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Effects of Birth Order on Sibling Relationships

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Effects of Birth Order on Sibling Relationships

Much research has been done and importance placed on birth order and the quality of the sibling relationships they form. The order of birth in relation to other siblings is a key factor in the quality of the relationship between siblings. If the same parents raise both brothers and sisters then, how do they seem to end up so different? Although there are many factors that can affect sibling relationships, age spacing, gender dyad, and parental influence generally have a profound effect on the sibling relationship through birth order.

Of the many factors that may affect the relationship between siblings, their ages, or space between each child in years is one of the biggest. Age spacing may also determine common experiences and interests giving them something to share. During a study on the effects of birth order, Allison Lauretti discovered that when there is a significant age difference the occurrence of power issues are greater. Each child tries to be the dominant child in the family so naturally there is a large degree of conflict, as they grow older.

First-borns tend to show more authority during dealings with younger siblings. Jealousy happens most with the first-born child. This is because he or she is used to getting all the attention of being that only child (Lauretti). But envy can also form when a child feels undervalued by the parent because of evident increased closeness with another sibling (Saft A1). And in turn, the younger child may be bitter because of the older child's advantages of being older. This can form unique bonds between the two because of the oldest need to look after and teach the youngest and the youngest need to reach the standards set by the oldest.

Dr. Kevin Leman states that the oldest sibling tends to be serious, goal-oriented, conscientious, well organized, believers in authority, reliable perfectionists and self-reliant (119-131). Dr. Leman's research suggests that the middle children do not have a definite list of general characteristics like the oldest and youngest. Their personality traits are more contradictory. He found that middle children are mediators, picky about who they confide in, and tend to acquire fewer problems than the first-borns. Since the younger siblings are inexperienced in some situations they look to their older sibling for help. This suggests the role of the older siblings significant in the development of younger children for their knowledge and know-how. The youngest also tend to be people oriented, friendly, and attention seeking (Leman 119-131).

Another importance of age spacing is shown in that conflicts with the older siblings are less frequent and shorter lived during adolescence because of decreased interplay between siblings during this period, but there are exceptions to this rule of course. In Tobias Wolff's, The Rich Brother, the older successful brother Pete is compelled to help his wayward younger brother even though he causes Pete a lot of grief (Wolff).

Dr. Alfred Adler, who was a leading authority when it comes to birth order research, believed that "even though children have the same parents and grow up in nearly the same family setting, they do not have identical social environments" (Hjelle et al. 109-118). According to Adler, the oldest child tends to be conservative and power-oriented. The middle child may set unrealistic goals, so they are usually achievement oriented and often fail. And finally, the youngest is often highly motivated to top older siblings in their accomplishments (Hjelle & Ziegler 109-118). The experiences amongst siblings lay the foundation for their relationships with peers, other siblings, and determine personality with its effects on the roles they play.

Another important aspect of birth order causes on sibling relationships is gender.

Differences in gender are considerable determinants in the roles siblings assume in the family and how they affect their relationship with their siblings. Same sex pairs of siblings have a

tendency to be more pro-social and care giving towards each other. They have a higher percentage of constructive interactions and a lower percentage of negative interactions than mixed sex pairs. Even the frequency of imitation has a propensity to be elevated when siblings were of the same sexual category. However, different sex pairs can steer clear of some of the competition that occurs from matching sex siblings because they tend to be treated differently by parents and given different kinds of attention based on their dissimilarity in sex. Walter Toman's book, Family Constellation, discusses eleven birth order positions in relation to gender: oldest brother of brother(s), youngest brother of brother(s), oldest brother of sister(s), youngest brother of sister(s), the oldest sister of sister(s), the youngest sister of sister(s), the oldest sister of brother(s), the youngest sister of brother(s), in-between sibling arrangements, the only child, and twins. This makes birth order more complex when evaluating kinds of relationships. There are no differences in relations as a function of the sex composition of the dyad so it is still unsure whether this is in fact a function of the sex of the dyads or side effect of other influential factors. Still, further research supports the fact that genders among siblings do impact the birth order factor (Fugita).

The family environment greatly influences the quality of siblings' relationships, as no two families are exactly alike. Parents have a very influential role in determining the kind of relationship their children will have and how they will view each other. How parents talk with their first-born child about the coming of the following children forms how the first-born thinks about the new member of the family. While a new sibling can be viewed positively as a new playmate and buddy, unmet expectations or feelings of being left out can raise rivalry, quarrels, and resentment as children try to win parents' attention. If the siblings have a close connection

with the parents, it is more likely to be added conflict in the relationship as each child contends for attention. Mothers play a particularly influential role in the relationship because they have a

tendency to influence sibling quarrels and how they are dealt with, but do so differently depending on the sexual category of the oldest child (Goleman C1). This is just another illustration of how the many pieces come together to influence aspects of the relationship between siblings. In James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues, the mother put the responsibility

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