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What Affects Kids' Personalities More, Birth Order or Their Parents' Expectations?

Posted by Dale Sadler

My baby girl is about to turn two, and I have quickly learned what it is to be a parent of more than one child. My son is six and has adapted well. Even “Reuben our Wonder Dachshund” acts as though she’s always been around. My wife and I are blessed.

While we often talk about how different children can be depending on their birth order, we rarely discuss how different the parents are when their second or third child comes. My son was four and a half when my daughter was born. My wife Malita and I had been without diapers for almost two years, and we had been without the sporadic crying for several more. Our son Mason is an active part of our family, he rarely wakes up at night, and he can tell us what he needs. He picks up his toys and can use the bathroom by himself. Malita and I had forgotten the things that make having an infant so difficult by the time Campbell was born. Well, she soon reminded us and we have learned all over again. It’s as though we are stepping back in time.

One of the things that I’ve always heard was how different siblings can be. Psychologists will tell you that the second child works to be different because she is working to find her place. If the first child is good at sports and is athletic,  typically the second child will work at different things in order to be noticed by mom and dad. This isn’t always the case but it does happen quite often.

The above scenario is typical, but there are many expectations surrounding the second or even third child that family members and society impose on those not born first. We expect them to be different. “The first child behaves well so the second is going to act out. The first child is pretty so the second child couldn’t possibly be as attractive.” These irrational notions are so ingrained that no matter what the child does he or she lives out what is expected. This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy. When something is expected of a child, it is likely to happen. One reason is because parents look for those bad things to happen rather than the good — but also as those messages are conveyed to the child, he or she lives them out. The child, being accused of regular wrongdoing, actually begins enjoying the attention it brings him. The good is never noticed so he is labeled a “bad kid” and soon doesn’t know how else to act.

Children do what children do. Maybe it is the parents that are different. You watched your first child like a hawk, but maybe you’re a little more lax with the second. You don’t take as much time to correct them so this gives them more opportunity to act up. So much more is different now. Remember that your second child is a completely new individual that, even though she carries the same genes as her counterpart, is making her mark on the world in a totally new way. The question is, “Can you, the parent, handle it?”


About Dale Sadler

Dale Sadler is the author of 28 Days to A Better Marriage and How to Argue with Your Teen & Win. By day he works with middle schoolers and by night he is a family counselor specializing in marriage, parenting and men's issues. He works hard to be the husband and father his family needs. Follow him @DaleSadlerLPC or visit

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