We've all heard that birth order determines our personality traits and behaviors. Maybe you've relished in the descriptions that you see as the "best" or used the flaws for a certain birth order as an excuse to behave a certain way.

According to parents.com, the firstborn children are typically more reliable, conscientious, organized, cautious, controlling and achievers. Middle children tend to be people-pleasers, lean toward the rebellious side, need friendships-lots of them-and are peacemakers. And the youngest child, the baby of the family, is usually more fun-loving, carefree, manipulative, selfish, outgoing and an attention-seeker.

Though these stereotypes may hold true in some instances, a study of 377,000 high school students found that "the differences between firstborns and "later borns" are so small that they have no practical relevance to people's lives."

One reason it may seem like birth order makes a difference is that we always end up comparing our children to each other-even though we're told never to do that, right? Obviously, if you have three kids, your oldest child is going to be more responsible and bossy, while the youngest is more demanding (selfish) and perhaps has become a goofball to gain more attention. However, it may have less to do with the order they are born and more to do with the fact your firstborn is, well, older than your youngest making it seem like they are falling into birth order roles.

While there are likely some differences and personality traits that show up among your children, the effect of birth order is miniscule. Professor of psychology, Rodica Damian stated, "The message of this study is that birth order probably should not influence your parenting, because it's not meaningfully related to your kid's personality or IQ."

What should parents do to nurture their children regardless of birth order?

  • Pay attention to your children's unique personalities, and help them discover who they are as individuals.

  • Help your children know their strengths and to use those areas to improve their weaknesses.

  • Avoid comparing the strengths of one child to the weaknesses of another. This will not only create sibling rivalry but can also damage the child's outlook on themselves and their future.

  • Love each child as an individual and no matter what.

  • Praise often and use constructive criticism when necessary. Do not ever use put-downs or name calling as a way to change undesired behaviors.

  • Do not allow yourself or your child to use their birth order as a cop out for flaws.

  • Encourage individuality as well as positive traits and behaviors.

Birth order is not predestination. Though some birth order indicative traits may seem to emerge, it is more likely that age-appropriate traits and behaviors are more dominant at various stages in life. Each child is unique and can be a leader and a peacemaker regardless of being an oldest, middle or youngest child. The best thing we can do as parents is raise our children in a loving environment conducive to allowing our children's individual personalities to bloom. Leave the stereotypes out of the picture, and let your child develop who they are.

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