“I brought the cooler, filled it with everything we need for tailgating,” said the oldest child. “I brought all the paper products, cups and the little things everyone always asks for,” said the middle child. We asked the youngest child, “What did you bring?” to which they replied, “Um what? Oh, well, nothing. I knew you two had this. Thanks!” The only child sidles up with a personal cooler “I brought everything I need, and the tickets and sunscreen. I never leave anything to chance.”
Sound familiar? Many psychologists believe that birth order may dictate some universal personality traits, although there is still quite a bit of debate. No one likes to be profiled, but it’s fun to think about. I’ll leave it up to you.
Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychiatrist (1870–1937), was one of the first theorists to suggest that birth order influences personality. Birth order can leave an indelible impression on the individual’s style of life, or his or her habitual way of dealing with the tasks of friendship, love, and work. Here are some of the personality characteristics in oldest children, middle children, youngest children and, of course, our only children.
The Oldest Child (the overachiever):
- The Golden Child
- Higher academic achievement
- Has a greater sense of responsibility and maturity
- Has better leadership skills
- Is sometimes inflexible
- Often has a lower tolerance for underachievers and ambiguity
Parents: Give more attention and, consequently, have higher expectations of them. Being overachievers, many think this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Middle Child (the pleaser):
- The social butterfly, everyone’s confidante
- Is cooperative, flexible and thoughtful
- A natural peacekeeper, diplomat, relaxed
- Finds it easy to make and keep lifelong friendships
- Rarely competitive, often “late,” less ambitious than older siblings, seeks to “belong”
Parents: Have slightly lower expectations due to decreased available attention; child often feels he or she lives in older sibling’s shadow.
The Youngest Child (the charmer):
- Is known to be the most empathetic and agreeable
- Possibly more creative than older siblings
- Strong sense of self-confidence and security
- Can be impatient
- Is also often overly compliant
- They have a different sense of responsibility; they expect that others will take the initiative
Parents: They have been there, done that. Parents expect that older sibs will assist in guiding the baby; they have less time and, consequently, lower expectations for them. The youngest child is given fewer responsibilities and restrictions.
The Only Child (the self-reliant and driven):
- Is academically able
- Has a greater need for achievement
- Is very creative, resourceful, mature and responsible
- Craves structure; thrives in the absence of chaos
- Can appear to be self-centered, impatient with, and intolerant of, others
- Without having had to make compromises with siblings, they tend to be more rigid in their beliefs and opinions.
- Unaccustomed to chaos, they often feel out of control when things don’t go their way.
Parents: The only child has their undivided attention and therefore, greater expectations. He or she will emulate adult behaviors which sometimes makes it difficult for him or her to relate to peers.
Of course, these are generalities. Did any of these ring true for you? Perhaps you possess some crossover personality character traits? That’s entirely possible. Even Dr. Adler conceded that there are always extenuating factors that affect birth order personality traits. These might include the spacing in years between siblings, the total number of children, and the changing circumstances of the parents over time. In my case, I was the middle child for 18 years. Then with the (wonderful) introduction of three siblings, I became the oldest daughter of six. My role changed, as did some of my personality traits. Although, I admit, I still struggle with tardiness! My little sister, the baby for 13 years, became a middle child. She handled the transition beautifully – kudos, honey! So what does birth order say about all of you? I would love to hear from you!