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Birth order expert and parenting educator, Michael Grose, discusses the role a child’s position in the family has on personality traits and life experiences, in the newest edition of Why First-Borns Rule the World and Later -Borns Want to Change it.

 

First-borns are the ‘family conservatives,’ according to Grose. They tend to be the spokesperson for the family, commonly following in the footsteps of their parents, and hold a regal-like position.

In a family of three or more siblings, second-borns are the charismatic ones, says Grose, as they position themselves within rules set out by first-borns makes them easy-going. While, the youngest tend to challenge the rules and are the risk-takers out of the three types.

First published in 2003 by Penguin Random House, and now 18 years later, Grose’s updated edition of his book incorporates a change in family structure.

The theory is still the same but the context is quite different,” he says.

Grose is an expert in his field and helps counsel families through the lens of birth order. His book delves into the human psychology of the theory, analysing and explaining how and why it affects the way children, and consequently adults, behave.

Families are now more consistently having two siblings, rather than three or more, causing second-borns to have characteristics of last-borns.

This change in number of children per family, according to Grose, is known as a “micro-family”.

Gender, special needs or disability, the time spaced between births, twins or a death in the family can have an influence on the traits produced by birth order. As Grose states, these challenges or differences create “family constellations” rather than a numbered sequence which determines their characteristics.

Although “micro-families” are more consistent to today’s type of household, Grose’s definitions of birth order traits are the same as they were in 2003 and are mostly separated into three main categories: first-borns, second or middle-borns and last-borns.

First-borns tend to have traits such as:

• Goal/achievement orientated
• Conscientious
• Detail orientated
• Easier to raise/like to please/play by the rules
• Get things done
• Low risk-taker (stick to the things they are good at)
• Tendency for perfectionism
• Anxious/ tendency for neuroticism
• Rule makers/rule keepers/like routines
• Black and white in their thinking

Only children have personalities resembling first-borns, Grose adds.

Only children, but especially girls, can be extremely verbal but struggle with conflict resolution and conflict in general, he continues. Make sure they spend lots of time around kids their age and raise pets, as they need way to learn to get along with others, Grose clarifies.

Second-borns/middle children tend to have traits such as:

Conflict resolution skills
• People Pleaser
• Resilient
• Competitive and always feel they must compete for parental attention
• Peacemaker/Mediators/Negotiators
• Most likely to upset/aggravate other siblings
• Flexible/ fitting in with the rules set by the first born still whilst exhibiting abilities different to the first-borns
• Sometimes get lost or forgotten by parents resulting in them feeling forgotten or left out

Last-borns tend to have traits such as:

Street-smart
• Low conflict resolution skills, expects others to make decisions or take responsibility
• Charming and outgoing
• Can be quicker developing to catch up with older siblings
• Manipulative to get what they want
• Feels inferior, others seem superior
Entrepreneurs
• Can be even more successful but also different from the older siblings
• Do not mind taking risks

If there are only two siblings in a family, i.e. “micro families,” middle-borns and last-borns merge traits becoming later-borns, with characteristics from the two types combined.

Gross couples “micro-families” and the blended later-borns with what he calls the “Prince Harry effect”.

Using the example of the United Kingdom’s Princes, William and Harry. William as the first born, is a “real-keeper,” he says.

Gross continues to define Prince William as someone who follows first-born characteristics such as being conservative and respecting the rules and marrying the “right person.”

In contrast, “Harry is the spare,” Gross says. Prince Harry has last-born characteristics as well as some second born ones. He challenges the rules and expresses his independence, Gross shares.

Although first-borns have leadership traits and are responsible, these traits should not be taken out of their context by saying all first-borns become leaders, Grose says.

Later-borns can be leaders too, but the way they lead, he argues, changes depending on their birth order. Examples of leaders and their order of birth:
First born: Joe Biden
Second-born/Later-borns: Scott Morrison and Jacinta Ardern
Last-born: Donald Trump

Grose recommends pulling back pressure on first-borns and to push more on last-born children.

He asserts that first-borns have a higher risk of mental health issues than later-borns, due to being high achievers, which is a common first-born personality trait.

However, Grose does warn that not everything follows trends, there are always external factors to take into consideration for different behaviours. Nevertheless, understanding birth order helps parents’ parent their children.

In adult relationships, Grose says “opposites attract”, with the best combinations being first-borns and last-borns. He also suggests that parents tend to parent in relation to their own personal sibling position.

For example, later-borns or last-borns, as parents, are inclined to be more relaxed and less about rules, whereas first born parents take the role very seriously.

Grose, father of three and a last-born, began his career as a primary teacher, with 15 years of teaching experience he moved into parenting education by completing a Master of Educational Studies at Monash University.

He is now one of Australia’s leading speakers and educators, as well as a best-selling author, including his latest edition on birth-order theory.

He advocates the importance for teachers and parents to learn their students’ or child’s behaviour through the eyes of birth order, to establish better understanding of the individual and their needs.

 

 

It took all of 30 seconds to go from, “You can’t play with me,” to the older sister belting her younger brother on his back with her Barbie doll. There were many tears, a Timeout, and a forced apology, as well as a ban on all play dates for the rest of the week.

Sibling conflict and rivalry is all too familiar to many families. With arguments ending in violent outbursts, crying and an effort to separate the sparring kids, parents often wonder if their children will ever get along. While the cliches in popular culture frequently portray negative relationships between siblings, being aware of the long-term effects of this kind of behaviour is important for parents.

Recent paediatrics studies published in the United States National Library of Medicine reveals being bullied by a sibling can be just as damaging to a child’s mental and emotional health as being bullied by another child in the playground or at school. The home is meant to be a safe space for each individual member of a family. When bullying occurs there, children will feel helpless, anxious and extremely unhappy, which can manifest into more serious issues of depression and other mental illnesses as they grow older.

It is important to note that there is a difference between bullying and rivalry – bullying is more infrequent than rivalry. Sibling bullying has an element of aggression verbally and physically that rivalry does not. Violent words, manner of speech, as well as physical actions and intent are all signs of bullying. Rivalry lacks this ongoing element of aggression and nastiness and, according to Sherri Gordon of Verywell Family,

“This bullying…stays with the victim for years to come.”Sad young girl

Sibling relationships are shaped by a multitude of forces. While family dynamics and composition play a role, as do extramarital factors, every child is unique. Research indicates that siblings can be as different to one another as two completely unrelated children.

A study by Cambridge University conducted on a group of children over five years investigated the nature of sibling rivalry. It discovered siblings have an overall positive impact on each other, even if their relationship isn’t completely happy.

According to the study, mild rivalry between siblings can be beneficial to both children and will not often have long term impacts. It is when this behaviour is sustained and occurs over a lengthy period of both siblings’ childhoods that issues can arise. These negative impacts can result in long term problems such as:

  • Difficulty with relationship-building later in life (romantic and non-romantic)
  • Behavioural problems
  • Difficulty in social situations
  • Extreme competitiveness
  • Difficulty accepting criticism and being a “sore loser”

A healthy amount of rivalry can boost a number of positive elements in the younger sibling’s early development. Older children expose their younger brothers or sisters to emotionally rich language particularly when engaged in an argument or competition with the younger sibling. The Cambridge study found, that by the age of six, younger siblings could converse with their older siblings about emotions on equal footing rather than at the level of other six-year-old children.

Two children playing together

It is in the space of sibling relationships that children learn the most about conflict resolution and prevention, as well as testing their social skills both before and during their primary school years.

Michele Fry of Greatschools.org states, “It’s where children learn to cooperate and compromise – skills they carry into adulthood.” With a sibling, the boundaries and limits of social interaction which are modelled by parents can be tested and experimented. Fry explains, unlike with a school-yard friend, a sibling won’t leave their brother or sister if they get called a name or teased by their sibling. In this way, siblings continually learn from each other about how to interact with their peers.

What is important to note is that this testing of social interaction between siblings needs to be monitored by their parent – what can be seen initially as pushing the boundaries can quickly escalate into abuse if the behaviour continues. In this situation the parent should intervene to reinforce positive behaviours and mediate conflict if the children can’t do so between themselves.

 

The role of the parents

Parents have one of the biggest influences over the relationship between their children. Dr Sylvia Rimm, psychologist and director of the Family Achievement Clinic, outlines what is important for parents to know about rivalry between their children.

  1. Labelling

Referring to your children as the “sporty” child, or the “creative” or the “academic” child can cause significant problems for both children. While this may initially seem like a good way to encourage and guide children into areas they may show a natural propensity for, it can have adverse effects.

Dr Rimm states, labels reinforce differences between siblings and can encourage competitiveness for certain titles, commenting;

“When children are labelled best in a domain, they often do their best to prevent another sibling from encroaching on their domain.”

Michele Fry also highlights the negative impact on self-development that labels can cause. Children who are labelled early will often live up to these labels and be disinclined to venture into other areas. It limits their capacity for developing an identity separate to the one they have had reinforced constantly by their parents and siblings because of the label they were given at an early age.

  1. Gender, age and family dynamics

Gender, age and family dynamics are also important to consider as parents when assessing the level of sibling rivalry and encouraging positive sibling relationships. Rivalry is generally harmless and something that most siblings grow out of by the time they have reached their late teen years. Dr Rimm outlines the following instances where rivalry can escalate or cause prolonged problems for both siblings:

  • Two close-aged children of the same gender e.g. two sisters 18 months apart
  • The younger sibling following directly after a very talented oldest child
  • The “baby” of the family

Two young sisters in grass

It’s also important to remember that siblings spend more time together than they do with their peers. Growing up, living in the same household, going through shared family experiences, all contribute to siblings knowing one another in a way that peers do not. While this can be positive for relationship building into the future, it can also have a negative impact for rivalry and bullying. A sibling will know their brother or sister’s weak spots and sensitivities more than schoolyard friends might.

Professor of Applied Family Studies, Laurie Kramer, states,

“Children can take advantage of vulnerabilities and make the other one feel bad with a word.”

This kind of emotional rivalry or bullying is harder for parents to monitor but can be extremely damaging long term on self-esteem and development particularly if it occurs frequently during teenage years.

 

What are the long-term impacts?

According to Mike Bundrant, psychotherapist and co-founder of the Neuro-Linguistic Program, sibling rivalry and aggression can have the same long term as bullying by a peer. In the teenage and young adult years, it can result in a deterioration of self-esteem and sense of personal identity. This usually arises in cases where sibling rivalry takes the form of frequent humiliation or a desire to embarrass one sibling in a public setting.

Sibling rivalry can continue into adulthood and be a feature of a family relationship that never goes away. As adults, there can be competition surrounding financial and employment success, marital and familial situation, and on the successes of the sibling’s own children.

Siblings are usually the closest and most long-lasting family relationship in anyone’s life. Siblings will grow old together in a way that a parent child relationship doesn’t usually provide. If this relationship can be nurtured from a young age, siblings may have a better chance of maintaining a supportive and healthy relationship into adulthood as they create their own lives away from the family home.

Family gathering

Educational consultant and parenting coach, Chrissy Khachane, suggests the following tips for creating positive sibling relationships:

  1. Support cooperative play.
  2. Teach each child to respect the differences between one another.
  3. Talk through poor behaviour with each child to promote understanding in difficult situations.
  4. Teach your children to resolve conflict.
  5. Reinforce boundaries with private conversations.
  6. Give each child individual attention away from his/her sibling.
  7. Modelling healthy relationships by validating each child’s feelings from time to time.
  8. Teach them the difference between tattling and seeking help.
  9. Give each child their own physical space.
  10. Teach your children to recognise and label their own emotions.
  11. Family rituals and traditions are a great way to foster healthy sibling relationships.

Parents walking with children