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First Born

Newscasters and TV talk show hosts tend to be first born or only children. Prominent examples include: Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Ted Koppel, Oprah, Donahue, Geraldo, Arsenio Hall and Rush Limbaugh. Over half of U.S presidents were firstborns. Clearly, firstborns are natural leaders. They also tend to be reliable, conscientious and perfectionists who don’t like surprises. Although, firstborns are typically aggressive, many are also compliant people pleasers. They are model children who have a strong need for approval from anyone in charge.

Only Children

Only children are firstborns in triplicate. They are even more responsible and even bigger perfectionists. They usually get along better with people older than themselves.

Middle Child

These kids are the most difficult to pin down. They are guaranteed to be opposite of their older sibling, but that difference can manifest in a variety of ways. Middle children often feel like their older brother gets all the glory while their younger sister escapes all discipline. Because the middle child feels that the world pays him less attention, he tends to be secretive; he does not openly share his thoughts or feelings.

Middle children may not feel they have a special place in the family so friends and peer groups become much more important. They can usually read people well, they are peacemakers who see all sides of a situation, they are independent and inventive. If a firstborn is a company’s CEO, the middle child is the entrepreneur.

Last Born

Babies of the family are social and outgoing, they are the most financially irresponsible of all birth orders. They just want to have a good time. Knowing that these kids love the limelight, it’s no surprise to discover that Billy Crystal, Goldie Hawn, Drew Carey, Jim Carey and Steve Martin are all lastborns.

While lastborns may be charming, they also have the potential to be manipulative, spoiled or babied to the point of helplessness.

The last born is the one who will probably still have a pet name although he’s 29 and has a masters degree.


Some variables can affect the above descriptions. For instance, if there are several years between the first and second child, the second child will have some characteristics of a firstborn. Or, if the firstborn is a girl and the second a boy, the son will have some first-born characteristics because he is the family’s first male offspring. Sibling deaths, adoptions and blended families can also upset the traditional birth order.

Children are all different and have to be parented in different ways. You need to parent kids differently depending on their birth order.

Parenting The First Born

  • Don’t Be an Improver: Your child already feels the need to be perfect in every way. “Improving” tasks your firstborn attempts on her own will only increase the pressure she places on herself. For instance, let’s say you ask your oldest son to make his bed. Being a firstborn he will, of course, seek your approval and want you to see the finished task. If you tell him it looks good but then proceed to fluff the pillow and straighten out wrinkles in the bedspread, you send the message that he could have done better.
  • Take Two-On–One Time: “Firstborns respond better to adult company than children of any other birth order. Firstborns often feel that parents don’t pay much attention to them because they’re always concentrating on the younger ones in the family. Make a special effort to have the first born join you and your spouse in going out alone for a treat, or to run some kind of special errand.
  • Don’t Pile On Responsibilities: Older children often feel as though they do much more work around the house than their younger siblings. Share the duties and errands as soon as young children are capable. And, stay away from making your first born the family’s instant baby sitter. Check with his schedule, just as you would an outside babysitter.

Parenting The Middle Child

  • Make Time To Listen: Remember that middle children tend to avoid sharing how they really feel. Although it’s important to set aside time to talk to all of your children, it’s particularly important to make this happen with the middle child because he is least likely to insist on his fair share of time.
  • Allow Child to Make Decisions: Empower your middle child and make him feel special by allowing him to make choices such as who gets to bowl first or what the family will eat for dessert. This will help alleviate feelings of always being overshadowed by older and younger siblings.
  • Update the Family Album: This may sound silly but it truly is important. There tend to be a billion photos of the firstborn and about six of the next child. To a child flipping through the family album, this is a sure sign that he’s not loved as much. Be sure to have photos of the middle child alone, not always paired with the older sibling.

Parenting The Last Born

  • Stick to the Rules: The saying “he gets away with murder” is based in reality. Statistics show the lastborn is least likely to be disciplined and the least likely to have to toe the mark the way the older children did. You can be sure your older children are watching you closely!
  • Hand Out Responsibility: Lastborns often wind up with less to do around the house for two reasons. One, they are pros at ducking out of work. And two, they are so little and “helpless” that the rest of the family decides it’s easier to do the work themselves. You want to raise a confident, self-reliant child so don’t promote this helpless image.
  • Applaud Accomplishments: Lastborns are well known for feeling that nothing they do is important. Make a big deal out of accomplishments (you may have seen two other kids learn to ride a bike but it’s the first time for your baby) and be sure he gets his fair share of “marquee time” on the refrigerator.

Parents’ Birth Order

We’ve been discussing children’s birth orders, but it’s important to realize that parenting style is also influenced by the parent’s own birth order. Parents subconsciously identify with the child who holds the spot in the family they occupied themselves. A lastborn dad might think his youngest antics are cute while mom sees them as irresponsible.

Also, firstborns are perfectionists their whole lives. As parents, they may set standards that are difficult for a child to reach. This makes them frustrated and their children unhappy.



  • Lisa says:

    Hi, Dr. Leman! I was wondering something the other day and I would like to get your opinion. My son is adopted. He is 1 year old and we brought him home from the hospital so he doesn’t know any other way of life. He is our firstborn yet he has an older biological brother that he does not know. What birth order position do you think he will most likely fit into as he grows? I just thought it was interesting and would love to hear from you. Thank you for your time and have a blessed day!

    • Dr. Kevin Leman says:

      He will be a firstborn personality……I can just see him lining up his cars….just PERFECTLY right! lol

      • Lisa says:

        Thank you SO much for your response! I honestly wasn’t expecting you to have the time! You are a blessing to many!

  • Mandy Schwertner says:

    Hello Dr. Leman! I have boy/girl twins who were the firstborn(s) in our family, how might the birth order work in our case?

  • Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the abilty to ask questions! My husband and I are firstborns. We have 3 children. Our 1st born struggles in school and now at age 20 and excelling in the ranks of retail management she has decided to take the next semester off from school. She’s 5 classes away from an associates degree in liberal arts with no real idea of where she wants to go from here and her GPA is around 2.5. ( very much the student I was as far as the effort needed for C’s and B’s) oh and she feels she’s living in the shadow of her younger 4.0 brother. We are upset she is not going to school this semester. How hard do we push for her to continue?

  • I love, love, love the birth-order book! It was instrumental in helping me see how I, as a only child with my own personality quirks, was impacting my perfectionist first-born daughter. I really appreciate the reminder to not be an “improver” with her–she is hard enough on herself! However, my “improver” tendencies definitely come in handy with her little sister, who would rather keep us all entertained and laughing instead of cleaning up her room! I have recommended the birth-order book to every mom I know–incredibly eye opening. I also find it very helpful from a work perspective–as a manager of a team, it has helped me understand how to best approach each team member.

  • Marsha says:

    So Dr. Leman,
    I love learning about birth order, but with my large blended family it can get pretty confusing. First marriage I have 6, girl, boy, twin girls, boy, girl. Second marriage adopted 12 year old son and had girl. Haha, Some of the rules apply, especially to the oldest of the first bunch, but it’s really hard to tell who the middle children are except my second son in the first family, he is definitely a middle child. I guess my biggest question would be for my adopted son of my second marriage. He inherited tons of siblings (poor thing) when his daddy married me. Sometimes I have a very hard time figuring him out. He is eighteen now and sometimes my wild child. His younger sister is 6. I sure would love to figure him out without going crazy.
    By the way, I was an only child. :)

  • Valerie Willson says:

    Hi Dr. Leman,
    Thank you so much for these insights. I can’t wait to get my hands on your book.
    We struggle with the birth order dynamics due to the complexity of our family. See, our first-born is 3rd in age order. Our 2nd born is the baby. The eldest in our family was the last to be added to the family and is the middle child in “original birth order”. She lived with her biological family for 6 years before coming to us. However, she is not a typical middle child, as she is mentally retarded and has a chromosomal thing which makes her small. Hence, her sisters took care of her, even though one was younger. She wouldn’t even dress herself or go potty by herself at 6 yrs. old. She is extremely behavioral when asked to make an EFFORT on tasks to be self-reliant or try to improve behavior, academics, physical strength, or anything, really. She was removed from her biological sisters, (on whom she was so reliant that to this day when they visit, they sleep pretty much on top of each other and all go to the bathroom together) then moved around several times before coming here and staying permanently. She immensely struggles with self-identity. As the oldest (10), we try to reinforce responsibility, but it has taken years to help her have ANY sense of responsibility for even herself, let alone for being helpful with family issues.

    Our second oldest is a 2nd-born also (9). But she was so severely neglected that it’s hard to even consider that she had siblings. Her older bio-sister ‘may’ have helped feed her as an infant, but being so neglected herself, she was probably just in self-survival mode. She has RAD, of course, and sensory disorders and cognitive disorders and delays. She was our first child ever, though she was removed and placed in a neglectful foster home before returning to us. [By the time she returned, we had our first bio-kid.] She is a complete follower, yet she has difficulty following due to her cognitive and sensory disorders. She asks me questions like, “Mommy, what’s my favorite color?” and struggles greatly with making any decisions. It’s too overwhelming. When she first arrived, I had to be authoritarian for her as she was unable to function otherwise. It has been extremely hard to release her from the authoritarian parenting, as it’s just easier, quicker, and with less head-banging on my part to solve her problems for her. Her problem-solving skills are about nil. She doesn’t get social cues and thus has a hard time with other children. She prefers to sit and color quietly on her own, or interact with an adult whom she hopes she can control. It has been very difficult for her to be a “big sister” as she didn’t even realize the baby existed until the baby was about 8 months old and initiated contact with the older one. Only then did she begin to reciprocate and look at and acknowledge the baby. She was content to let the younger, first-born lead and have the lime-light…until we adopted the older girl. Only then, did this one begin to fight (physically, verbally, and behaviorally) for what I call “second place”. Neither of them fought for “first place”, both idealizing and idolizing the confident, dominant younger girl.

    Our third in age, is our first-born biological (6). And she is ALL first-born. Very independent at an early age. Strong-willed, self-confident, intelligent beyond her years, a great problem-solver, leader (sometimes aggressively so), jack of all trades, attention-seeker.

    The baby (16 months) is likewise ahead of her “years”, physically and intellectually advanced, independent, self-confident, definitely not a push over or a follower. She does want to do what the big girls are doing, but not because she can’t come up with something on her own.

    Though this “jumbled” up birth-chaos is probably not new to you, we greatly struggle with the dynamics it has created in the home. While we’ve adjusted somewhat, we still seek answers and encouragement on how to direct the children in relation to each other. The 6 yr old (biologically first-born to us) is in no uncertain terms, the leader. No foster/adopted child in our home has ever questioned that. Despite my constant intervening and telling her to give others a chance to make decisions and play the way THEY want to play, she leads all games, activities, play scenarios, etc, etc. She has a tendency to bully the others, though, because they are SO dependent on her to tell them what to do. She’ll even do it with polite words, and they’ll give in to her- every time. I have worked with her for years to not just make everyone do everything she wants, but it works for her, so why [in her mind] should she change, right? The 9 and 10 yr olds (both 2nd-born in their bio-families) are extreme followers. The 10 yr. old so much so that she asks the 6 yr old’s opinion on everything, including “is it cold? do you like it? is this food good? should I wear this?” She physically follows the 6 yr. old and does what SHE is doing. The 10 yr old answers questions that are addressed to the 6 yr. old or the baby, she makes only the rarest of choices for herself, preferring to have the 6 yr old just TELL her what to do, or copy what was done. While the 6 yr. old just LOVES all of this attention and power, I know it is unhealthy- for all of them. Trying to create some sort of independence in the 9 and 10 yr olds has been so difficult, because of them and their past baggage, but also because the 6 yr old takes advantage of their desire for her to mother and lead them. This makes it difficult to tame and direct the 6 yr old properly too!

    It has been very difficult for the 6 yr old to witness the kind of behavior the two adopted have brought. It has also been hard for her, as her sisters, as playmates, are not on the same level with her. She is much more on the level of older children, but her older sisters are more on a toddler playing level. This has left the 6 yr old very frustrated and with little patience with her older sisters. Likewise, the older sisters don’t often understand the complexity of the younger one’s play and logic, and get frustrated, but they won’t “go up against” the younger one. Instead they target each other. They hurt, with words and body, each other. They just constantly tick each other off.

    It has been very hard as parents to know how to blend this family into a cohesive body, with each member showing proper love and respect for the others. Dad and I have become so authoritarian that some days it’s just not fun to be in our house. I know it, and I’m finding it hard to get out of the groove that we set for ourselves, thinking that these extremes were what we needed just to get through the day.
    btw, I am a second of two- with an abusive childhood that altered my “normal path” as a second-born. My husband is 3rd of 4, with healthy family background. But he is so concerned about me being happy, that he often doesn’t express his opinions at all. He just lets me do what I want. This has led to problems in the marriage, but we are doing well now. He also “takes on” my feelings, parenting quirks, etc. and it bothers me that, just because I couldn’t hold it together, he might also lose it. He never have lost it before we had children. It wasn’t until the last adopted girl (who has problems with male authority) that he has become authoritarian.

    We get a lot of flack and cries of “favoritism” because we parent according to what we experience each child can handle. For instance, the first-born, though younger than 2 others, receives way more privileges- but she also has way more responsibilities- because she can handle them. The older two have had so many difficulties and require so much attention that we keep them close. Few “big girl” privileges, but also fewer responsibilities, adding on both as they mature.

    Would love your input: What can we do better to foster each girls’ strengths and needs with all of the intricacies of birth-order status, learning disabilities, etc.? Should I continue to teach the oldest in age to be the “big sister” and leader and what that entails? Or should I allow the girls to remain “lined up” the way they have set themselves pretty naturally? Should I continue to use the younger as a role model and leader or pretty much force the older girls to take on more big sister responsibilities, and ask the dominant one to take more of a back seat to her older sisters?
    Also, we would like to adopt again in a few years, (or allow God to give us another birth baby again). What are your thoughts on the age of the next adoptee?
    Wow, sorry about the length and detail of this. I didn’t realize I was so conflicted on some of these things… going to get your book right now!

  • Shauna Wolynia says:

    Hello Dr. Leman,
    First let me say I am a super fan of your birth order information. In fact, I used your information to assist me with writing a paper during my first year of college. I was commenting, at the time, that my husband’s (boyfriend then) family did not follow the typical birth order aspects. My question has to deal with this. My husband is biologically the middle child, but in reality is the first born. I’m not sure how he and his brother switched, but they did. I, on the other hand, am an only child. Again, the oddity is that I do not represent the typical only child. I more represent the middle/baby. At any rate, do you have any tips to give us in regards to those of us that do not fit the typical birth order mold? Thank you.

  • Jill says:

    We met briefly at the Central Christian seminar yesterday. I’ll try to address my birth order analysis succinctly, but I fear it won’t come out that way. I’m apologizing in advance.

    I am a first born with so many textbook firstborn traits (driven, overbearing, bossy, list-making, reliable, intellectual, conscientious, to name a few), but I also exhibit a lot of last born traits. The last born traits I exhibit are the wanting to constantly have “fun” and I’ve been told I can go into stand up comedy. Depending on the situation, I tend to want the spotlight. I don’t “shut up” very and it’s especially rewarding if I get some laughs out of it, which I’ve done well. If there is something funny and annoying I can say, I’ll say it .I also want to be rebellious within reason. We’re LDS (Mormon) but I get joy in going against the cultural stereotypes and seeing some of the hardcore Mormons in my community squirm.

    I have also merged the firstborn/lastborn attributes together in my career because I became a high school teacher (art), but it kills me that I don’t have the funds to pursue a Masters or Ph.D in art history and criticism (due to bachelors student loan debt), and I had to be talked out of doing a double major in my undergraduate work, so I could get my BA and move on. I constantly want to challenge myself and accomplish more, but at the same time “party” (without the alcohol or other “no nos” haha) and live it up.

    I wonder if part of it is my parents were immature, selfish and clueless. My dad was (he’s still alive but I refer to him in the past tense) basically a bully, and my mom (a last born) had no “guts” to do what was necessary and stand up to him. She was also very selfish and it often felt like we kids were “in her way”. She later admitted that she had a problem with selfishness. My dad is a second born (technically fourth born, but two older brothers died in infancy), but first born surviving male. My parents are divorced, but sadly, they didn’t get divorced until I was in my adulthood. I say sadly, because it would have been nice going through my teen years without a physically and verbally abusive bully authoritarian father. Therefore, could it be possible that I exhibit some of these last born traits because in a way, it was like I was raised by older siblings instead of “parents”? This sort of birth order psychology fascinates me.

    To briefly bring back the parental influence, if there was such a thing as “don’t rise above our low expectations”, they wrote the book on it (but I wouldn’t expect them to read “anything”). I was put down when I said I wanted to go to college. I was told it was “stupid” to do so. They didn’t care if I got good grades or not, but of course I wasn’t supposed to flunk. I didn’t graduate with very good grades in high school, but I did excel in college.

    Anyway, that’s enough for now. This geek is just fascinated with such things and I wonder if I’m on to something with my analyses. Thanks, Jill

  • Jessica says:

    Dr. Leman,
    What impact would being the only male or female sibling have on a child? For example my husband was the youngest in his family but also the only male. He fits the youngest child traits to a T, despite the 8 year age difference between him and his sisters. Was his mother more receptive to his needs since he was the only boy? Was there really that much more favoritism?

    Thank you for your tmie.

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