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The Birth Order Theory

Alfred Adler is known within the psychological community as the pioneer of the birth order theory. His belief, which is both accepted and rejected by researchers, is that the order or position of a child’s birth in the family influences their personality. However, what is often misunderstood is the fact that Adler did not believe it was simply the order of birth that influenced a child’s character, but rather it was the child’s environment, as well as their natural instinct or interpretation of their birth order which molded personalities.

For instance, in the case of twins, one child may intuitively believe themselves to be the stronger of the two, and take on the role as a leader and surrogate parent, characteristics normally associated with the first born. Or perhaps a first born may, for any number of reasons, defer to the more assertive second born, thus confusing the textbook roles of the birth order.

These examples demonstrate Adler’s belief that the birth order influence on a child’s character depends on the child’s internal processing (nature) and external family social environment (nurture), not simply the sequence of their birth. Interestingly enough, this does not feed into the nature verses nurture argument but implies the two must work together in order to develop a child’s personality. Of course, with so many unpredictable variables, how could anyone expect predictable character traits? This sets up a large opening for exceptions to the theory, which is why so many researchers have rejected the birth order premise out right.

However, it cannot be denied that there is merit in the birth order theory. It is not unusual to find people who fit perfectly in each of the categories listed below. Many can match personalities with the birth order, especially from within their own families. Here are the general classifications in the birth order premise and if conditions are right, you just might see yourself or someone you know.

Only child – This child is always the center of attention and usually prefers it that way. Since they are never "dethroned", they are spoiled and can be self-centered. They miss out on the social skills learned by sibling interaction, so they may find it difficult to share or compromise. A great positive trait is that they can be very mature intellectually.

First Born – They are often given responsibility for younger siblings and may take on the role of a surrogate parent. Through this role they accept their position of leadership and the power that comes with it. Firstborns may become overachievers in order to set the example for younger siblings and meet the expectations of parents. They are also known to be authoritarian (or bossy according to their siblings). A great positive trait is that they can be very responsible and helpful.

Second Born – Independent and competitive, especially with the oldest sibling. Sibling rivalry may be initiated by second born as they struggle to identify their role in the family. Can be seen as a rebel, especially if they do not feel they are getting equal treatment with that of the first born. A great positive trait is that they can be very expressive and creative.

Middle Child – Independent but unlike second born, can be more congenial. They do not have the spotlight but often do not seek it (what’s the use?). They can be resigned in their position in the family even though they feel forgotten. The middle child syndrome can develop, especially in larger families. A great positive trait is that they can adapt and acquire very good social skills.

Last Born – Frequently spoiled by the entire family. Never “dethroned” and may be accustomed to always getting their way. They may be seen as irresponsible and a rule breaker. A great positive trait is that they can be very charming and adventurous.

Birth Order information is now available in the e-book Birth Order and Parenting
Ebook also available For ereader downloads to computer and cell phones
Just for fun take the Birth Order Quiz

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This content was written by Nina Guilbeau. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Nina Guilbeau for details.



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