The link between birth order and personality: is your character predetermined?

The link between birth order and personality: is your character predetermined?

It's a popular belief that kids birth order and personality theory are closely linked. But can the youngest get away with murder, and if so, why?

Firstborns are bossy, middle children are needy, and the youngest can get away with anything. Does this hit close to home for your kids?

These common tropes on your children’s personalities based on birth order seem to be universally accepted. But is there any evidence behind these stereotypes? 

Austrian Psychologist, Dr Alfred Adler, was the first to propose the birth order and personality theory to the mainstream. It’s based on the idea that birth order shapes who you are and your outlook on the world.

And it seems the theory holds. Many follow-up studies indicated that your personality is affected by the timing of your birth. In fact, Truity’s worldwide study found the majority of people reported having many personality traits you’d expect based on whether they were first to be born, the middle child, or the youngest.

But what makes firstborns allegedly better leaders, or the youngest child the most likely to bungee jump when compared to the rest of the family?

Let’s take a deep dive into the different traits that firstborns, middle children, the youngest child, and only child have.

Firstborns
birth order and personality theory

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Some of the most prominent firstborn traits are:

  • Natural leaders
  • Diligent
  • Responsible
  • Can feel unloved when another sibling arrives

Firstborns enjoy unlimited attention, love, and care because they don’t have to compete with anyone. But that’s also expected since new parents haven’t actually done this before! Due to lack of experience, you’ll find first-time parents do things by-the-book.

As a result, firstborns tend to rely on structure and stick very closely to rules. In fact, he/she might turn out to be a perfectionist in order to make parents happy.

Things to bear in mind
birth order and personality theory

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Firstborns have a fear of failure more than normal. It’s largely why they love routine and structure since it’s the most assured way to success. 

Take time to remind your little one to be proud of himself/herself. You can celebrate little achievements together and encourage him/her to celebrate the effort, not just the end result.

Firstborn kids also love to take charge. While it’s good to allow him/her to take the lead in activities, take note he/she gives other people a chance.

Firstborns also have a tendency to feel superior over other kids, especially younger siblings. Remind them of the importance of teamwork!

Middle children
birth order and personality theory

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Middle children tend to display the following personality traits:

  • Very sociable
  • Peacemaker
  • Charismatic
  • Has a tendency to people-please
  • Can feel unloved or left out

Kids born after the firstborn can have it tough, as they immediately have to share parents’ attention with another child.

As a result, they can feel unloved and that life isn’t fair. 

It’s commonly described as “middle child syndrome”, where kids feel a lack of identity since they lose their status as the youngest, and have to compete with the eldest child.

However, being sandwiched between the two siblings means they develop strong interpersonal skills and often act as the peacemaker.

And because of these great people skills, Adler suggests middle children will adjust to adult life quicker than their siblings.

Things to bear in mind
birth order and personality theory

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Middle children tend to form stronger bonds with their friends since they receive less attention from parents. While it’s great they’re so sociable, take time to say you love them unconditionally.

Also, middle kids are more agreeable. It’s believed they develop this ability to fit in with others more easily from a fear of missing out.

Remember to include them in all activities, even if it’s as simple as the house chores.

Youngest
birth order and personality theory

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Ah, the youngest! Common personality traits include:

  • Easy-going
  • Fun-loving
  • Risk-takers
  • Feels inferior to siblings
  • Self-centred

By the third (or fourth, or fifth, or beyond!) time, your youngest is relaxed. Adler proposes this is because parents have a more hands-off approach towards the “baby” of the family.

Although parents tend to be less strict, a lot of attention is given to the youngest since the older siblings are more independent.

However, the last child’s achievements can feel diluted since the parents have already seen their other kids reach similar milestones, like learning how to ride a bike.

Things to bear in mind
birth order and personality theory

Image source: iStock

You’ll find the youngest is the most charming. That’s because he/she is more resourceful and has to think of other ways to get your attention since he/she isn’t the smartest or strongest when compared to his/her siblings.

As a result, the baby of the family tends to be more of a risk-taker to be noticed. The underlying fear of “nothing I do is important” drives these actions.

In order to let your youngest know you take him/her seriously, be intentional about telling him/her that his/her effort and input is just as important as the siblings.

Make time to spend alone with the youngest and remember to commend him/her, even for small things!

Only children
birth order and personality theory

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Personality traits often seen in an only child are:

  • Confidence
  • Mature for their age
  • Independent
  • Able to think outside the box
  • Spoiled

Similar to the firstborn, an only child gets all the attention from the parents. However, as there aren’t any siblings, your little one tends to have more interaction with adults, or kids much older than him/her.

It’s normal for him/her to become a tiny adult – wise beyond his/her years! 

Things to bear in mind
birth order and personality theory

Image source: iStock

While being more mature helps nurture independence, it’s also good to learn how to play with others. Since an only child doesn’t compete with any siblings, he/she can feel unfairly treated when things don’t go his/her way.

Make time for your little one to go on playdates so he/she can spend time around other children. Introduce a healthy balance of being around other kids through extracurricular activities.

Doing so helps him/her learn about cooperation.

So there’s the simple breakdown of the birth order and personality theoryas initially proposed by psychologist, Professor Adler.

Take note of the different quirks to help raise well-rounded children!

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Written by

Vinnie Wong

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