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When I Was Born

Does birth order affect behaviour?

by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2010)

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To consider whether birth order in a family has an impact on behaviour.

Preparation and materials

  • Optional: you may wish to arrange for students in the different birth positions within their families to read out the appropriate sections in the ‘Assembly’, Steps 4-7.


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

    - Who here is the eldest child in their family?

    Wait for hands to be raised.

    This means that you have something in common with Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, the astronaut Neil Armstrong, Brad Pitt, J. K. Rowling and Justin Bieber. They are all eldest children.

    - Who here is the secondborn in their family, or somewhere in the middle?

    Wait for hands to be raised.

    You share that trait with Britney Spears, Madonna, Julia Roberts, Ricky Gervais, Dawn French and Chris Hemsworth.

    - And what about our youngest family members?

    Wait for hands to be raised.

    Well, Harry Styles, Cameron Diaz, Ariana Grande, Hilary Duff, Michael B. Jordan and Jennifer Lawrence are the youngest siblings in their families, too.

  2. Now, there is a group that I haven’t mentioned, so those of you who haven’t put your hands up must be only children. Would you all like to raise them now? Sir Isaac Newton, Tiger Woods, Frank Sinatra, Robbie Williams, Alicia Keys, Daniel Radcliffe and Selena Gomez all share your status.

  3. You may wonder why I am asking these questions this morning. Well, it isn’t because Im conducting a survey. I want us to consider whether birth order has any effect on our personality or on the way that we behave. Studies have 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 the following descriptions.

  4. Firstborns, listen up. Those of you who have older siblings should listen, too, to see whether you can spot your older brother or sister.

    Most firstborns are leaders. Youre likely to be someone who can motivate yourself and you’re interested in high achievement. Research has shown that firstborns may have a higher IQ than average. In our list earlier, we mentioned Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; in fact, over half of the presidents of the USA have been firstborn children.

    Firstborns are often the more responsible ones, reliable and unlikely to let others down. 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, although this might mean that at times, youre a bit of a control freak. You will usually plan ahead and behave in fairly predictable ways because you don’t like to be caught unawares, so youll use a coping mechanism to prevent it. Does any of this sound familiar?

  5. What about those of you who were born second or somewhere in the middle? You probably have to speak up a bit to get your voice heard, so you might be a little less inward-looking than your elder brother or sister. Sometimes, you might even be a little prone to attention-seeking.

    What is good about middleborns 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 fault. Are you the one who likes to keep the peace, either at home or here at school? Are you sociable, lively and competitive? Do you find that your friendships are important to you? Youve never been on your own at home, so this might mean that you like to be surrounded by friends and companions.

  6. 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 extrovert, 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 can laugh at yourself, 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 good at 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.

  7. Finally, lets talk about only children. Youre very lucky because 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. However, 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 firstborn.

    Are you self-assured and scholarly? You may have good powers of concentration and be able to learn quickly. You may be well-organized and efficient. You may have good relationships with both adults and other children because you are comfortable with both. What is also good about being an only child is that you are self-reliant and independent, probably because you have to be. However, sometimes, you might become frustrated by feeling that your parents do everything for you – or are you more than happy for them to do that?

Time for reflection

Of course, the above information is just meant to be a bit of fun, but does birth order affect your personality? There is no true scientific evidence, but a Mumsnet survey found that 77 per cent of respondents felt that birth order does have an effect on personality. Remember, though, that many things affect our personality, so birth order can only be one of many factors, including upbringing, social background, education and experiences.

However, birth order does indicate some interesting features of what it means to be a sibling or an only child. Maybe we don’t match any of the above explanations; many of us are probably a mixture of all of them.

It is good to think about our personalities because it helps us to consider their impact on those around us. Lets take a moment to consider the following questions.

- Do we need to listen more?
- Do we need to speak more?
- Do we need to work at making other people feel comfortable and welcome?
- Should we sometimes try to take a back seat?
- Should we try to concentrate for a bit longer?

Maybe we could think about this today and decide whether we can recognize ourselves. We could even resolve to challenge these parameters.

Let’s think about our family, or the group that we live with.

- How different is each person in the family?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- How can we encourage those differences?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- Do we appreciate each other’s differences?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- How do we manage conflict within our households?

Pause to allow time for thought.

Let’s remember that the more time we take to understand other people, the more we will be able to love, appreciate and encourage them.

Encourage the students to spend a few moments being thankful for the people that they live with.

Publication date: August 2019   (Vol.21 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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