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Feature Article


Does birth order make a difference?

Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, Human Development Specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension


All children are unique and have different needs. Sometimes these needs can be influenced by a child’s birth order or if he or she is an only child.


Often, first-born children are raised differently from later-born children. Parents give the first-born child more attention, more talking, more holding and take more photographs. First-born children are more serious and more sensitive to their parents’ expectations. They are more conscientious on observing rules and demonstrate a leadership role, as well as a sense of dependency from parents. Research psychologists found that first-borns have higher motivation to achieve than their younger siblings. When a second child arrives, the first-born may feel dethroned. With this role comes a new responsibility.


Middle-born children tend to avoid conflict and are negotiators. They don’t have the authority of the oldest and the freedom of the youngest. They may feel they are “squished in the middle.” Middle-born children seem more friendly and easygoing because they usually learn to be cooperative and sociable. In most cases, they are less concerned about winning approval than the oldest siblings, but they may be concerned with fairness.


Youngest-born children receive the attention of parents and siblings almost as much as first-born children. That helps a youngest child build a sense of security from having family members’ emotional and physical support. They also learn how to relate with and influence others. Youngest-born children have more freedom than older siblings and can do many things on their own.


An only child may become very verbal and intelligent or shy and helpless. They may feel they are special and entitled to have their own way. The only child may also become resourceful since they spend more time alone.


Sometimes, the number of years between children will assume a psychological position different from their actual birth order position. Moreover, the sex of children, physical differences or disabilities, blended families, the birth order position of the parents and the relationships between the parents can affect the constellation.


Although these are general remarks, this information can remind us that each child, no matter what the birth order is, deserves parents’ attention and individualized love. Regardless of the birth order, parents should treat each child lovingly and warmly, and accept the child just because of who he or she is.


Leman, K. 1992. The birth order book: Why you are the way you are. NY: Dell Publishing.


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Last Updated 04/07/2015