Birth Order and Parenting Skills

So many factors influence how our children develop and we know birth order is only one. How parents interact with each child is another and parenting skills are a huge focus for most of us. The other day I came across an article about some research that had been done in 2003 that took both the birth order and the parent’s skill level into account. (Journal of Marriage and Family 65.3) The question raised for this research was this. Will a parent’s experience with a first born improve their interactions with and parenting of the second born child?

I’ve heard that question answered by many parents over the years as part of that huge body of common sense knowledge, which is often but not always accurate. “I practiced on my first one,” or “I wish I could start over,” are the kinds of assessments many parents make about their parenting with their oldest. It is commonly accepted that a parent will be the least experienced, most anxious, and most unsure with number one and that their experience, calmness and sense of sureness will increase with subsequent children.

First born children seem to echo that belief. Sentences like “You never let me…I always had to…” are common when the oldest describes the different rules that seem to apply to their younger siblings.

Now Whiteman, McHale and Crouter have demonstrated in their study of 392 families that these common sense parents and first born children were correct. Parenting skills do improve with experience. They found that, by the time the first and second born children have reached adolescence,(an age when a child is generally most difficult) there is less parent-child conflict with the second born than there was with the first born at the same age. It also turned out that parents knew more about the daily activities of the second born child.

So often when we consider the impact of birth order on personality development, we compare outside the family, meaning a large group of first borns from various families with each other, and that may well give us important information. With this piece of research, we are reminded to also look at the variations that occur inside or within the family. Two of many factors to consider as we increase our parenting skills and understanding of personality development.

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