Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Birth Order Blues

How to Help the Youngest in the Family Thrive

I’ll never be better, faster, taller, or smarter. I’ll never get to do something first.

If you have more than one child, chances are your youngest one has felt things similar to this at one time or another. It is like working at a company where you know that you will always be the “newbie” – the one who learns from others, walks the trails that others blaze, and feels tucked in the shadows. For the youngest in the family this can be amplified if older siblings are go-getters and always on the prowl to try something new. As the youngest in our family once said, “At this rate, what will be left for me to do first?”

Does Birth Order Say it All?

If you’re dealing with the youngest-child blues and wondering if it is a hopeless situation, you’re not alone. Researchers have long debated the ramifications of birth order, and psychologists have been working for years to find ways to address some of the issues that it reportedly raises. And let’s face it – as parents we are caught between a rock and a hard place. Birth order is inevitable – and after a while – not easily changeable. (Unless you go all out and add more children to your home – but someone will still always be the oldest, the youngest, and someone in between.)

Much has been written about the topic of birth order, and the consensuses keep changing. Some strongly believe that birth order is as vital to who your child becomes as your everyday parenting skills, and others believe it has little if anything to do with personality development. Joshua Hartshone studies how birth order affects our children, and he claims that new research shows that birth order does have measurable effects on children. According to Hartshone, these effects are more noticeable as the size of the family increases – the more siblings a child has, the more likely there will be that birth order stereotypes are present.

However, how we let or don’t let birth order severely impact our children is a little bit more in our control. If we decide to just let birth order dictate the development of our kids, we’ve just set them on a path toward a self-fulfilling prophesy. So even though Hartshone and others in his camp will argue that the youngest in families are more likely to have lower IQs and be overly coddled by older siblings, we as parents can do things to minimize these stereotypical traits of birth order.

Give the Youngest the View from the Top

So I’m the youngest in my family, having an older brother and sister just a few years ahead of me. And I don’t resemble much of the stereotypical traits of a “youngest” child. I don’t find myself to be humorous or artsy, but instead find myself to need order and thrive on plans and goals. But I still remember feeling like the youngest. And there are days when I see my own youngest child struggling with those thoughts.

When my youngest child is feeling the frustration of never getting to do something first (which in the minds of kids is a huge determining factor for self-esteem, and closely tied with doing it best), I try to give him the opportunity to do something new. We aren’t talking about anything extravagant. I am focusing on small, tangible actions that get to be his first, as well as the first in the family.

Ask your youngest what special thing they would like to “do first” in the family. In a recent conversation with my youngest, he simply said he wants to be the first in the family to do cup stacking (yep – I raised my eyebrows at first, too). But this simple request means that no sibling has attempted to do this, so no one will be saying, “Let me show you how I do this.” (I even went so far as to outlaw the older siblings from taking on this new hobby initially while he gets his feet wet.)

Get excited – even if you’ve been there, done that. Sometimes we forget that our enthusiasm might wane for the simple things. Maybe it is that with our oldest we are so nervous about getting things right, that we seem more excited when she rides the bike for the first time, has her first sleepover, etc., but we need to remember that for our youngest – it is still an excitement worthy first.

Don’t do things for the youngest he can do (or try to do) by himself. Our oldest kids had to get things done on their own by necessity – maybe our hands were full with younger siblings or they just didn’t have older siblings around showing them how to do everything. When our youngest ones have the same (sometimes frustration-causing) expectations and opportunities to figure things out solo, they build their confidence and capabilities.

The birth order of my kids isn’t a changeable variable at this point. However, I am trying to make sure that how I interact with them and what I expect of them isn’t dictated by the year they entered our family. I don’t want my youngest to feel that he is always the “newbie” and never the trail blazer. So we are now entering the world of cup speed stacking. Who knows where this first might take him, but he will be the one leading the way.

Related posts:

  1. Beat the Bedtime Blues – Establish a Bedtime Routine

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