Siblings and Birth Order: Does it Really Make a Difference?

Our children didn't get to plan when they were born (and for some of them, it might not have been in our plans either!). If our children tend to have or develop certain characteristics that are associated with their birth order, how can we as parents help them be successful and self-confident?

Here are a few tips for managing the birth order dynamic.

First Born

  • Help them develop high standards and expectations without being a perfectionist.
  • Reassure them that excellence does not mean perfection.
  • Encourage them to play and enjoy life and not to worry constantly about academics or other responsibilities.
  • Develop a family culture of “mistakes are okay.”
  • Fill your home with humor and let them learn to laugh at themselves.

Middle Born

  • Help them to see their skills and talents.
  • Discourage them from comparing themselves to others, especially their siblings.
  • Encourage them to share their feelings and thoughts.
  • Value their sense of freedom, but expect responsibility.
  • Cultivate their social attributes.

Last Born

  • Value their relaxed view of life, but encourage greater responsibility.
  • Accept their need for attention, but encourage them to listen to others.
  • Challenge them to help others.
  • Enjoy and encourage their ability to be entertaining and influential.

Parenting Two or More

Regardless of birth order, children grow and develop at different rates. Children are individual people with unique, distinct personalities who share love and rivalry. What can we do to effectively parent? According to "The Field Guide to Parenting" by Shelley Butler and Deb Kratz:

  • Give each child the attention and love he or she needs. Although it is not uncommon for parents to prefer one sibling over another at times, depending on the children’s ages, interests, abilities, and temperament, our children may be aware of our feelings through our words or actions. It is also common for these preferences to change over time as the children grow and change.
  • Accept that siblings argue, but realize ambivalence toward siblings is typical. It is common for siblings to be fighting one minute and be comforting the next. Our children will argue and fight for many reasons:
    • Jealousy: Some children feel that their sibling is liked or loved more.
    • Too much togetherness. Some children have a lower tolerance for spending lots of time with a sibling.
    • Independence: Some younger children argue to prove their independence from older siblings.
    • Possessiveness of things. Children want control over their own things and argue or fight when that control is threatened.
    • Temperament: Children with differing temperaments may have more trouble getting along together.
    • Lacking the skills needed to share, compromise, control impulses, and negotiate.

Giving Each Child Attention

When we finally fall into bed at night, the question of whether we gave each of our children enough attention sometimes comes to mind. As long as we didn’t leave one at school, we’re probably doing okay, but here are a few more tips for spending time with each child:

  • Make a date with each child. Take each one alone to lunch, the park, or a place of his or her choice. Schedule the dates on your calendar so everyone gets a turn.
  • Schedule simultaneous play dates for your other children so you can spend more time with one child.
  • Use everyday activities to connect with your children. Have conversations on the ride home from school, while you are cooking, or during any family chores or activities.
  • Tell children specifically why you love them. If she complains when you're hugging her sister, give her a hug right then too. Don't try to talk her out of feeling threatened by the affection you show toward a sibling.
  • Help each child. If a child is having trouble getting his homework in on time, ask him how you can help to accomplish the task.
  • Encourage children to express feelings. Help them understand and accept those emotions. Acceptance of a child's feelings communicates love.
  • Show children that you notice their accomplishments. You don’t have to say it in front of their siblings. Do it as you tuck each into bed each night.

Despite childhood bickering and periodic estrangements, the sibling relationship is often the one constant connection that people have in their lives, from the beginning to the end. Helping young children develop good, positive sibling relationships can bring about many years of love, support, and belonging.

Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

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