As families gather tomorrow to celebrate Thanksgiving, years-old rivalries, jealousies and perceived inadequacies may surface. Years of feeling that "Mom always liked you best" or "You could do no wrong" will no doubt often mingle with the turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce.

Many of those feelings stem from birth order.

They say no two children grow up in the same family. The order in which each child is born — their birth order — can determine how each is treated by parents, what exposure each has to siblings, and what subtle expectations are placed on them.

The stereotype is that first-born children are ambitious, reliable, intelligent, natural leaders. Some psychologists say middle children exhibit traits depending on exactly where they lie in the birth order. Coming along right behind a first-born might lend certain personality characteristics, whereas being fourth or fifth in line might lend itself to others. Last-borns, usually considered the babies of the family, might be spoiled, self-centered and capricious, or they might crave the attention their parents were just too busy to give them and become manipulative, attention-seeking risk-takers.

"It's not the be-all and end-all," said counselor Glen Cannon, with Baber and Associates in Aurora, regarding birth order and personalities. "They used to feel it had a profound effect, but now we believe the effects of birth order really aren't enduring … You can take birth order with a grain of salt, but you can't disregard it."

Cannon said children's personalities are most definitely influenced by where they lie in birth order and how they were treated and viewed by other members of the family. But those traits are diluted as children grow up and go their own ways and have their own experiences as adults.

"Birth order can make a big difference in terms of what's laid on us," he said. "But it's important to be able to say, 'This is the hand I've been dealt . . . I need to make the best of it.' "

Cannon said birth order is important information for counselors to use to fully understand a patient's condition and problems. When counselors get new patients, they often ask about birth order, as well as a host of other variables that have shaped their patients' personalities.

The psychological make-up of the parents, Cannon said, is particularly more important than birth order.

Other factors that make up our personalities are genetics, family size, gender, socioeconomic status, marital status of parents, parenting style, whether the patient went to day care as a child and what kind of day care, if they lived in a blended family, if the parents were alcoholics, if the parents were very young when they had children, and many other factors.

Cannon said, as a counselor, birth order is important to him because it's in the family context where he is most involved. He will usually ask clients where they grew up, what their culture was like, what their birth order was, and what that was like, among other questions.

Birth order can be especially important for a counselor to know when a patient was raised in an alcoholic family. Cannon said in that case, a first-born may have been the family hero — pitching in with the work of the household because the parents didn't.

A second-born, in that case, may have been a scapegoat. With all the chaos at home, a second-born or other middle child may cause trouble as a way to get some attention.

"They may be into everything at a relatively early age," he said.

A middle child in an alcoholic family may also become what Cannon called, "the lost child."

"It's very sad," he said. "If the child doesn't know how to deal with the situation, he may withdraw, not talking much or only talking to dolls or toys. This is the most difficult to treat. We have to draw them out."

Cannon recommends all couples planning on having children read a good child development book before they start their families.

"The knowledge can give them the tools to help them and make things better in the long run," he said.

Cannon said that he tries to teach his patients who are having trouble from birth order issues how to develop a sense of self-acceptance. This is the hand you were dealt, he tells them, and this is how to deal with it.


Source: Joliet Herald News –