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Firstborn Children

Speech And Intelligence, Birth Order And Personality

Many people believe that firstborn children, because of their privileged position in the family, behave differently than later-born children. Although parents, siblings, and nonparents probably overemphasize the influence of birth order, evidence suggests that the experiences of individuals are related to their ordinal position in the family.

Psychologists have studied the distinctive personality of firstborn children for more than a century. Alfred Adler, the father of individual psychology, postulated that the child's position in the family has a monumental effect on the child's personality. He believed that the firstborn child is dethroned by the birth of a sibling and the firstborn must now share parental attention with a rival. In order to cope with this traumatic betrayal, firstborns become problem children or they strongly emulate their parents. Because of their identification with their parents and their perceived loss of status, power and authority become extremely important to firstborn children. Although Adler's theory was not based on empirical research, it spurred thousands of studies that related birth order to everything from extrasensory perception to juvenile delinquency.

Many of the commonly held ideas about first-borns originate from inferences about their interactions with parents and siblings. The extant literature suggests that parents harbor expectations of how firstborns should behave and parents act in accordance with those beliefs. During infancy, mothers attend to firstborns by responding to and stimulating them more than latterborns. Mothers also tend to rate their firstborn infants as more difficult than later-born children. This finding may reflect that mothers feel more comfortable in their parenting role by the time a subsequent child enters the family. The relative amount of attention that firstborn preschoolers receive tends to decline with the birth of siblings. Nevertheless, firstborn children continue to experience distinctive relationships with their parents. Investigators have found that parents expect higher achievement, are more controlling, and make added demands on their firstborn young children. Moreover, throughout childhood, fathers tend to be more involved with their firstborns relative to later-born children.

Firstborns also seem to initiate more interactions, both positive and negative, with their younger siblings than vice versa. They are more likely to engage their younger siblings in conversation, but they are also more likely to be verbally disapproving. As compared to older peers, firstborn children tend to instruct younger siblings by providing appropriate feedback and guidance. The opportunity to be a "teacher" may help explain why firstborn children, on average, have higher IQs than only or youngest children.

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 3