Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

Shmuel, Rami, and Eli were playing in the living room while their mother made dinner. Eight-year-old Shmuel was busy figuring out how to attach his Lego rocket ship to his model of the solar system. He was utilizing everything in his arsenal – ruler, magnets, glue, the stepladder and even his mother’s attention. “Mommy, do we have string?” “Which planet has the greatest gravitational pull?” “My rocket ship is red, so should I put it near Mars, the red planet?”

Meanwhile, five-year-old Rami was coloring in a picture he and his friends had started at school. They were in a secret spy club and Rami was in charge of their secret missions. Rami outlined pictures of his friends and made symbols for each of their special powers.


And, three-year-old Eli was walking in between Shmuel and Rami. First, he pretended to be a rocket ship, making Shmuel laugh with his crazy swirls and dips. He dove headfirst off of the couch onto a pillow “Landing on Earth!” Then, he picked up a crayon and drew a three-year-old version of a smiley face. “Look, Rami, I’m in your club,” he grinned.


The Fate of Birth Order

Different children play differently, but is that really what’s going on with Shmuel, Rami, and Eli? Or, are the boys simply doing what is typical for firstborns, middle children, and youngests?

Studies show that much of our personalities are a result of our positions in our families. Dr. Frank Sulloway in his book Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creativity discusses the different “fates” of those born first, middle or last. Let’s take a look at the different ways birth order can affect personalities. I have created a chart that outlines the different strengths and weaknesses children have based on their number in the family.


What can you do to nurture your children?

Because birth order can affect most children in similar fashion, there are things you can do to help your children overcome weaknesses that birth order has thrown their way:

Oldest: Share failure. Oldest children need to hear from their parents that it is okay to fail. Parents should share their own failures with their children (particularly ones that are no longer painful). Talk about the time you didn’t get the part in the school play or the job that you thought you would love. You are still standing and smiling. This will help your firstborn understand that failure is not the end of the world.

Youngest: Give responsibility. We tend to let our youngest off the hook because we say he is not old enough to clear off the table, put his clothing in the hamper, or make his bed. In reality, you probably would have made your oldest do these same things at this age. Don’t underestimate your youngest’s abilities. Give him plenty of responsibility. Ultimately, he will benefit from it.

Middle: Attention. This one is the most intuitive, but it is also often the hardest. Try to give your middle child (or children) a shot at the limelight whenever you can. Maybe he can choose what to make for dinner one night or sing the Mah Nishtana this year because he studied it in two languages. Perhaps you can go into his classroom, without any younger siblings tagging along, and read a book, bake a cake, or do some other age-appropriate enrichment. With this extra attention, it’s harder for the middle child to slip through the cracks.

Studies show that birth order shapes a lot of who we are, but we are not slaves to the order in which we were born. As a parent, you can help nurture all that nature provides.


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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at [email protected].