The order in which we're born is not child's play

13 September 2017 - 06:12 By Linda Blair
Britain's Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William (L) and Catherine.
Britain's Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William (L) and Catherine.

The announcement last week that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting a third child means important days lie ahead for the UK's royal brood, as each child takes on a new role: eldest, middle and youngest.

Does birth order position really matter and are there typical profiles of a first-born, middle and youngest?

The most dramatic neurological development occurs during our early years because of the brain's plasticity.

Furthermore, because most siblings are born within a few years of one another and because most of a baby's interactions involve members of their family, our siblings are instrumental in shaping our character.

When we think about birth order, a number of "typical" qualities spring to mind. First-borns are thought of as organised, responsible, nurturing and eager to please. This is because they quickly realise that these qualities, in terms of helping parents with younger siblings, allow them to regain some of the attention they lose whenever a new baby is introduced.

They usually do well in school - partly because they received so much exclusive parental attention as babies (particularly language input), and partly because parents prize academic achievement. They often worry more than their siblings. Again, this makes sense because babies pick up parental moods.

Middle children are generally the most socially skilled. They learn how to get on with others and how to come up with compromises. Wisely unwilling to compete with an older sibling who prioritises academic achievement, they often develop talent in music, sport or drama. Inadvertently overlooked at times because of their birth order position, middles are more likely than other siblings to go through a phase of dressing bizarrely, or championing some overlooked group or cause with whom they may identify.

Youngest children are often considered the "babies" of the family even when grown up, so it feels natural for them to attract attention by being "cute" and charming. By the time a third child is born, parents are usually more relaxed about discipline, so the youngest has more latitude and, as a result, takes more risks. They have to work hard to find a talent that sets them apart from their siblings and gains parental attention, so they're often the most creative.

Of course, these portraits are an oversimplification. Individual experiences, parental behaviour and values, and our unique genetic make-up also help shape us, as do gender distribution and number and spacing of children in the family.

Birth order position is only one determinant of character - but, nonetheless, a very powerful force.

- The Daily Telegraph