Because I’m an only child who has three children of my own, the ways birth order affects personality and behavior is fascinating to me. People say, for example, that two firstborns or an only child and a firstborn will probably butt heads. I found that to be true, and research supports that theory.
The Birth Order Theory
The order people are born into a family — their birth order — can influence their behavior and personality, according to Dr. Kevin Leman, an internationally renowned psychologist and author of “The Birth Order Book.” The ways in which children behave from being the eldest are generalizations; not every eldest child shares all the typical traits. Leman maintains, however, that statistics reveal that eldest children often grow up to occupy authority positions and often boast impressive achievements.
Personality and Behavior Traits
Eldest children tend to be perfectionists, and they like to be in control. They tend to be the following:
- Hard working
- Natural born leaders
Eldest children tend to have a high moral sense; they view the world in black and white and right and wrong. Out of 44 U.S. presidents, 28 were either eldest children or children who functioned as an eldest. That can happen when a child is the eldest boy or the eldest girl or when the gap between children is five years or more.
Parenting Eldest Children
Because eldest children tend to be hard on themselves, as many perfectionists are, you shouldn’t try to improve what your eldest child has already accomplished. For example, if your child made you breakfast in bed one morning but the toast wasn’t prepared the way you like it, your eldest child will probably feel bad about himself if he sees you toasting a new piece. He will likely put pressure on himself to do a better job next time. Eldest children like to be around adults, and yours will likely appreciate an outing with just you and your partner, without bringing the siblings.
Note on Only Children
The eldest child and the only child — who is also the first-born — share practically the same traits, but the only child’s behavior is typically ramped up to a more intense level. Plus, only children don’t deal with sibling issues such as not being paid attention to when new siblings enter the scene, but they do deal with loneliness. Only children tend to be voracious readers. They can act adultlike by the time they are 7 or 8 years old.
Not Everyone Believes
Although there is much anecdotal evidence regarding the qualities and behaviors of eldest children, some people equate the birth order theory to astrology — something fun to ponder, but a theory without much substance. Dalton Conley, sociologist and author of “The Pecking Order,” says that many factors shape a person’s behavior and that birth order is on the bottom of the list behind socioeconomic status, death of a family member and gender expectations. Conley says that when you see a perfectionist or a bossy kid and you learn she’s the eldest, you might say, “Aha!” But when you see an eldest child who is the class clown, you just shrug and think nothing of it because that scenario doesn’t fit the mold.