What Birth Order Says About Your Child and How to Parent Accordingly

Patti's three babies.

When I first heard parent educator Patti Aretz’s talk on birth order it was a huge A-HA! moment; So much was explained about myself and my siblings! In fact, a lot was explained about my friends, too. And then there were my children. Let’s just say, I got obsessed. Naturally, I had to share! Patti gives Breezy Mama the personality traits that are typical with people based on when they came into their family and tips on how to parent accordingly.

From Patti:

If you ever need to jump start a conversation, ask this: “What number child are you in the family?” You will be off and running. “#1,” (a serious expression flits across the eyes). “Middle child.” (eye roll goes with that). “The baby!” (big smile). “Only,” says the one who was very adept at talking to adults and putting a napkin in her lap early.

Oh boy, everyone has something to say about their birth order experience. Well, here’s what I’ve learned.

The First

Every burp, every smile, every milestone or pebble is meticulous recorded in a leather bound hurricane proof volume. We have one eye on our friend’s baby as we gauge our new miracle’s progress. Our dreams are pinned on numero uno.

As they grow, their traits are typically: leadership, cooperative, organized, ambitious, and academic. 22 presidents are firstborn sons. (Don’t let that scare you).

No matter how old #1 is when #2 comes along, they are now, “big.” “You are a big brother,” we say to the 20 month old staring at us with the leaky poopie diaper sagging down his thighs. “What a great big sister you are!” we exclaim to the 2 1/2 year old between tantrums. Our expectation of greatness never waivers.

-Be careful of reinforcing perfectionism as a goal. Big uh oh.
-Don’t jump up to examine every little scratch. Allow him to learn to self-sooth.
-Do not pile on the responsibilities as other children join the family. He’s not “the little man,’ when Daddy’s not around, and she should not “know better.” They are entitled to be children and make mistakes.
-Keep your dreams to yourself. They are entitled, obligated to have their own.

Patti's middle child at age 3 and first born at age 5


We seem to have #2 and often stay focused on #1. How will they take the new baby? Will their forgiveness cost us a new bike, an American Girl doll, the Wii? Your focus is on the growing family you all share in. Everyone takes part in welcoming the new baby into the family. #1 will adjust better if you low key the gift portion of the first few weeks and focus on the loving one for all and all for one motto.

Middles need pictures too! When they are older they will look for pictures of themselves. Make sure you have them.

Typical traits of #2: diplomatic, independent thinkers, they have reasonable expectations, they can keep a secret. If you are #1 obsessed, they can be sneaky.

-They will be different from #1. Avoid saying, “John was never this clingy!”
“Madison loved me to hold her, this one scrambles to get away.” Yes. They are different. Celebrate it.
-Make sure #1 does not loom too large. Watch for #2’s interests and go with it. Do not try to make a baseball team out of your family. The hip-hop dancer and the avid reader will resent you & #1.
-If you have same sex children, get them something new once in a while, just the two of you.
-They need to know you expect the same values and standards as everyone in the family.

Last Borns

Little cutie pie! “The baby,” even when they are 10! These guys are smart! They know how to get out of doing chores. They know how to melt adults. They know how to play helpless when they want to, and screech, “BY MYSELF!!!” when they feel like it. Statistics show that last borns are least likely to be disciplined and least likely to follow with the rules of the family. We parents simply do not take the time that is needed for this, opting to ask an older to do their task. We are overwhelmed and overbooked. They get away with murder much to the wrath of the other sibs.

Here are some personality traits: charming, people oriented, affectionate, straightforward, attention seeking.

Tips on parenting Mr./Ms Adorable:
-Pictures! See Middle Child.
-When you give them a task: FOLLOW THROUGH. This is invaluable.
-Make sure your values and expectations for them match the rest of the family.
-Role model for the other sibs letting the youngest struggle with socks, shoes, bed making, etc. No rescuing this one. There are too many eager hands in the family and much opportunity for youngest to play helpless. He has to feel capable.
-Her achievements should be well represented on the family wall or fridge.
-Academic requirements do not waiver with little pookie. No homework, no TV. They need to know you have high expectations in mind for whatever their dream and whatever the academic needs are.
-Encourage sibs to read to last born. Promote love of reading and learning.

Each child occupies a spot in your heart that is irreplaceable. Each one is DIFFERENT.
I remember being at the funeral of a dear friend’s mother. He is the middle of 3 siblings.
Standing next to his siblings he whispered to me solemnly, “I was my mother’s favorite child.” His sisters overheard and both said sternly in unison: “I was mother’s favorite!”

A mother that can make all of her children feel like the most special child…wow. Job well done.

About Patti
Patti Propper Aretz has been in the early education field for over 25 years. As an early childhood coach and parent educator, she is often sought as a public speaker. She has created curriculum for both her academic classes at the Hanna Fenichel Center for Child Development in Solana Beach, private parenting groups and one on one and couple meetings. Sibling rivalry, discipline, setting limits, communication, parenting and the marriage, creating values, issues specific to boys and girls are some of many issues that are addressed. Her direct approach combined with her empathetic style enables her to quickly assess a situation and move on to solving the problem.
Patti can be reached at pattiaretz@earthlink.net

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  1. great article!! so interesting…i had the same “AH HA” moment when i learned about birth order personalities during a psychology class in college. and i don’t remember much from college (ha ha) but this really hit home. i appreciate patti’s suggestion that when daddy isn’t around, don’t make your first born the “man of the house” etc…we have said this to my first born but will not say it anymore. so glad to get this tip early on!! thanks chelsea!!

  2. Great article! I HAD to laugh at the opening remarks at how each person would respond to what # they were in the birth order. I do EXACTLY what it said. When people ask me, I smile big and say,”the baby!”. My friend who has 5 grown children(all who are well-adjusted and very successful) gave me a great piece of advice: try to spend just 15 minutes of alone time with each child each day. Fifteen minutes is harder than it sounds! I TRY to follow this advice!

  3. What a great article! Definitely some very useful tips and things to think about. Thanks Patti!

  4. All so true! I was definitely raised as “The First”. Thanks so much for all the great tips 🙂

  5. What happens with twins and a younger? Do you skip the middle? Or does one twin take the title?!!

  6. Tara — my husband is leaving soon for a biz trip and I am doing all I can to not tell my son he’s the man of the house now -lol!

    Kelly — I love that! It really is hard though!!! I had a system down last year, but then naps were dropped, etc. It’s a great goal to have though and I do try to reach it daily!

    Joanna – I agree!

    Kathy -lol!

    Elizabeth — I am going to get an answer from Patti for you!

  7. awesome article patti. it was like looking in a mirror. 🙂 thanks for the wonderful information (as always). xo

  8. Great advice! My kids definitely fall into these roles, as do I.

  9. I had to laugh when I read this. I am the youngest in a family of 3, and only a few of these things apply to any of us. I was indeed spoiled in ways, and I got away with more than my older brother and sister, but my personality doesn’t line up at all with the typical “youngest child” personality. I’m thoughtful, reserved, introverted, hard-working and academic. I loved playing by myself from an early age. I hate being the center of attention.

    My sister (the oldest) can lead, but only when she has to; she’s shy and gentle and sweet, and funny as well. She is also very smart, but likes to keep her intelligence and academic achievements under wraps. She tends to err on the side of caution.

    My brother, the middle child, is a born rebel and trouble-maker. He is loud, demands constant attention, and picks fights with almost everyone. He always has to push the boundaries and try dangerous new things. He’s also creative and very charming at times.

    I think birth order *can* shape a child’s personality, but we are all born with traits that will endure no matter what. For example, I was and am the most protective child in my family, despite being youngest.

  10. What about only children? Some people want/have only one kid…


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