Birth Order

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on birth order.

Does Your Birth Month Really Affect Your Health?
Firstborns: The Family Pioneers
Your Middle Child: The People Pleaser
Middle Borns: Finding Their Own Pride of Place
Youngest: The Perks and Perils of Being the "Baby"
Your Last Born: The Charmer
Only Children: Finding the Middle Ground between Lonely and Lionized
The Lighter Side of Birth Order
Sound ideas for soothing sibling rivalry
What to Say to Soothe an Angry Sibling
5 Ways to Keep the Peace
How Your Birth Order Affects Your Parenting Style

Does Your Birth Month Really Affect Your Health?

We've debunked a lot of pseudoscience before, but could your birth month actually affect you?

Astrology is a pseudoscience based on the idea that there's a relationship to the position of the astrological bodies and events of Earth. Horoscopes prescribe that the alignment of the planets dictates how we behave and shapes our personalities. We all may take a peek at our horoscope every once in a while, they are pretty unanimously dismissed by the scientific community. However, there have been a number of studies that seem to show that the month you are born might have some impact on your health later in life. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry found the risk of developing multiple sclerosis is highest for those born in the month of April, and lowest in October. A different study published in the journal Thorax found that babies born in high pollen seasons were more likely to later develop allergies or asthma when they get older.

These studies prompted an even bigger study published in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association, which used Columbia University Medical Center's health record data to compared nearly 1,700 diseases against the birth dates and medical histories of 1.7 million patients. This massive study was able to find 55 health problems related to what month you were born in. There's even a suggestion of seasonality, with conditions grouping in certain months that are close together, like a risk of heart conditions rising for people born in March or April.

So what the heck is going on here? Have astrologers been right all this time? Not quite. As we're fond of saying on DNews: correlation does not equal causation. Scientists are able to find to find a scientific explanation behind many of these. Associations might be because of certain environmental conditions of these months. For example: the amount of sunlight a person is exposed to early in life could change the developing brain. And those kids born in, say, November or December might be more likely to get ADHD. On other hand it might be those kids are just younger in their class so the workload causes them to struggle more than their older peers. The researchers stressed that the risks they found are only minor: diet and exercise are "more influential" variables on a person's health, for example.

Learn More:

Birth Month Affects Lifetime Disease Risk: A Phenome-Wide Method ( "Babies Born In Pollen And Mold Seasons Have Greater Odds Of Developing Asthma Symptoms"

Babies Born In Pollen And Mold Seasons Have Greater Odds Of Developing Asthma Symptoms (Science Daily) "A new study suggests that newborns whose first few months of life coincide with high pollen and mold seasons are at increased risk of developing early symptoms of asthma."

Month of birth effect: Give pregnant women vitamin D supplements to ward off multiple sclerosis, say researchers (Science Daily) "The risk of developing multiple sclerosis is highest in the month of April, and lowest in October, indicates an analysis of the available evidence, published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry."
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Firstborns: The Family Pioneers: The Achiver: Responsible, intelligent, ambitions, agreeable and conscientiour; sometimes rigid.

Almost everything a firstborn does breaks new ground. First to be born. First to toilet train. First to go out on a date. First, egads, to drive. Like the pioneers of the old West, firstborns learn to be resourceful, self-reliant, and tough. They demand a lot of themselves, and of others in turn.

Psychologists and researchers often describe typical firstborns with a flurry of strong adjectives: serious, conscientious, take-charge, goal-oriented, aggressive, rule-conscious, exacting, conservative, organized, responsible, jealous, fearful, and anxious. Clearly, not all firstborns fit these descriptors, but as a group, most have more than their share of these traits. What is it about being born first that would shape a child's personality along these lines?

Your First Born: The Trailblazer

It's not easy being number one. As the oldest, your child will receive certain privileges and face many challenges.

The upside. Your firstborn basked in the warmth of your undivided attention. As you oohed and ahed over everything she did, she gained a good feeling about herself. And through her relationship with her younger sibling, she learns to share, to nurture a younger child, and to be in charge.

The downside. As first-time parents, you may be so anxious and intent on doing your job well that you pressure your youngster to succeed at all she does, critiquing her every step of the way. As a result, your firstborn child can end up feeling that she will be valued only if she performs well. And she may constantly seek your approval.

How it plays out. After your second child is born, your firstborn, who was the family's center of attention, is suddenly told, "Wait a minute," or "I can't read to you now because the baby needs me." To a firstborn, the time that you spend caring for the baby means that there's less attention and love for her. She may try to win back your attention by starting arguments with you, outrunning her younger sibling to your lap, or talking nonstop on the way to school. Young children employ these particular attention-getters because they lack the verbal skills needed to express their feelings more positively. And besides, from your firstborn's perspective, any attention is better than none.

In addition, jealousy is a big factor because everyone seems to find the baby so cute and marvels at him when he begins talking. Your firstborn does not remember that she was applauded for the same achievement or equate the attention the baby is getting with the praise she still receives. So she competes hard to remain number one. She criticizes her sib's abilities ("You're telling the story all wrong"), diminishes his accomplishments ("I can jump higher!"), belittles his possessions ("That's a dumb car"), and may trip him if he starts catching up with her in a race.

Of course, younger sibs do give older sibs some legitimate reasons for getting upset. Once your younger child begins to crawl, he is constantly getting in his older sister's way. At times she'll just abandon an activity when her little brother becomes too bothersome; other times she might also pinch him or try to slam the door in his face.

Without meaning to, you might even add some fuel to your children's antagonisms. When you assign wisdom to a certain age ("You should know better") or grant the younger child certain privileges that were denied the older one at the same age (getting to watch cartoons in the afternoon), it's no wonder that "It's not fair!" becomes your firstborn's favorite battle cry.

What You Can Do

Now that you have identified your firstborn's hot spots, try these troubleshooting tips:

Break out the photo album. Spend some time together looking over your firstborn's baby photos. Your child will see for herself that you gave her the same loving care the baby gets now. Explain: "When you were a baby, you were alone with Mommy and Daddy, and we gave you all of our attention. Then your brother was born, and you had to share us with him. It's not easy sharing your parents' love. Sometimes children may feel sad and angry. But we have enough love for both of you, and you can always talk to us about how you are feeling."

See her side of things. When your child says, "It's not fair that you make his bed, not mine," be supportive. Tell her, "I can see why it seems unfair, but young children have a hard time making their bed. When you were your brother's age, I made the bed for you, too." The most important thing is not that you give in to your child's demands, but that she feels understood.

Respect her privacy. Explain to your firstborn that her younger brother follows her everywhere because he looks up to her. Suggest that she tell him, "I need my privacy," and come to you if she needs help. Also encourage your younger child to give his older sister some space, and set up family rules, such as "You must knock before you enter." An off-limits box in which your older child can store her most prized possessions is also a good solution.

Show unconditional love. Finally, praise your child frequently ("I like the way you sat quietly at the table") and be supportive when she misses the ball ("It's hard to catch a ball. Let's try again"). Analyze your behavior to see if you are trying to feel good about yourself through your child's accomplishments. (See "How Your Birth Order Affects Your Parenting Style," below.) You may be putting undue pressure on your youngster to succeed.

Relationship with parents

First, you have to look at the special relationship firstborns have with their parents. First-time parents sweat the details. They document every milestone, celebrate each small achievement, and worry if it comes later than expected. Because they are new to parenting and don't have other children to distract them, they often focus on their firstborn with high intensity. This usually ends up being a double-edged sword: They provide a lot of valuable one-on-one stimulation--talking and playing and teaching-but they also tend to put their firstborns under a great deal of pressure to succeed. They may criticize every small breach of manners, for example, or demand that their firstborns always "set a good example."

To the extent that young firstborn children are able to live up to their parents' high expectations, they reap precious rewards: praise and a sense that they really are special. They often become very skilled at knowing what their parents (and later, teachers and bosses) want them to do, and doing it.

Ironically, their very success often leads to anxiety: If being special hinges on performing up to high standards, what happens if they fail? To protect against this disaster, many firstborn children set even higher standards for themselves than their parents do, and, as a result, are rarely satisfied. Any success they achieve is not enough. Over and over, they must prove that they are not the failures they fear they might be.

Relationships with siblings

The other area in which firstborns have special relationships, of course, is with their later-born siblings. Many firstborns are surprised (not to say shocked) by the appearance of a little competitor. The oft-heard term sibling rivalry really doesn't begin to describe the complex mixture of jealousy, anger, and guilt they feel. Some respond aggressively, but others become even more determined to be good as a way of protecting their status in the family. Most show a mixture of behaviors, helping with a diaper change one minute, pinching the baby the next.

Amazingly, younger siblings often idolize the older brothers and sisters who torment them. The firstborn becomes the leader of the children within the family, and may act as their protector in the neighborhood as well. Firstborns are often called on to babysit younger siblings and keep them in line. They learn to accept responsibility and to expect others to listen to them. These early experiences prepare firstborns to play leadership roles in the grown-up world. On the down side, this tendency to be the boss leads some firstborns to try to dominate every situation and run roughshod over any opposition.

What you can do

How can you, as a parent, help your firstborn enjoy the benefits of her position, while avoiding the pitfalls?

If you're new to parenting, spend some time talking to parents who have two or more children. Listen when they tell you, "I wish I knew then what I know now-I would have been so much more relaxed!"

Make an effort to let your oldest child play some of the time with children (cousins, neighbors, friends' children) who are older and bigger, so that she can get comfortable in the follower role as well as the leader role.

Accept "good enough" some of the time. Don't always demand excellence, just because your gifted firstborn is capable of it.

Avoid casting your firstborn in the role of "little parent" all the time. Make sure she has plenty of time to just be a kid.

Think about your own internal drive to be perfect and always in control (especially if you are a firstborn yourself, but lots of us non-firstborns have these urges, too!) Let your hyper-responsible firstborn see you goof up now and then. Admit your imperfections, don't hide them. Your firstborn will still adore you and learn that it's OK to be human.

Check out our articles on middle children, last-borns, and only children for more information, as well as the lighter side of the birth-order issue.

Your Middle Child: The People Pleaser

When there are three kids in the family, the middle-born occupies a tricky position with its own set of issues.

The upside. Your middle child benefits from being both an older and a younger sibling. He has an older sib who can show him how to do big-kid things, and at the same time, the middle child gets to act as a leader for the younger one. Dealing with both sibs can help him to become a good negotiator and get along well with others.

The downside. As with your firstborn, your younger child feels displaced when another sibling is born and he becomes the middle child. He feels sad and angry about all the attention the youngest one gets. Because he's not the oldest or the youngest, he may wonder if he's special.

How it plays out. Your middle child is racing to catch up with his older sibling and also desperate to stay ahead of the younger one who is breathing down his neck. As a younger sib, your child feels inadequate in relation to his older sister because she can do more and she lets him know it. And he feels competitive with his little sister, who is busy watching him so she can eventually do whatever he does. He's angry that his older sib gets to stay up later than him and resentful that he always gets asked to watch the baby.

What You Can Do

Here's how you can help your middle child feel more secure:

Help him draw some boundaries. If your middle child is trying to get attention by being too much of a people pleaser, help him build a stronger sense of himself. Be sure to ask his opinions and encourage his interests. Spending time alone with him will also help him feel valued and loved.

Make your child a part of the solution. Encourage your middle child to tell you when he needs attention. When you can't immediately meet this need, support him by saying, "I know it's hard for you to wait." Then invite him to help you solve the problem: "You want me to play with you, and your sister has to eat. What should we do?" He'll feel better when he can help come up with a compromise.

Sympathize with his situation. Tell him that you understand how hard it can be to share your attention with a baby. Commiserate with him, too, about having an older sib who is always involved in trying new things. Reassure him that you will support his new ventures in the same way.

By keeping birth-order issues in mind, you can build a family that draws strength and pleasure from one another. It may be hard to imagine on days when the kids are fighting like archenemies, but it can be done. Now you've got the keys to unlock your family's toughest sibling troubles!

Middle Borns: Finding Their Own Pride of Place. The Entertainer Laid back, friendly, works hard to achieve uniqueness, somtetimes a perfectionist

Oldest and youngest children can usually find reasons to be glad about their place in the family. Not so middle children. They often aren't the biggest and strongest, they aren't the babies who get away with murder, they aren't really anything special, at least in their own minds. Sometimes they feel invisible.

But this uncomfortable feeling of not having a defined place in the family may actually turn out to be an advantage. Unlike first children, who often define success by their ability to meet their parents' expectations, middle children are more prone to rebel against the status quo. This observation is the main point of a fascinating book, Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives, by Frank J. Sulloway. The book also argues that birth order--the middle position in particular--is one of the prime forces behind the scientific and social revolutions that drive history forward. I'd wager that most middle children had no idea that they were so important.

Another result of having a less well-defined place in the family is that middle children often reach outside the family for significant relationships. They make close circles of friends. During adolescence, in particular, they may be especially influenced by their peer groups, often to their parents' dismay.

Relationships with parents

Parents may not have as strong a sense of what to expect from a middle child as they do for a firstborn or their youngest. In one way, that's a good thing, because it gives the middle child freedom to follow his individual path. On the other hand, the sense of being less understood makes some middle children feel unloved. From the parents' point of view, the fact that there are a thousand baby pictures of the first child, and only a few dozen of the second-born simply means that they got tired of getting rolls and rolls of film developed. But from the middle child's vantage point, it is documentary proof of their second-class status. In terms of sibling rivalry, the firstborn may be struggling to maintain her position on top, but middle children seemingly struggle just to be noticed at all.

Relationships with siblings

For any middle child, the biggest point of comparison is the sibling who falls just before them in the birth order. Often, rather than competing head-on with that older sibling, the middle child chooses to go in a different direction. If the older sibling is a great student, for example, the middle child may become a musician or an athlete. (There's some research suggesting that middle children are more likely to engage in dangerous sports, perhaps because they are used to taking risks.) By choosing a niche that isn't already occupied, a middle child increases his chances of standing out and being noticed, and decreases the risk of negative comparisons.

Middle children, who are usually smaller than their older siblings while they're growing up, often learn non-aggressive strategies to get what they want, such as negotiation, cooperation, or seeking parental intervention. As the underdogs themselves in many sibling conflicts, middle children often develop a fine sense of empathy with the downtrodden, as do many youngest children. Where first and last children may tend to be self-centered, middle children often take a genuine interest in getting to know other people. Being in the middle, they may find it easier to look at interpersonal situations from various points of view.

What you can do

It's easy to get carried away with your first child and dote on your last, but middle children deserve their fair share of attention, too. Here are some things you can do to foster self-esteem in your middle child.

If you fuss over the oldest because of her great grades and the youngest because she is so adorable, what does your middle one get noticed for? Take the time to look, really look, at your middle child. What is it that he does best and makes him unique within your family? Offer him genuine praise based on his good qualities.

As much as possible, encourage your children to work out their disagreements without your intervention. When middle children consistently turn to their parents to stick up for them, they sometimes come to believe that they themselves are powerless. On the other hand, if the older siblings constantly dominate the younger ones, you may need to step in some of the time.

Respect your middle child's need to be different. Don't insist on measuring him by the same yardstick that you use with your firstborn. Let him know that it's OK for him to seek his own path.

Make special time for your middle child, particularly if he doesn't seem to need it. Middle children are often quiet about their needs; they may be more likely to withdraw than to make a fuss-even more reason to create a special place for your middle child.

Check out our articles on firstborns, last-borns, and only children for more information, as well as the light side of the birth-order issue.

Youngest: The Perks and Perils of Being the "Baby" - The Comedian: Very sociel, charming, playful and comedic: sometimes has trouble being taken seriously.

Being the youngest child in a family has definite advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, babies are fussed over and pampered. They enjoy special status in the pecking order and often get away with behavior that other family members can't. On the other hand, many youngest children feel that they never quite measure up to their more experienced and accomplished siblings. To borrow a phrase from a famous comedian, they get no respect.

Psychologists use a variety of words to describe last-borns: affectionate, sensitive, people-oriented, attention-seeking, indulged, dependent, laid-back, tenacious, absent-minded, relaxed, fun, flaky. What family relationships might be at work molding youngest children into these diverse shapes?

Relationships with parents

Some parents look on their youngest child as their last chance to do everything right. In these families, the youngest may feel a great deal of performance pressure, similar to a firstborn. Other parents seem to decide that they will never allow their last child to be unhappy, ever. The predictable effect of constantly catering to the child's wishes is to make her into a demanding, dissatisfied tyrant. Psychologists sometimes refer to such a child as being "enthroned."

In most families, however, last born is a relatively low-pressure position. The parents have more experience under their belts and are more likely to take a laissez-faire attitude toward such issues as developmental milestones, toilet training, dating, and so on. They are more confident that things will work out for the best., and their relationship with their last-borns is less intense than with the older children. This makes sense because the parents have to divide their attention among more children.

Having somewhat more distance in their relationship with their parents can give last-borns freedom to explore new ideas and new places. On the other hand, if the emotional distance is too great, youngest children may feel disconnected, as though they somehow don't belong in the family.

Relationships with siblings

Since last-borns are rarely the strongest or most capable during childhood, they often carve out a place for themselves by being clever and charming. If you're the smallest, it's important to be able to make people like you, and many youngest children develop impressive social skills. Within the family, they often become skilled politicians, learning to get through negotiation what they can't win by force. They may become the resident peacekeepers--but they're also perfectly capable of stirring up trouble when it serves their purposes, teaming up with one sibling or another.

Many last-borns capitalize on their position as smallest and weakest by elevating helplessness to a high art. They learn that they don't have to do housework, for example, if they can get others to do it for them. As adults, they may have difficulty keeping track of commitments and finishing what they start. Playing the "baby card" also allows them to avoid the consequences for wrongdoing, for example, breaking a sibling's toy.

Other youngest children, however, refuse to accept the helpless label. Instead, like determined terriers, they grab hold of a position and just hang on. The years of sticking up for themselves against the might of their older siblings prepares these children for careers as successful advocates, often championing the cause of -appropriately enough--the underdog.

What you can do

How can you, as a parent,help your "baby" develop into a fully grown-up person?

Make sure that your youngest has her share of household responsibilities. If everyone is cleaning, she might be able to handle a dust cloth or sponge down the kitchen table. Don't let "she's too young" be an excuse for excluding her from chores completely.

Give her attention not only for cute or charming behavior, but also for efforts to do things such as schoolwork or creative projects that she takes seriously.

Find some situations in which the youngest can be in charge so that she is not always the one who goes along with someone else's idea. It may be choosing the main course for dinner one night or picking the family bedtime story. On the other hand, don't allow her to constantly dictate every activity just because she's the youngest.

Let your youngest know that you value her (and everyone in the family) for who she is, rather than for the skills and abilities she possesses. It's hard for children to grow up in the shadow of older, more accomplished siblings. Approval that isn't dependent on performance helps youngest children blossom, free from limiting comparisons.

Check out our articles on firstborns, middle children, and only children for more information, as well as the lighter side of the birth-order issue.

Your Last Born: The Charmer

Being the baby has its advantages and disadvantages.

The upside. Your last-born enjoys his role as the youngest (and boy, does he know how to use his baby charm!). He also benefits from having an older sibling to learn from. She will teach him how to make bubbles and help him get used to going to school. Having a peer to relate to from the get-go, your last-born develops important social skills early on. Because you also have less time to scrutinize your youngest child, he feels less pressure. As a result, your youngest is probably more relaxed and easygoing than your oldest.

The downside. As the parents of two or more children, you may be squeezed for time and preoccupied with the needs of your growing family. Your last-born may get lost in the shuffle as a result. Your younger child also struggles with the painful awareness that he does not measure up to his older sibling. His big sister can read and do cartwheels; he can't. He doesn't know that the reason for this is their age difference. Instead he concludes that he is inadequate. He may develop a negative self-image and worry that he is less loved than his more capable older sibling. His big sister's constant put-downs ("You're stupid") and the fact that his parents frequently applaud his older sib's accomplishments enhance these negative feelings.

How it plays out. The fear that he is less valued than his older sibling can cause your last-born to become an underachiever at school or drive him to compete excessively with his peers. Your younger child may also get jealous when you talk about your firstborn's first day of school or resent his sibling's special privileges, such as having the larger bedroom.

Despite this, your last-born wants to be with his older sibling every minute of the day. But he often feels rejected by his older sib. Your younger child tries to win her over by imitating her or siding with her when she battles Mommy or Daddy. When all else fails, he resorts to negative behavior, like running off with her favorite book.

There are other times when your last-born feels angry at his older sibling. She always gets the best crayons when the two of them are drawing or puts the last block on the tower that they're building. But anger can put a last-born at risk. If he yells at or hurts his older sister, she retaliates tenfold. And if he flings a forkful of mashed potatoes across the dinner table when he feels ignored, you reprimand or punish him and he feels even more abandoned and enraged. As a result, he may begin to hold his anger in or act out in subtle ways, such as "accidentally" knocking over his sister's doll collection.

What You Can Do

Here's how you can keep your last-born from feeling second best:

Focus on his achievements. Praise your youngest when he is able to do new things, such as tie his shoes or drink from a big-kid cup, and make a fuss over him when his drawing receives a star at school. Explain that your firstborn can do harder things because she is older. He will be able to do as much when he is the same age.

Avoid babying your last-born. Otherwise, he may grow up sitting back and waiting for others to take care of him. Give your last-born a chore he can handle, such as folding napkins or getting the newspaper. Age-appropriate tasks will make him feel more capable and confident of his abilities. And instead of intervening every time there is a conflict, encourage your younger child to stand up for himself by saying, "It's my turn to be first." But be on the alert to jump in the minute the older one becomes too critical or bossy or resorts to physical force.

Help your youngest to feel included. Explain that older children often take over conversations because they can think quicker and talk faster. Then teach your last-born to speak up for himself by saying, "I feel left out." You can also help him feel included by inviting a friend of his over when his older sibling has a playdate. Or give him his own notebook to doodle in when you are helping your oldest with her homework.

Only Children: Finding the Middle Ground between Lonely and Lionized: The Confident Soloist Self-confident, responsible, creative and a high achiever; at times uncompromising

Traditionally, so-called only children have gotten a bad name. Not many years ago it was common for people to assume that an only child was sure to be hopelessly selfish and spoiled. Experts added to the list of only-child woes, claiming that they were apt to be more aggressive, uncooperative, socially inept, less successful in marriage, and so on.

But none of this is necessarily true. Only children often grow up to be happy and well adjusted. In fact, being an only child has some advantages: They spend a lot of time interacting with adults, so they develop strong language skills, which serve them well in school and later in life. They enjoy their parents' undivided attention, and never have to suffer the pain of sibling jealousy. And they often enjoy educational, cultural, and travel opportunities that children from large families might miss out on.

But I do think that only children face some real challenges:

Challenge One: Being too special

Every child is special, but some are too special. Being too special means that a child grows up feeling that she is the only person that matters in the family, and by extension, in the world as a whole. Parents naturally focus a tremendous amount of love and energy on their children, and when there is only one child, the focus can be very intense indeed. Sometimes, too, the events that led up to the child being an "only"--perhaps a long period of infertility, followed by a miraculous pregnancy--also contribute to the parents' conviction that this child must never be allowed to experience sadness or frustration.

Such an indulged child is bound to be spoiled, of course, but also often feels a great deal of pressure to be perfect. When parents watch every move a child makes with eagle eyes, she can easily come to feel that any mistake or shortcoming is the end of the world. This makes for very accomplished, sometimes precocious children, but also for a high degree of perfectionism. When only children succeed in meeting parental expectations they are richly rewarded with praise. An unintended consequence, however, is the fear that one day they might fail, and lose all. In a sense, they become addicted to praise and don't develop the inner resilience naturally ingrained in children who have to battle for family position. Not all only children are "overly special," of course. Many parents balance indulgence with limits, and make a conscious effort to keep the pressure down.

Challenge Two: Learning about peers

Children who grow up with siblings learn a lot about getting along with other people. They learn to tease and to take teasing. They learn how to make coalitions with other children, and how to get out of them when the time comes. They learn how to compete, how to compromise, and how to consider other people's feelings and needs. It's harder for only children to learn these lessons, and they tend to learn them later. Out-of-home child care helps in this regard. An only child who spends several hours a day in the rough-and-tumble world of a child-care center gets plenty of experience dealing with peers.

Challenge Three: Dealing with loneliness

Days can be long for only children, with only their parents to keep them company. Without siblings as built-in playmates, only children depend more on friends for company. Parents can help by reaching out to other families in the community, getting to know the other parents, and in that way making it easier for the children to spend time comfortably in various homes. Only children also often develop interests in activities that they can do alone. They learn to enjoy their own company.

What you can do

It can be tempting to try to give your only child the sun, moon, and stars, but you really won't be doing her any favors. Instead, you might want to take the following suggestions into consideration.

Try to balance your overwhelming (and perfectly normal! ) love for your only child with other interests of your own, so that she is not always at the center of your attention.

Try, as much as you can, to lower the pressure to be perfect. When your child makes mistakes, show her how to learn from them and laugh them off. Let her see you being less than perfect yourself. Make it clear that you love her for who she is, not what she achieves.

Help your child cultivate friends at an early age by connecting with other families in your community. Organize a playgroup or a babysitting cooperative. Become active in your church, synagogue, or mosque. Look, in particular, for other families with only children-there are many out there.

Enjoy your only child without guilt. People, even well-meaning people, can let fall very careless remarks regarding "poor" only children-those old stereotypes die hard. Being an only child is surely different from being one of two or one of twelve, but not necessarily worse. All these arrangements have their advantages and disadvantages. A small family can be a wonderful, nurturing place in which to grow up in. The key is not how your family is configured, but rather the loving and supportive relationships that take place within it.

The Lighter Side of Birth Order

We parents love all our children equally, of course, but most of us admit that, after each baby, our standards relax just a bit when it comes to the little things in life. Check out the observations listed below and see if any ring a bell in your household. (Please keep in mind that these aren't recommended practices-they're just meant as humorous observances on the art of parenting!)

Baby bottles

First child: Not only do you have your bottles lined up neatly in your baby bottle cabinet, color coded for breast milk, formula, juice, and water, but you buy a sterilizing kit and routinely boil nearly everything that comes in contact with your baby's mouth.

Second child: You buy a convenient plastic rack to hold baby bottle lids and nipples, and pop everything in the dishwasher.

Third child: Remember the five-second rule for when a piece of food falls on the ground?

Diapers for your new baby

First child: You buy top-of-the-line newborn diapers with the convenient umbilical cord cutouts and carefully stock the diaper holder so that it matches your baby's room.

Second child: You move on to generic diapers and fold over the part that covers the umbilical cord until the cord dries and falls off.

Third child: You grab as many extra diapers from the hospital's newborn nursery as allowed, and when you run out at home, you settle for the unused size 4's left over from your previous diapering days while you send someone out to buy more.

Diaper disposals

First child: You buy a Diaper Genie or other specialized container and use it religiously to dispose of all of your baby's diapers.

Second child: You still have a Diaper Genie, and if you happen to change your baby in its vicinity, you use it.

Third child: You ran out of replacement bags for your Diaper Genie last time around, and instead you keep a lot of old plastic shopping bags on hand to cut down the smell of the diapers in the household garbage cans.

Monogrammed baby clothes

First child: Your friends throw you a big party after the baby is born and you get the cutest little monogrammed baby outfit.

Second child: You decide to spring for a similar monogrammed baby outfit for your second child so that she can have a baby picture that matches your firstborn's.

Third child: Your baby is still decked out in a monogrammed outfit--it's just pink and bears his sibling's initials.


First child: You look in a book to find out what a "onesie" is and then make sure to buy one for each day of the week

Second child: You go through your old onesies and sort out the ones in the wrong color or that are too stained. You also make sure to buy enough to have a week's worth of onesies (which you now realize is closer to three per day!)

Third child: You figure that color and spit-up stains don't show through an outer layer of clothing, and if one of the three snaps is functional, hey, it's acceptable.

Stocking up on baby clothes

First child: Full price.

Second child: You still spring for full price for special occasions, but you basically outfit your child off the sale racks.

Third child: Hand-me-downs and garage sales. Can't beat 25 cents a shirt, now, can you?

Dealing with tantrums

First child: You question what you've done wrong, get out the parenting books, and ponder how to best handle the situation so you don't damage your child's fragile ego.

Second child: You yell at your child when she throws a tantrum, but give in because you don't want her shrieks to wake your other child.

Third child: Your calm response to your child's tantrum is to ask "OK, so whom do you want to go live with?"

Baby books

First child: You record every coo and hiccup, and the pages are so full of memorabilia that the book won't shut.

Second child: You keep your baby book in a big storage box along with all of the important notes, scraps, and photos in hopes of one day finding time to record all the memorable moments.

Third child: Memorabilia gets hung on the refrigerator with a magnet and the baby book is still in its original wrapper, which proves to be very fortunate when you are invited to a friend's baby shower and find yourself at the last minute without a gift.

Feeding supplies

First child: Tiffany silver spoon and Royal Doulton Bunnykins cup and bowl.

Second child: Matched sets of plastic, compartmentalized kid plates and utensils with cute designs.

Third child: A motley assortment of free souvenir plates and cups collected from countless meals at family restaurants.

Sound ideas for soothing sibling rivalry

Your older child sometimes knocks her little brother over, trying to beat him to your lap. And lately you've noticed that your younger child is reacting by slugging his older sister back. What's going on here?

Whether you are constantly being pulled into the next room by a child's screams or bombarded with complaints of "You love him more!" you probably know these scenes all too well. Appalled by the level of cruelty your children sometimes inflict on each other, you may even worry that there is something wrong with them.

You feel frustrated and confused, too. No matter how hard you try to help your kids feel equally loved, why, you wonder, do they continue to duke it out? As one parent I know recently put it, "Even when I take my oldest out for a special breakfast and buy him a toy, he bops his younger brother on the head the minute we get home!"

What if I told you that this behavior is something more than just sib competition? That what you thought were feelings of rivalry are often the birth-order blues in action? And that knowing more about birth order can help you untangle sibling problems?

Recently, while interviewing children and parents for my latest book, Birth Order Blues, I found tremendous support for a theory that I had developed based on my 17 years of experience in counseling families. Most parents are unaware that if you scratch the surface of sibling rivalry, you will find a common source: their children's birth-order experience. In fact, it is a powerful determinant of how they will experience the world. Not only can birth-order issues create unhappiness in children's daily lives, but they can have a negative impact on kids' self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, and success throughout life.

Unfortunately, these issues can go undetected if you're unfamiliar with how strongly birth-order problems affect your children's everyday sibling interactions. Research shows that when siblings fight, many parents often do nothing. But not intervening is hardly the best approach. Young children often need their parents' help to provide them with the support and the skills required to negotiate conflicts.

Here are profiles of three common birth-order positions. These are patterns I've seen emerge again and again in many of the families I've interviewed and counseled over the years. While your children may not fit all the descriptions, the profiles offer insights into how you can help your kids get along better with each other.

5 Ways to Keep the Peace

1. Be accepting of your youngster's jealousy. Tell him that when he is jealous of an older or younger sibling, he can tell you how he's feeling. Otherwise your child may repress his resentment and feel bad inside or act out his jealousy by misbehaving.

2. Help your child to connect his angry emotions to his behavior. Show him that there are other ways to feel better ("You were feeling left out so you started a fight with your younger sister. Next time tell me, 'I need attention too,' and I'll help you").

3. Avoid comparing your kids. For instance, if you tell your firstborn, "Your little sister will go in the water; why won't you?" or use labels, such as "our oldest is the brain," you'll set the stage for unhealthy competition between your children.

4. Treat your children as equitably as possible. This means involving each of them in family tasks. And whenever possible, make impartial statements. Say, "It's important to sit quietly in the car," rather than blaming the oldest for the ruckus.

5. When your kids are arguing, put their dilemma into words for them. Say: "You both want to be the leader of the parade. Now what can we do about that?" Usually your kids will come up with a solution you have taught them, such as taking turns.

How Your Birth Order Affects Your Parenting Style

Whether you were a firstborn, middle-born, or last-born child can be a factor in how you behave with your kids. Realizing why you are acting in a certain way may help you to break negative patterns and build on your strengths. For example:

If You Were the... Then You Might... Or You Might...

Firstborn Put a lot of pressure on your children because your parents may have expected too much of you. As a result, you are demanding of yourself and others, especially your firstborn. Focus on helping your firstborn feel loved for herself rather than for her achievements.

Last-born Become angry when your children (especially your firstborn) act bossy or critical with a sibling or with you. It reminds you of your childhood when you were pushed around as a kid or criticized by your older sibling(s). Praise your children for trying even when they don't succeed, because you felt inferior as a younger sib and want your kids to have a good sense of self.

Middle-born Become upset when your child appears to be a people pleaser, because you also act this way to get attention and dislike this aspect of yourself. Try hard to give each of your children individual attention, because you know what it's like to feel squeezed out.

What to Say to Soothe an Angry Sibling

When Your Child Says... Instead of Blurting Out... Tell Your Child... Because...

"I hate the new baby!" "Oh, c'mon! You love her." "You're feeling angry. I know it's hard to share Mommy and Daddy with the baby." This response shows an acceptance of your child's emotions and helps him to understand why he feels the way he does.

"It's not fair that he gets to stay up later than I do." "Life's not fair." "It's tough to be the youngest. Your older brother gets to do things you can't do, like stay up later. But that's because older kids need less sleep than younger kids." Acknowledging a child's birth-order hurdle helps her to feel understood. And logical explanations help her to feel fairly treated.

"You love my brothers more than me." "We do not." "We love all of our children equally." Children need constant reassurance that there is enough love to go around

Source: Meri Wallace, a child and family therapist, is the author of Birth Order Blues (Henry Holt) and the founder of the Heights Center for Adult and Child Development in Brooklyn.

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