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Birth Order

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Birth Order

One long controversy among behavioral scientist is the existence of a sibling position effect. Birth order research and theories can be criticized because of differences between parents, sibling positions of the parents, size of families, socioeconomic status, and culture. The conclusions drawn from research studies on sibling position are also often contradictory. However for some reason children with certain birth order roles grow into adolescents and adults with similar qualities.

In order to understand the sibling positions in a certain family the family system must be understood, since elements of structure in family systems form the context in which sibling positions develop. The family environment includes membership units, interaction patterns, boundaries, rules, roles, and alliances.

The desires, hopes, and dreams of the parents are carried by the first child. Everything the child does is being done by the first time in the eyes of the new parents. The landmarks of the first smile, tooth, steps, word, first day of school, graduation are all met with overjoyed responses from parents, grandparents, and other relatives. In most families, the responses from this large family audience are more exaggerated than they will be for any subsequent child. The first children are assigned functional roles as they enter the family system, which include: the job assignment, interpersonal responsibilities, and social interactions. (Hoopes & Harper, 1987). Parents believe that the extended family and their environment watch what the first child does to determine what they are like as a family. Therefore, the main message that first children receive is that they are on display and that the family focus is outward. Leading children to believe that they are the central focus and their actions have consequences beyond them. First children have a sense that their behavior and words are weighed by others and then adopt external validation to evaluate themselves. Despite the family's high expectations for all of their children, the performance of the first child is emphasized more than any other child will be. For interacting this way first-born children learn that their job assignment is to produce outcomes that meet with the family's approval. First children may work to produce and intangible outcome, such as ensuring that younger siblings obey family rules, planning a family project, or going to a function with their parents. The first-born of families are both overachievers and underachievers, because they find it hard to determine what they have done enough. (Sulloway, 1997)

Psychologically and logistically, nothing is the same for the second child as for the first child. Placement in the family will never be emphasized in the same way for children that follow. Parents may wonder where to put additional children or how to take care of them financially and emotionally, however the issue of placement is psychologically met and resolved with the second child. (Hoopes et al. 1987). When new situations arise in the family or in other contexts, second children are insecure until they determine their place in the situation. This is one of the reasons that second-born children feel responsible for stability in the family structure. Since first children are responsible for the explicit rules of the family, the primary responsibility of second children is to perceive and support the implicit elements in family rules and relationships. (Leman, 1998). By identifying with the implicit emotional needs and feelings of other family members, second children represent the unacknowledged discrepancies between the family's implicit and explicit rules and values. Second children manage tension or pain by forcing someone to make it explicit, by acting it out themselves, by distracting attention from the conflicts, by teasing, or by expressing it themselves. Second-born siblings do not experience the same internal pressure for products and results that first children have but their primary focus on the need for stability leads them to monitor the quality of a given task. This makes second-born children base success by the quality rather then by the quantity of products. (Hoopes et al. 1987). Second children feel threatened when they are flooded by so many emotions that they are not able to sort the feelings logically, and make connections between cognitive and affective parts. It is not easy to determine when second children feel threatened because they often do not realize it themselves.

When the third child enters the family, the structure and organization of the family are much more complex then they were when either the first or the second child was born. Third children do not have the benefit of watching relationships develop since they are thrown into a complex system of existing alliances and relationships. (Ernst, 1985). The two older children have formed reference points to the father and mother; with the first child focused on explicit information and he second focused on implicit structure. Since third children are always exposed to established relationships they have fewer opportunities to develop a one on one relationship in the family then do the first two children. The parents focus on trying to balance the demands of the family and meet everyone's needs as each dyadic relationship structure adjusts to include this third person. Part of this adjustment is shown when third children not only seek to enforce relationship rules in the family,

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