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When was I born?

To see whether or not our birth order in our family has an impact on our behaviour.

by Helen Bryant

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To see whether or not our birth order in our family has an impact on our behaviour.

Preparation and materials

  • You could use students of each position in their family to read the sections.
  • Remember to say which one you are.


  1. I would like to encourage everyone in here today, staff as well, to put their hands up in response to the following questions.

    First, can you please put your hands up if you are the eldest child in your family? This means that you have something in common with Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, the astronaut Neil Armstrong, Brad Pitt and J. K. Rowling, who are all eldest children.

    How about those of you who are second born or somewhere in the middle? Well, you share that trait with Britney Spears, Madonna. Julia Roberts, Ricky Gervais and Dawn French.

    What about our youngest family members? Put your hands up for me. Well, Chris Evans, Cameron Diaz, Jim Carrey and George Michael are the youngest siblings in their families too.
  2. Now, there is a group that I haven’t mentioned, and so that must mean that those of you who haven’t put your hands up must be only children. Would you all like to raise them now, as Isaac Newton, Tiger Woods, Frank Sinatra and Robbie Williams all share your only status.
  3. You may wonder why I am asking these questions this morning, and it isn’t because I am conducting a survey. I want us to consider whether or not this birth order has any effect on our personality or on the way that we behave. Studies have indeed shown that where you rank in your family may have a bearing on your personality and how you react and behave in certain situations. Does this mean that where you are in your family tree makes a difference to who you are? Let’s see whether you can recognize yourselves from these ideas.
  4. So, first borns, listen up. Those of you who have older siblings should listen too, to see if you can spot your older brother or sister.

    The majority of first borns are leaders. You are likely to be someone who can motivate themselves and you’re interested in high achievement. Research has shown that first borns may have a higher IQ than average. In our list earlier we mentioned Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; in fact over half of the US presidents have been first-born children. First borns are often the more responsible ones, reliable and unlikely to let others down; and if you do, you feel bad about it, don’t you? You also like to manage people and feel in control, and you can lead a team successfully; but this might mean at times, however, that you are a bit of a control freak. You will usually plan ahead and behave in fairly predictable ways, as you don’t like to be caught unawares and so will use a coping mechanism to prevent it. Are these things beginning to sound familiar?
  5. Now, second or somewhere in the middle borns, what about you? You are the people people, so to speak.You probably have to speak up a bit to get your voice heard too, and so you might be a little less inward-looking than your elder brother or sister, and maybe sometimes a little prone to attention-seeking. What is good about second borns is that they can be very good diplomats, able to see both sides of the story and willing to compromise, with a greater ability to be flexible. Don’t let that make you take the blame for others, though, if something is not your mistake or your fault. Are you the one that likes to keep the peace, either at home or here at school? Are you sociable, lively and competitive and do you find that your friendships are important to you? As you have never been on your own in a home situation, this might mean that you like to be surrounded by friends and companions.
  6. Now, onlys, I didn’t like to leave you until last. You are very lucky, as unlike the others there is no one for you to compete with. There is just you and your parents, which may or may not be the best thing sometimes. But because there is just you, you will expect nothing less than the best at all times, and this may give you similar traits to a first born. Are you self-assured and scholarly? You may have good powers of concentration, able to learn quickly. You may be well organized and efficient. You may have good relationships with both adults and other children as you are comfortable with both. What is also good about being an only is that you are self-reliant and independent, proably because you have to be. It might be, however, that you somethimes feel that your parents do everything for you – or are you more than happy for them to do that?
  7. Now, youngest children. Youngest children can be fearless and ready to try new experiences. You often initiate things – perhaps getting your older brother or sister into trouble and then standing back and watching? You can often be lively and extroverted, meaning that you look outwards. You can sometimes be accused of showing off. You might be very good at welcoming new people or putting others at their ease. You can be fun-loving, and have an ability to laugh at yourselves, unlike your older siblings, especially the eldest one. You’re usually full of energy and willing to help get things done, you will initiate change and often have wacky ideas or be able to do something management consultants call ‘blue sky thinking’. It might mean, however, that you have a short attention span, always flitting to the next thing rather than sitting down and spending a lot of time on something.

Time for reflection

So, does your birth order affect your personality? There is no true scientific evidence, but on a survey on 77 per cent of people surveyed felt that birth order does have an effect on personality. Remember, however, that as there are so many things that affect your personality, birth order has to be one in many factors, such as upbringing, social background, education and experiences.

Birth order does, however, show us some very interesting things about what it means to be a sibling and an only child. Maybe you don’t match any of the above explanations, and maybe you are a mixture of all of them.

Maybe you could think about this today, and see if you can recognize yourself, or even resolve to challenge these parameters. So if you’re a bossy first born, maybe try to take a back seat; or if you’re a flighty younger child, try to concentrate for a bit longer.

Think about your family, or the group that you live with.

How different are you all?

How do you encourage those differences?

Are you glad that you are all different?

How do you manage conflict within your household?

Spend a few moments being thankful for the people that you live with.

Publication date: April 2010   (Vol.12 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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