for bed while the middle child sits alone waiting for attention.

The middle child is extremely competitive with her siblings. She is constantly chasing after the older one to catch up, while racing to stay ahead of the younger one. The middle child has another unique dilemma. She is not the oldest and not the youngest, so she must struggle to establish her own unique identity.

Here are some tips for parents to help each child with their birth order isues and to grow up feeling equally loved and self-confident.


Avoid pressuring your firstborn to be perfect and show her unconditional love.(98% is really good enough.)

Reassure her that you have enough love for her and your new baby.

Show her pictures and videos of all the care you provided for her and the new baby.

Help her to obtain privacy when she needs to play with a friend, by arranging a play date or a special activity for the younger child.

Encourage your oldest to speak about any anger or jealousy she has about her younger sibling(s). These are normal emotions and it is better for her not to keep them inside.


Explain to your secondborn that he cannot do the same things as his older sibling because he is younger. His sister could not ride a two wheeler when she was his age. Over time his legs will get longer and he will be able to ride a two wheeler, too.

Praise his abilities and celebrate his successes, even when he wins a soccer trophy and it is the second time around for the family.

If you feel you have been very busy with your older child's college applications, make sure to set up some special time for the younger one. Planning a special day together and putting it on the calendar will assure her that she will have her own special time. If the older one is in a performance, involve the younger one whenever you can. For instance, he can be in charge of giving his sister flowers at the end of the show.

Help your younger child to assert himself with his older sibling and monitor their relationship. Make sure that the older child does not dominate him and that the younger one gets an equal chance to choose the game they will play and be first.


Make sure to pay individual attention to your middle child, so she does not feel squeezed out.

When the family is sitting together at dinner, listen when she speaks and ask her opinions.

Encourage her interests, so she will develop a unique sense of self. You might enroll her in an after school program that she enjoys.

General tips:

One of the most important ways to help your children deal with the challenges of their positions is to acknowledge the difficulties each child faces. For instance, it is very helpful to tell your middle child,“It's hard to be the middle child. Your older sister is always doing something new that takes a lot of our attention, and your younger sister needs a lot of care.”

Encourage your children to talk about their emotions. For example, you can tell your youngest child, “If you ever feel left out and want more attention, you can tell me, 'I feel left out' or 'I'm angry.' and always reassure them by saying,"We have enough love for all of our children.”

Share your own birth order experiences with your children. This will help your children to feel understood. For example, if you are a secondborn, you might tell your younger child, “When I was little, my older brother wouldn't let me play when his friends came over. I felt left out, just like you.”

As hard as it is to arrange, kids need that special one to one attention with their parents to feel loved. To a child time=attention=love.

If you relate to the challenges each child faces in his or her birth order position, and take the steps outlined here, you can mitigate the struggles and enhance the positive of the birth order experiences.

For more strategies about working with childrens' birth order, and learning about the effect of gender, age gap, family size and parental birth order on children, you can download, “Birth Order Blues,” (Henry Holt & Co.) on

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