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Birth position and your child

Published:Wednesday | May 30, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Jason Wynter, Contributor

The birth position of your child - whether first, middle, youngest, only born - carries with it certain psychological characteristics that can affect family cohesion by undermining individuality and uniqueness of family members.

The first child

The first, or oldest child may gravitate towards family roles that involve leadership or authority and is sensitive to issues of protocol and hierarchy. This child prefers order, structure, and adherence to norms and rules. Themes of achievement and accomplishment may characterise the goal-striving of persons in this position, and parents often admire such characteristics. Other siblings may see the first child as being bossy, impatient, and thus resent them. In Jamaica, high favouritism is given to the firstborn.

The youngest child

The youngest child may feel disadvantaged compared to older and more experienced siblings who have already established their position. Being perceived as the least capable or less experienced among the siblings may result in the youngest child being provided for, indulged or even spoiled. Sensitive to these possibilities, some youngest children can easily influence others to do things for them. It is recognised that some youngest children may become discouraged and may not establish a socially useful role among siblings, causing tension among siblings. The youngest of the family in Jamaica is habitually called the 'baby' or 'wash belly'.

The middle child

Lacking the primacy of the first child and the attention-garnering recency of the youngest child, persons in the middle position may feel squeezed out of their families. They may not feel special and worthy of their family's attention or esteem.

The only child

The 'only child' position may involve negative experiences stemming from parental overprotection or over-involvement. Persons in this position may feel that their lives are under the scrutiny and control of their family. They tend to experience family relationships as too close or smothering and may desire greater independence and autonomy.

Family cohesion is also affected by family size and siblings in a household born to different parents. For example, a child can be the first for his/her father and the last for his/her mother of four; this child is faced with two different actual birth and psychological birth positions. This is common in Jamaica.

Jason R. Wynter is a counselling psychologist and lecturer, Northern Caribbean University; email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.