The other day my son ran over to a younger kid who was calling for someone to give him a push-start on the swings. I watched him talk to the little guy and then walk behind him, pull back the chains, and release. He stepped aside grinning and cheering, “You are doing it!” A mom who was standing near me and had watched the same moment leaned over and asked, “Is he your oldest?”
Was this small talk? Or was this mom picking up on a birth order personality trait? My son: the leader, the helper. These are firstborn personality traits. They also happen to be only-child personality traits, which is what my son is. As someone who was raised as an only child, I tend to shrug off the ideas of birth order defining personality, but I have friends with siblings who swear by it. I have actually had two friends meet for the first time, and when describing their family, go into this almost unspoken “I feel you” mind-meld when they realized they both had baby brothers with money problems.
So what’s the deal with birth order? Here is a (very) brief outline of some of the more common personality traits associated with each birth order.
Birth Order Personalities:
• Only Child: Strong sense of what is “right” and “wrong,” uncomfortable with conflict, strong-willed, prefer order and constancy to surprise and change
• First Born: Confident, determined, born leader, eager to please and avoid conflict, likes it when people stick to rules and order, strives toward achievement of goals
• Middle Child: Used to not getting their own way and so they become savvy, skillful manipulators, justice seekers and focused on fairness, attuned to the needs of others, feels invisible, secretive
• Youngest Child: Carefree, easygoing, fun-loving, affectionate and sociable, like to make people laugh, potential to be manipulative, spoiled, or babied to the point of helplessness
When it comes to pop culture, the middle child is portrayed the worst. Of course we all instantly think of Jan Brady as being the stereotypical middle child — always seeking approval and waiting for the one day where she can outshine big sister Marcia. Recently we watched Edith on Downton Abbey struggle with her own desires to break away from big sister Mary’s shadow.
The truth is middle children have gotten a pretty bad rap from the writers in Hollywood. Catherine Salmon, a psychology professor at California’s University of Redlands, believes that middle children grow up to be the best in everything from marriage to politics.
Salmon says, “To me, the things that are most important is that middle-borns have these great negotiating skills and they’re innovators. Their ability to think outside the box is something I’d like people to recognize.”
What do you think of birth order and personality traits? Do the theories hold up in your family?
12 TV and Movie Characters Who Give Middle Children a Bad Rap …
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