Expert Advice

How To Lean Into Your Kid’s Birth Order To Parent Them Better

Because your eldest is definitely different from your youngest.

You probably already know that your youngest child is as different from your oldest children as they are from your middle. And if you have an only child? Well, they're completely different too. Psychologists already believe that birth order affects one's personality, with the major factor being linked to how parents treat their children differently based on whether they're the oldest, the middle, the youngest, or the only child.

So if we know birth order affects our kid's development, and we know our parenting plays a significant role in that, then it only makes sense to lean in and learn how to parent our kids better according to their birth order.

"Birth order is important to keep in mind as a parent because it can influence the development of distinct personality traits and behaviors in children," Dr. Sanan Hafeez, a New York-based neuropsychologist, tells Scary Mommy. "Children often exhibit unique characteristics shaped by their position in the family hierarchy. Recognizing these dynamics allows parents to customize their parenting strategies for each child."

Dr. Tasha M Brown, a licensed clinical child psychologist, says parents and caregivers with multiple children very often have questions about their children and birth order.

"Very often, these conversations center around the differences in their children's personalities and behavior based on birth order. However, when I speak about birth order in my clinical practice, I very often speak with parents and caregivers about how they may parent differently based on their child's birth order," she explains. "Parents need to be mindful of birth order when it comes to parenting because they often approach parenting differently as they gain more experience ... therefore, the way they parent their first child is not the way they parent their middle or youngest children. As a result of these differences in parenting, children with differing birth orders very often have different characteristics and need different things from their parents."

Here's what parents should know about your child's birth order personality traits in order to parent them best.

The First Child

When it comes to the oldest child, Hafeez says the parenting approach that works well often involves a combination of structure, responsibility, and positive reinforcement.

"Oldest children typically take on a leadership role within the family, and it is beneficial for parents to provide opportunities for them to shoulder responsibilities and assume leadership positions," she explains. "This not only aligns with their natural inclination for leadership but also helps instill a sense of accomplishment. Parents should also pay attention to the achievements of the oldest child, recognizing and celebrating their successes. Acknowledging their efforts plays a crucial role in building their self-esteem and motivation."

Given that older children are routinely seen as independent and serve as role models to their younger siblings, Brown says she often talks with parents about being mindful of the expectations they place on their oldest child. "Parents are very often excited about what their oldest can do, and the tone they can set, and this can be very pressuring," she cautions. One way to combat this? Set realistic goals for your kid and assure them they are appreciated no matter what.

Hafeez adds that the oldest child may feel overlooked and like their younger siblings are getting more attention. She advises, "Parents should consciously try to spend quality one-on-one time with the oldest."

The Middle Child

Hafeez says middle children may feel overshadowed, so providing individual attention and acknowledging their achievements is vital.

"Spending quality one-on-one time with the middle child strengthens the parent-child bond, making them feel valued," she suggests. "Since middle children may struggle with finding their identity within the family dynamic, encouraging the exploration of individual identity through hobbies and activities fosters a strong sense of self."

Brown adds that parents should be mindful about making sure they are thoroughly learning and acknowledging who their middle children are. This way, they aren’t “placing unrealistic expectations" on the child based on their experiences with their older child.

Seconding Hafeez's advice, she also believes that "parents also be mindful about spending quality time with their middle child who very often does not have the experiences of being alone with their parent or caregiver."

Because middle children may compare themselves with their siblings, leading to feelings of inadequacy, Hafeez recommends parents mitigate this by "emphasizing each child's individual strengths and achievements and by avoiding comparisons."

The Youngest Child

"Youngest children often benefit from a relaxed parenting style that allows them to explore their individuality," Hafeez explains. "Encouraging their creativity and independence helps them develop a strong sense of self. Parents can also be mindful of not overindulging or overprotecting the youngest child, as this can hinder their ability to navigate challenges independently." To navigate this, Hafeez suggests parents gradually encourage independence, allowing the child to make decisions with guidance.

Brown suggests parents should be intentional about giving their younger children responsibilities and ensure that they follow through to help foster their independence.

Because the youngest children come into families already functioning with a child, Brown says they very often can just fall into the flow of things. As a result, she recommends that parents and caregivers try to help their youngest child develop and establish their own identity by cultivating their own likes and interests.

Another trait that youngest children typically share is attention-seeking behavior due to their position in the family. "Parents can address this by providing positive attention to desired behaviors," Hafeez says.

The Only Child

Since only children lack built-in playmates, Hafeez says parents should prioritize socialization opportunities through playdates, extracurricular activities, and community involvement. "Quality time is essential for building a strong parent-child bond, engaging in activities the child enjoys and creating meaningful shared experiences," she explains.

Parents might also place high expectations on an only child, leading to pressure to excel academically or in other areas. Instead, Hafeez recommends that parents encourage a balanced approach to navigate this, "emphasizing personal growth, effort, and resilience over perfection."

Without siblings, only children may occasionally experience loneliness. Explains Hafeez, "Parents can address this by participating in the child's activities, organizing family outings, and ensuring a supportive network of friends and relatives."