How birth order affects personality

Birth order can play a huge role in the type of personality your children will have. Let’s take a closer look at what this means.

Differences between eldest children, middle children and youngest children have been debated countless times around the dinner table in homes all over the world. Each child earnestly speaks about how they have it the hardest, or how they’re the least understood. This is often disregarded as simply general disagreements between children, but it turns out that birth order has a genuine effect on the personalities of little ones.

The first major influence is that parents generally tend to treat their children differently based on their position in the family. Secondly, a child’s personality can be affected by their place in the hierarchy with their siblings. In order to address any imbalances in how children are treated, it’s best to become aware of these dynamics and to understand the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses that often go along with being in the position of eldest, middle or youngest child.

Eldest child

Let’s dive into why the first child develops the way they do. 


Whether parents like to admit it or not, it’s usually the case that the firstborn child is raised in a way where many of the parenting decisions are improvised and instinctual at first. Some things will go well and others not so well. For those that don’t go so well, there’ll be a period of trying different approaches, repeating those that work and adjusting those that don’t. While this may sound pretty good, it can present a number of issues. The lack of consistency, coupled with a constant feeling of adjustments being made can be uncomfortable and not reassuring for little ones.

Growing up like this can result in the firstborn child becoming a perfectionist who is determined to make their parents happy. As a result, firstborns tend to be high-achieving and reliable, while remaining quite cautious and controlling.


Firstborns inherently spend more uninterrupted time with their parents by virtue of the fact that they are the only child in the family for a period of time. They will receive more attention from their parents, including more time being read to and taught. The following children can’t have a repeat of this experience because there will always be another child who needs to be looked after. Due to the extra care and attention, firstborns often have higher IQ levels and tend to earn more income than their siblings when they become adults.


Eldest children can often be very hard on themselves. While they may achieve great things, they might also refuse to accept praise and instead worry about doing even better. The pressure that they place on themselves sometimes leads to an attitude of playing it safe. One of the biggest challenges that firstborns experience is inflexibility. When something doesn’t go as planned or demands an alternative solution, it can cause them a great deal of stress.

An oldest child may also come across as slightly bossy or controlling of their siblings. This isn’t necessarily their fault, and is most often a result of the extra responsibility granted to them by their parents. In the child’s eyes, they are simply doing what they think is expected of them.

Middle child

Why does the middle child grow up with certain traits that their other siblings don’t have? Let’s take a look.


By the time the second child is born, parents will have a good idea of what it takes to nurture a new-born. There are less unknowns and less worries. As a result, the approach tends to be less strict. Due to this, parents often pay slightly less attention to their second child than they did to their first. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it might just mean that they were overdoing it the first time around due to fear of making mistakes. The reduced amount of attention produces a desire within the middle child to please the people around them in order to be noticed and to feel loved.

Middle children can feel like they are exactly that – stuck in the middle. They’re not the firstborn miracle, nor are they the adorable baby of the family. They might think they are the least favourite and therefore turn to people outside of the family for the attention they require. Middle children are usually intent on making others happy, developing a lot of friendships and can have a rebellious streak.


Middle children are usually more flexible than their siblings. Once a younger brother or sister arrives, their stint as the youngest is abruptly cut short and they’re expected to find their place in the middle. The need to adapt can make middle children better equipped to compromise and accept that things aren’t always going to go their way. They are often the most amenable to the needs of the household. Middle children focus a lot on fostering good friendships and are comfortable being more involved with people outside of the family unit.


The middle child is the most likely to experience feelings of being left out or unloved. They never received the unbridled attention of the eldest, and they only briefly experienced being the youngest child, until their little brother or sister came along. This sense of falling into the gap between firstborn and youngest can instil a sense of being less important in the middle child. They may notice that they don’t get treated with the same level of support as the others and develop feelings of insecurity or inadequacy.

Youngest child

The baby of the family has their own personality. Let’s investigate what this is. 


The youngest child in the family has avoided the stressed out and worried approach that many parents adopt when trying to raise their firstborn. Parents usually apply a more relaxed and self-assured approach when it comes to raising the youngest child, and this can be seen clearly in their characteristics. The youngest tends to be the most individual, nonconforming and outgoing out of the children. They may also have some attention-seeking or selfish traits.


With a lack of parental attention, the youngest child may come up with different ways to be noticed. They might develop a charming, sociable nature that will attract the attention that they need. They’re more likely to seek the limelight and can often take risks in order to become the focus of attention. The baby of the family tends to be the one who is most likely to chase unconventional adventures.


The youngest child can often feel the least special or the most overlooked. For them, it’s common that all of their achievements have already been completed by their older siblings. Their first words, first steps or first day at school just aren’t quite as big a deal for many parents. From day one, there is a slight pressure to catch up with the rest of the siblings and less time for them to be the baby of the family. In contrast, the youngest may lean into their place in the sibling hierarchy in order to get favourable treatment or to avoid being held to the same high standards as their older siblings.

What about an only child?

Only children are most similar to eldest children. They are both firstborns, and only children receive the uninterrupted parenting of a firstborn for the duration of their childhood. While they share many characteristics with eldest children, there are a few differences. Some aspects of their childhood will be much more straightforward and they will be the main priority. However, they can develop a real difficulty when it comes to sharing.

Also, being the sole focus of their parents attention doesn’t come without downsides. Only children also have to bear the full weight of their parents’ expectations. There aren’t any siblings to share this pressure with; the only child has to try to be the brainy one, the sporty one and the fun-loving one, all at the same time.

Furthermore, the only child is aware of the fact that the responsibility of looking after their parents in older age lies solely with them. This can enforce quite a self-critical mindset, where the child has to work extra hard to ensure the stability of the whole family for years to come.

Every child is different

Every position in the sibling hierarchy comes with positives and negatives. Each child is unique and may not necessarily slot neatly into these roles and family dynamics can result in quite different personalities. It’s helpful to be aware of the trends that result from birth order so that you can help your child to overcome the associated challenges. Above all, it’s important to love each of your children for who they are and to allow them to flourish into the best version of themselves.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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