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How to Parent Well Based on Birth Order

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I have two younger sisters. When I was in high school, everyone commented on how different we were—in looks, personality, academics, behavior…everything. Now that I have kids of my own, you’d think I wouldn’t be shocked by how different they are, yet I am. We think kids with the same two parents, growing up in the same home should be more similar, but we forget about one big factor: birth order.

Birth order is a highly influential part of our kids’ lives, yet we parent around it instead of parenting with it. But a bit of intention on your part can make a big difference. Here’s what your firstborn, middle, and youngest children need from you and some practical ways to meet those needs in everyday life.

The Firstborn

Often described as confident and structured, firstborns tend to be leaders who are motivated to achieve and who follow the rules. They can also be tightly wound and feel pressure to measure up. The firstborn gets lots of adult interaction, including both rewards and discipline. Parents tend to be on the strict side as they want to do everything “right” in this first go-round.

What the Firstborn Needs:

Parents need to reassure a firstborn that she is loved for who she is, exactly as she is, and not for what she achieves. She needs to be allowed to be different from her parents and reminded to slow down, relax, and have fun. And she needs to be a child, rather than a mini-adult, not constantly taking care of her siblings or home.

Take Action:

Take your firstborn to do something relaxing or spontaneous, like getting a pedicure, throwing the ball in the yard, or shopping with no real purpose in mind.

The Middle Child

While “rebellious” is one way you often hear middle children described, this birth order group is the most varied. You’ll also find they can be people-pleasers and friend-focused. They often look at the siblings above and below them and question their individuality. Parents of the middle child have less time and their focus is split as they take care of multiple children.

What the Middle Child Needs:

The middle child needs to be noticed and valued. He needs to hear about his strengths, character, and talents. Reassure your middle child that he can be different from his older and younger siblings and still be equally celebrated. He needs to have his social needs met, and that might mean a large friend circle. And most of all, he needs attention from you.

Take Action:

Your middle child would love an outing to do his favorite activity, one-on-one or two-on-one, with both you and Dad devoting your full attention to him. And next time you need someone to pick the movie or TV show the family is going to watch, ask the middle child to pick.

The Youngest Child

The “baby” of the family is often described as easygoing, affectionate, social, and fun-seeking. Expecting to be taken care of by the rest of the family, the youngest child can be characterized as spoiled. The parents of the youngest have the most experience but the least amount of time. They’ve narrowed down the parenting “shoulds” to the essentials, which often means fewer expectations and less discipline. Parents of the youngest child also perpetually see this child as the smallest, cutest, and least-capable.

What the Youngest Needs

The youngest child needs to be given a voice in family decisions. She needs to be given responsibilities and to be held accountable for them. As much as it hurts you, Mom, she needs to be encouraged to grow up and lose the babyish qualities at a reasonable age. And she needs her unique personality and skills to be encouraged and celebrated.

Take Action:

Look for ways to praise your youngest child for being grown up and responsible. Help her to set goals and to reach them. If you have a chore chart, include the youngest with age-appropriate chores. iMOM’s free Customizable Chore Chart is the perfect tool for getting your youngest to chip in on chores.

How do you parent well with birth order in mind?


What do you like about being the (oldest, middle, youngest) child in the family? What’s hard about it?

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