Dr. Frank Sulloway, a historian from MIT, believes that the radical changes in human affairs are wrought by rivalry between eldest children and their younger siblings. Personality develops not only from genes and nurturing but also from place in a family. From his studies be concludes that later-born children are more open-minded than first-borns, They are born to rebel, and take risks. First-borns, on the other hand, tend to stiffly support the status quo. They are status conscious and are often leaders. They tend to assert their power over younger siblings. He concluded that siblings are little more alike in personality than people drawn randomly from the population.
Some of his conclusions are the same as those developed in the 1920’s by the psychiatrist, Alfred Adler. Adler felt that only children feel incompetent because they are always around more proficient adults. They usually want to be adults and may not get along well with peers. Since they have no rivals, they become the center of adults’ interest and are often pampered. If their request to adults are not granted, they may tend to feel they are being treated unfairly and refuse to cooperate.
Oldest children were born first and want to stay first. These children are dethroned when the sibling is born. They may then seek undue attention. This may be constructive at first but could become a problem later if they do not receive the attention they crave. Oldest children tend to be steady, responsible, dependable, conforming and get along well with authority figures. They are often high achievers who may be overly concerned with their own prestige. They want to please and feel they have to be perfect.
Second children can be characterized as always running to catch up to the older sibling. Their behavior is usually the opposite from that of the first child. If the first child is a problem, they are good and vice versa. They choose different fields of endeavor where there is less competition from the older sibling. They often rebels.
Middle children tend to elbow themselves through life. They feel unloved, abused and squeezed. They have neither the privileges of the oldest or the youngest. They feel that adults are unfair, and that they have to struggle against this unfairness. Often they are more adaptable and sociable. They are sensitive to injustices. If they become discouraged, they can become the problem children in the family.
Youngest children are similar to oldest children but have siblings to observe and serve as models. They are often spoiled by parents and older siblings. They may not be taken seriously because of their size. They may lack self-reliance and seek to have things done for them, often succeeding. Some youngest children become highly creative and excel in the things they choose, while others may retain dependent, childish behavior even into adulthood.
Teachers who view each class as a social group, find it useful to know each student’s position in his or her family. This information enables them to understand better the make-up of the class and helps them to develop workable groups within the class. It would be unwise to form groups consisting solely of only children who might never be able to work together because they would all want to be first. The groups which function best are those which have a combination of all the traits. Teachers should also be aware of how their own family position affects their response to different children in the class. It also helps couples to understand and to accept each other when they take into account their own positions in their families of origin.