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Does Birth Order Really Matter?

Aug 17, 2007
Psychiatrist Alfred Adler was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the original "fathers" of studying the intricate workings of the human mind. Adler had some very definite ideas about family and social interactions. His primary contribution to understanding human nature was in terms of social interest, which he defined as a person's willingness to participate in life's "give and take" with others. Healthy people with an adequate social interest interact with others in a helpful manner.

Building upon his theory of social interest, Adler took the concept a step further and studied the meaning of birth order. Adler focused upon sibling interactions and psychological aspects of birth order. Thinking now about your own family make-up - both your own nuclear family and your family as its composed today, consider Adler's proposed five psychological birth order positions:

- The oldest child tends to be analytical, detailed, a methodical; this child values control. He/she sets the example for younger children. They are used to being "number one."

- Second-born children are often in competition with the oldest child; if the oldest is good at math, the second-born will ignore math and find something that he/she excels with in a manner superior to the talents of the oldest child.

- Middle children tend to be the family diplomats. They dislike conflicts and seek fairness and justice. They're "people pleasers."

- Youngest born are usually excitement seekers who crave attention so they won't be "left behind" in family activities and the atmosphere as a whole.

- Only children never have to compete and share within the family. They grow up accustomed to having their own way. They set high goals for themselves and keep a polite distance from others.

Considering Alfred Adler's concept of birth order, how does this work within your family? Can you see your children taking on these birth order roles? What's the family atmosphere in your home? Can you see your child or children working towards Adler's concept of healthy social interest? Most importantly, does the birth order of your children - from the oldest to the youngest toddler - seem to make a difference in how your child's character develops?

When you consider the birth order of your children, keep in mind that several extraneous factors influence the children's behavior; the age differences of the children, handicaps or disabilities with any child, and the gender of the children. Adler never meant for birth order characteristics to be written in stone; there are always outside factors that will make a difference in their birth order behavior.

Parents are always looking for answers about why their children behave the way they do. Adler's theories help provide some answers when it comes to understanding a child's motivation. Of course, Adler's theories of birth order won't be the be-all and end-all of explaining social interactions, as there are far too many other factors involved, but birth order and personality is a starting point to understanding behavior, one that can provide valuable insight.
About the Author
Graham Johns writes regularly for YourToddler.net where you can read many more articles on toddler clothes . Also go to Family Life for a range of informative articles on baby toys and much more
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