Birth order: decoded

Posted: May 23, 2012

Revealing the surprising implications birth order has on your personality … and your siblings’

Dan is crazy,” said sophomore Katie Chamberlain of her brother Danny (’11). “When he comes home from school the dinner table be- comes one big comedy show. He lives it up and is always cracking jokes.”

Danny is the firstborn. He is loud, lively and has a huge per- sonality.

“She’s confident that she can do a lot of things,” said freshman Maggie of her sister Katie.

“Katie’s a high maintenance kind of gal, but she’s a fun loving person so we let her get away with it,” said Danny.

nized. “I hear Maggie is outgoing and wild, but at home she’s not like that at all,” said Katie. “She likes to curl up with a nice book and do her homework and read.”

“Maggie’s a little Picasso in the making,” said Danny. “She’s got a creative mind with limitless poten- tial, and half the time I have no clue what goes on in that mind of hers.”

Maggie is the baby. She is quiet and calm at home but loud and wild with her friends. Are the Chamber- lains the way they are as a result of coincidence, or is there another fac- tor that goes into their personalities? Perhaps a little of both personality traits. While birth order doesn’t make up a person’s personality entirely, it predisposes them to traits associated with their birth order.

Firstborns, middle children and last-borns all have distinct charac- teristics that hold significance not only within their own families but in the outside world. Firstborns tend to be natural leaders and set the bar for the rest of the children in the family. They hold themselves to high standards and also have high levels of achievement. They are logical and often organized (if you make to-do lists to keep yourself on track, chances are that you’re a firstborn). Firstborns have many positive traits, but there are negative counterparts to these characteris- tics that can hinder the firstborns’ full potential.

Perfectionism is associated with firstborns. While this isn’t necessar- ily a bad thing, firstborns are some- times “overly critical and dissatis- fied with his own performance,” according to Dr. Kevin Leman, author of The Firstborn Advantage. Male firstborns tend to be control- ling and think their way is the right way, whereas females tend to be pleasers; they often agree to more than they can handle. Approval is important to firstborns; they place high value on having lots of friends, excelling in academics and having leadership roles.

Only-children share many ofthe same characteristics as firstborns; they are mature beyond their years and independent. They value equal ity (many have always been treated as equals by their parents) and often feel smothered.

Middle-born children tend to be mediators; they keep the peace in the family and grow up to be very well-adjusted individuals who place high values on friendship and loy- alty. They don’t get as much atten- tion as the firstborn or baby, so they differentiate themselves by being the opposite of their older sibling.

“The firstborn will either be very compliant or rebellious,” said Jennifer Elmquist, family therapist and St. Mary’s University adjunct faculty member. “That sets the stage for the kid coming after that. If you have a rebellious firstborn that forces the middle child to be- come the ‘good child’ and the re- sponsible one.”

Middle children often excel at things that the firstborn didn’t; for example, if the firstborn is very academic the middle-born may be a strong athlete. Middle children aren’t typically pushed as much as their older sibling, which unfortu- nately means that they do not al- ways reach their highest potential.

Last but not least, the babies. Last-borns differentiate themselves from their siblings to carve out their own niche in a family, typically by being the ‘funny one.’

“They are spontaneous, humor- ous and high on people skills,” said Leman. Many last-borns grow up to have jobs as successful salespeople or other positions that require high social skills. They also tend to have more freedom because their parents have gone through parent- ing before.

A negative trait of the babies is their need for attention. They of- ten believe that the world revolves around them, a trait also common with only children.

Not surprisingly, there are ex- ceptions to the laws of birth order. For example, if the second-born is the opposite gender as the first they’re likely to exhibit both first- born and middle-born traits. An- other is that if there are more than five years between siblings the birth order cycle starts over. Also, sub- units in large families have their own birth-order cycle. Lastly, the role of firstborn can sometimes be taken by a middle child.

“Ifyou have kids 18 months apart there’s a potential of a usurping of the role,” said Elmquist.

While birth order can shape per- sonality, other factors play a role.

“Kids and their roles in the fam- ily are complicated by the parents and the dynamic,” said history teacher Elizabeth Van Pilsum, the second-to-last of six kids. For ex- ample, when stress levels are high at home, kids’ personalities tend to be more extreme versions of what is typically associated with their birth order.

Knowledge of birth-order traits does not mean that one must accept their negative attributes; it enables one to make a decision to break free of their ‘birth order bubble.’

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