"Firstborn children can be
So says researcher Ms. Smelser.
When you look at the way firstborns are nurtured, it starts to make sense. Parents often reinforce those traits through their interactions with the child, Smelser indicates.
Firstborn children are unique from other children because their parents are new to the job—they're learning how to do everything as they go. Therefore, they tend to be more strict, have higher expectations, and be more anxious with their oldest child than with any other children they may have down the road.
As other siblings are added into the mix, the oldest child tends to take on a second parent role to their younger sister or brother. "Firstborns tend to score high on conscientiousness," Dr. Salmon explains, "due to their surrogate parent role in the family and the responsibilities that go with that."
They end up helping out with things like feeding them bottles and baby food and playing with them. They may even feel protective over younger siblings, which makes siblings look up to and admire them.
"They also score high on the aspect of extraversion known as dominance," Dr. Salmon says, which is where the strong leader stereotype comes from—but it makes sense: "One can see how these traits would make for people inclined to be leaders in various settings," she says. "Their privileged status as first child and the fact that it's in their best interests to continue to curry parental favor also plays a role" in how their personality evolves.
Key birth order traits of firstborn children:
tend to stand out somewhat on agreeableness
and openness to experience,"
Says Dr. Salmon, and she would know! Her book is all about the behaviors and personality traits of middle children.
"They are highly invested in getting on well with others—they have experience negotiating for what they need within the family and always have to share divided parental investment." From the moment the second child is born, they share everything with their older sibling, so they never know what it's like to have 100% of their parent's attention.
This can influence the development of their inherent personality traits, says Ms. Smelser. "Middle children can be diplomatic, nurturing, introspective, tentative, and tend to keep the peace."
If these traits are inherent, being a middle child can make them develop even more. In addition, parents and siblings often reinforce the qualities above through familial interaction," says Ms. Smelser.
If a secondborn's family expands and that child becomes an older sibling. Their role in the family changes as they officially become a middle child.
Sometimes this causes what's known as "middle child syndrome." If this occurs, it can lead them to rebel or try to find a way to get people's attention, such as by being funny.
But, claiming that middle child spot also has quite a few advantages, too!
Being a middle child in your sibling's birth order means you're likely more creative since you've had to teach yourself how to combat boredom and that you're likely super-flexible and can adapt to changing situations.
Key birth order traits of middle children:
Parents with multiple kids are more laid-back and lenient when raising their youngest child—the so-called "baby" of the family.
That's why youngest children often end up having a more happy-go-lucky personality. And since the youngest born's other siblings are older and becoming less reliant on their parents, the baby of the family is also given extra attention—which can sometimes keep them from becoming super-independent.
"In general, high agreeableness, extraversion (the social dimension), and openness are associated with youngest children," Dr. Salmon says, "and sometimes low conscientiousness due to lack of responsibilities and parental indulgence over expectations. As a result, they tend to excel in areas involving a social dimension but may always be seen (or see themselves) as the 'baby.'"
Smelser adds: "Youngest children can be:
and dependent on others
—traits inherent to the child, are often reinforced through the family's communication and behavior."
Because no matter how old the youngest child becomes, they will always fill one role: being the baby of the family.
That's where the spoiled, can-do-no-wrong youngest child stereotype comes from!
Key birth order traits of youngest children:
"Only children have different influences:
no sibling competition, and
are the sole focus of parental investment,"
says Dr. Salmon.
"As a result, parental expectations and pressure can be high, driving them toward traits shared with firstborns," says Ms.Smelser. Some of these traits include:
However, because only children don't have other siblings to play with or compete against growing up, they may be less competitive.
On the flip side, only children can be independent and mature since they are often around more adults than kids.
Key birth order traits of only children:
I hope this look into how birth order can help you flesh out a character or can shed light as you intuit and begin to develop your Ideal Client Dossier. I'm curious about your reaction, too.
Reflecting on your own family and characters in your novel, or in thinking about your Ideal Reader, do the traits resonate with your personal experience?
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