Dealing with birth-order blues

Family: The order in which children are born may help shape both positive and negative behavior.

August 22, 1999|By Chevonn Payton | Chevonn Payton,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Understanding why your children fight may be as simple as understanding their birth order.

A new book called "Birth Order Blues" (Owl/Henry Holt, $14.95) by child and family therapist Meri Wallace, is just the latest take on the issue that predicts children's behavior by the order in which they were born.

Besides describing the characteristics of each child, Wallace's book also offers parents strategies of what to say and do if their kids are suffering from birth-order blues.

Following are some of the problems that the oldest, second-born and middle child face and some advice for parents in dealing with them.

The oldest child

Characteristics:

* Filled with self-confidence and usually enjoys being a leader and dominating conversations.

* Good nurturer because she has been thrown into the role of older sibling and has had to learn to take care of her younger sibling or siblings.

Problems:

* Feels dethroned by the birth of a new sibling. Instead of getting all of the parents' attention, she now has to share it with someone else.

* Feels a loss of privacy.

* Thinks she is to blame for everything and feels as if she has to do everything, even though there is more than one child.

Signs the oldest is suffering from birth-order blues:

* Constantly abuses her younger sibling physically and verbally.

* Often yells, "It's not fair," when accused of starting a fight or when asked to do something.

Solutions:

* Be alert to your child's reaction. When you bring a new baby home, address the feelings she has about the birth of her new sibling immediately to prevent hostility, anger and resentment later on.

* Set up family rules. With your children's help, design a set of rules to establish a procedure about privacy and follow it.

* Treat your children equitably. By treating all your kids equally, they will neither feel resentment for the other nor be able to claim that one is getting preferential treatment.

The middle child

Characteristics:

* Because he is both the older and younger child at the same time, the middle child has good social skills.

* Tends to be a mediator and a negotiator while acting as a go-between with older and younger siblings.

* Very understanding. Since he is in the middle, he takes in all points of views better.

Problems:

* The middle child sometimes suffers from the "middle child syndrome."

"They often have identity confusion," Wallace said. "They feel like 'I'm not the oldest, I'm not the youngest. Who am I?' "

* He may often feel squeezed out. Most of the parents' attention is focused either on the oldest because she is always doing new things or on the baby because she needs more attention.

Signs the middle child is suffering from birth-order blues:

* Throws temper tantrums to get attention.

* Wants to change his look to carve out an identity for himself.

* Tries to achieve in something different from his other siblings.

Solutions:

* Pay attention to that child. Don't let the older and younger children dominate the conversation. Acknowledge the middle child when he talks and try to include him in all discussions.

* Spend time with him. "You must monitor the amount of time that you spend with your children," Wallace said, "to make sure that the middle child does not fall through the cracks."

The second-born or youngest child

Characteristics:

* Because parents often are over the initial nervousness of raising kids, the second-born mirrors that attitude and tends to be more relaxed and laid-back.

* Likes being the center of attention.

* Is often competitive because she feels as if she has to keep up with the older sibling.

Problems:

* Suffers from feelings of inadequacy. Since this child is younger, she has a feeling of "I can't measure up." The older sibling can do things she can't.

* Because the older child tends to dominate the relationship at an early age (the older kids decide what games to play and who gets to go first), the second-born may shy away from being a leader later on in life.

Signs the second-born is suffering from birth-order blues:

* Won't speak up because he doesn't think his opinion is as valued as the older sibling.

* May hesitate to perform a certain activity because he sees his older sibling doing it well.

* Underachieves at school.

Solutions:

* Help her understand why she feels inadequate. Explain to her that when her older sibling was her age, she couldn't do those things either.

* Avoid labeling or comparing the kids.

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