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Home > Research Articles > Counselors Say Order Birth Affects Behavior Of Adults

The Augusta Chronicle

Sunday, September 29, 2002

September 26, 2002

"Everybody comes into the world at a different place," says the Rev. Jim Robertson, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Powell, Tenn. Understanding where that place is can help people "understand where they fit in a family and why they do what they do," says the Rev. George Doebler, director of pastoral care for the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

The Revs. Doebler and Robertson use birth order and its related family systems theory in counseling. The Rev. Robertson uses the concepts as a background framework in premarital counseling. The Rev. Doebler also often speaks about birth order and family relations to local clergy, church members, nurses and service clubs.

In basic terms, birth order means that a person's place in a family affects his or her personality, actions and reactions.

First--born children are natural leaders. "For years, they are told, `Take care of your sister.' `Take care of your brother.' They want to take care of people, be responsible for others," The Rev. Doebler says.

Intense personalities, first--borns can be worriers seen as "bossy" first by siblings and later by co--workers. "You don't want all first--borns working together. They have to have someone to direct."

Only children share many traits with eldest children. Confident and driven, these high--achievers mature quickly. Since they grow up without siblings, only children don't learn to fight or negotiate. "Only kids' ideas really aren't items for discussion. It's what they are going to do," The Rev. Doebler says.

A family's youngest child -- the baby -- is less stressed. Author and psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman in his book The New Birth Order says last--born children are "typically the outgoing charmers, the personal manipulators." Says The Rev. Doebler: "When the oldest is done with a task, he goes on to the next. When the youngest is done, it's `Good; let's celebrate.' That celebration may go on for days."

Middle children are often stereotyped as getting overlooked. The Rev. Doebler says middle children -- accustomed both to being bossed and having someone to boss -- are the most adaptable adults. These compromisers learn to get along, the Rev. Robertson said. Some middle children can have a hard time finding their identity, the Rev. Robertson says. "They may spend a lot of their lives searching for their solid place."

Birth--order characteristics aren't set in stone. Variables ---- including the number of years between children, a child's sex, a sibling's death or handicap ---- can alter the order. Two siblings born five or more years apart are more like two "only" children, The Rev. Doebler says. A first--born son and first--born daughter, because they are different sexes, have unique positions in a family.

Where parents grew up in their own birth family factors into their parenting styles. First--born parents are often stricter than parents who grew up as middle or last children. Family size has an effect. "If you have 10 brothers and sisters, you are used to chaos. An only kid can't stand chaos; he likes order," The Rev. Doebler says.

High school teacher Julie Hembree invites The Rev. Doebler each year to talk about birth order to her Service Learning class. "Students learn why you may be the one who bosses everybody, who takes charge. And if you are a middle child, you may be lost in the shuffle. . . . (The Rev. Doebler) goes back to their parents and grandparents and why their parents may act a certain way -- if your mother is the oldest and your dad the baby and your mother is in charge of the family . . . I hear my students talking about it for the rest of the term."

Ms. Hembree's class often works on projects in small groups. "If you have a group that's headstrong, it may be two or three oldest (children)," she says. "Kids born in the middle have learned to be negotiators. They can be wonderful leaders, they just don't know it."

(C) 2002 The Augusta Chronicle. All rights reserved.