We’re all familiar with the age-old stereotypes about birth order. If you’re the baby of the family, you get spoiled and indulged more than your older siblings. For middle children, you fly under the radar. And if you’re the eldest, you tend towards more responsibility and over-achieving. But all of these characteristics are based on myth, right? Maybe not.
According to a new study, first-born children are more poised for academic and intellectual success than their younger siblings. Why? Researchers believe the advantage is due to “a broad shift in parenting.”
So what exactly constitutes this “broad shift in parenting?”
In most families, first-time parents generally have a sharper awareness of their interactions with the firstborn. With a first child, parents are keenly focused on doing everything “right.” As a result, firstborns typically get the most mental stimulation because parents have more time to spend with their first child. This focus on perfect parenting relaxes with each subsequent child. Time and energy certainly play a role – as families grow with additional children, parents face greater limits on time, resources and attention.
The difference in time available for parenting doesn’t translate into a difference in the amount of love children experience. Researchers from the study noted that parents generally give the same amount of love and care to all their children. In a broad sense, birth order tends to have no impact on children’s temperament or personality. The exception to this rule is that firstborns were found to be more confident about themselves than their siblings, particularly in the realm of academic performance.
Researchers found a big effect on thinking skills and birth order, with later-born children performing worse on cognitive assessments from birth to age 14. The impact of these deficits had a lasting impact into the children’s adult years. Overall, good news for first-time parents emerged from the study: being excited, nervous and over-zealous parents actually seems to have a positive impact on childhood development.
I’m not sure I believe all of this birth order stuff. In my experience as both a child and parent, kids grow up to be their own unique selves, regardless of birth order or parenting. Sure, we can support them and help nurture their dreams, but ultimately they follow a path of their own making.