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The Sibling Birth Order Theory

By Maria Magher ; Updated June 13, 2017

As a parent, you may wonder about the differences you see in the personalities of your children, considering that they have the same upbringing. You may chalk it up to different genes, believing that your son inherited his father's temper or your daughter got your introspective streak, for example, and in part, you may be right. However, psychologist Alfred Adler put forth a theory that offers a different explanation, that the order in which your children were born can have a significant influence on their personality, how they learn and even what types of careers they pursue.

Leading the Way

Firstborn and only children are usually lavished with attention from their parents, and consequently develop a strong sense of confidence, according to family therapist Janet Strassman Perlmutter in the article "Birth Order: What It Means for Your Kids … and You" on From the praise they garner by meeting their parents' wishes, they are likely to believe that all you need to gain approval is to follow the rules. Firstborn children are usually hard working, reliable, conscientious, high-achieving and sometimes perfectionists. They make natural leaders; most U.S. presidents were firstborn children. Other notable firstborn children include Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.

Finding Middle Ground

Middle children often feel they have no place, since they don't get the attention of the firstborn child and are not treated as babies, like the youngest child in the family, write Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in the article "That Elusive Birth Order Effect and What it Means for You" in "Psychology Today." Therefore, they become people-pleasers to keep from feeling ignored. They tend to be more extroverted and social, more creative and natural entrepreneurs. They can also be rebellious, act as peacemakers and thrive on friendships. David Letterman, Madonna and Princess Diana were all middle children.

Forever Young

The youngest siblings in a family are often treated as the "babies" of the family, even through adulthood, and may take on some childlike characteristics. Psychologist and author Kevin Leman tells "CBS News" that the youngest children are usually the most social and outgoing of the family, but they can also be manipulative or irresponsible with money and career matters. They like to be in the limelight. Famous funny men Jim Carrey, Steve Martin and Billy Crystal are all the youngest of their siblings.

Adjusting Your Parenting

Many variables influence how children will grow up, regardless of their birth order. Children who are born more than five years apart may share firstborn qualities. Boys who are born after girls may have firstborn qualities, since they are the first sons in the family. Your parenting can also have a huge impact on how your children grow up. Leman says that parents should give their firstborn children fewer responsibilities and lay off "improving" tendencies to reduce the pressure they already feel. Middle children need more one-on-one time and parents need to listen carefully to get them to open up. Younger children can be given more responsibilities and held to the rules. Making these adjustments can address some of the issues that children commonly experience because of their birth order.

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