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Every Child a First-Born

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


It’s true that over half the American presidents and a majority of Nobel prize winners were first-born children. This might make you think that there’s something special about the juju that makes up that first embryo and that the raw material of follow-up siblings is just not so good. As a second-born child myself, I beg to differ.

What is different for first-borns is the situation into which they’re born. Just a comparison of first-born and later-born baby scrapbooks will tell you: first-borns are the center of attention and later-borns not so much. First-borns have only adults to talk to. First-borns are fussed over and worried about. Everything first-borns do involves some major decision. It’s hard not to think you’re special with all that special attention. From first word to first day at school to first day of college, first-borns are the center of their parents’ world.

Later-borns benefit from the experience their parents gained while practicing on Kid #1. They often live in a more relaxed world and have their older sibling to break the ground for them and show them how to manage the tasks of childhood and adolescence. So it’s no wonder that later-borns tend to be not quite so driven and not quite so anxious for success as their older brother or sister is.

The first child in the family enjoys the undivided attention of his parents. No matter what other distractions his parents might have, this kid gets all the attention his parents can spare. The key in raising Child #2 and #3 is to pay a similar amount of attention.

Later-born siblings have smaller vocabularies, on average, than first-borns. Since the number of words a person knows is related to his ability to grasp concepts, vocabulary is a key item. One thing you can do to support the development of your second and third children is to talk with them. It’s easy to let the older child speak for all the kids—he is, after all, older and more articulate than his younger brother and sister. And in the hectic environment of most households, and especially households with several children, it’s hard to find time for the explanations and discussions you had with Child #1. But talking with all your children, and listening to what each one has to say, is one of the ways you can give all your kids the advantages the first kid had.

A second suggestion is to remember that all children in the family are unique and not duplicates of each other. Sometimes parents promote a ”family brand,” like “We’re the Jacksons and we all sing and play music.”  Take time to find out the interests of your younger children, just as you did for your first-born child, and don’t assume that he’s a clone of his older sibling.

Having siblings adds to the richness of family life, especially if everyone can shine. With every new child in the family, life gets more complex and it’s hard to fit everything, and everyone, in. But treating every child like a first born is a good goal to have.

We all want to be number one.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.