8 Signs Of Oldest Child Syndrome And How To Deal With It

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Have you heard about the oldest child syndrome? According to Alfred Adler’s Birth Order Theory, one’s personality and who one becomes as an individual is influenced by the order they come in the family (1). Although the theory has been challenged repeatedly, a few characteristics stated for oldest, middle, and youngest children remain consistent, and oldest child syndrome is one characteristic that is usually spoken about.

The birth order, family’s situation, a combination of these, and other factors play a major role in shaping the child’s personality and its development. Read this post to understand about oldest child syndrome.

What Is Oldest Child Syndrome?

Have you noticed your oldest child getting unexpectedly competitive with their younger sibling or throwing a tantrum out of jealousy? Do they show dominance or boss around their younger siblings? These may be signs of oldest child syndrome in your firstborn.

With most firstborns across the world, the birth of their sibling brings a normal transition in their lives. From being the “only child” of their parents, they are now de-throned and have to share their parent’s love and attention with their younger siblings. This transition can be stressful and may cause a developmental crisis for many children (2). It could be the root cause of sibling rivalry, jealousy and a traumatic experience for the firstborns (1).

Though there are pros and cons of being the oldest child, certain behaviors and personality characteristics can give rise to the oldest child syndrome.

8 Characteristics Or Signs Of Oldest Child Syndrome

The oldest child in a family experiences some emotions. While some of these characteristics are good, a few characteristics may not be healthy for their personality.

1. They might want to lead and dominate

Firstborn children are thrust into a leadership position when their younger siblings arrive. Leading and helping their younger siblings become an ingrained habit they carry forward even in their future (3). But if they become dominating instead of leading, it becomes a sign of the oldest child syndrome.

2. They might have a constant urge to be perfect

A study conducted in 2008 states that the firstborns tend to be perfectionists and have higher standards (4). They can also be called ‘achievers.’ It is fine until they know their limits. If they become aggressive or depressed when they cannot achieve or when their sibling wins, it becomes an unhealthy trait.

3. They might have the pressure of parent’s expectations

Due to their constant urge to be perfect and tendency to please their parents, older children have greater academic pressure than their younger siblings. Also, parents expect their oldest children to be a role model for their younger siblings in every aspect, including academics (5). The pressure from the parents and the need to excel could take them into a zone where they cannot accept failure, which could become problematic in their latter years of life.

4. They may have high self-esteem

According to Adler’s theory and multiple studies in recent times, it has been found that older children tend to have higher self-esteem and confidence (6). It helps them in their academic performance and professionalism but may not be helpful in social life. High self-esteem could lead to ego, and if they are not humble and do not have gratitude, others might not accept them.

5. They might develop an unhealthy competitive attitude

When the sibling rivalry and jealousy on the sibling’s arrival is not handled properly by parents, the firstborn can hold it as a grudge against their parents or their younger sibling. This creates an unhealthy competitive attitude even after growing up—a sign of the oldest child syndrome.

6. They might become obsessive

The oldest child becomes a protector of the younger ones. It is a good quality until it turns extreme.

If you find your child going overboard trying to make something perfect to the level of obsession, it is unhealthy for them and the younger siblings. Even the younger children may get used to the protection and become dependent, while the oldest ones could lose themselves to their siblings and become obsessive.

7. They may act as a second-parent to their siblings

When parents have their second child, they encourage their firstborns to care for their younger siblings. Many a time, this gives rise to a sibling bond where the firstborn becomes a second-parent figure to the younger sibling. Some oldest children may develop parental feelings and responsibility towards their younger siblings, evident in their personalities and behavior. It goes smooth until the attachment is within boundaries. Otherwise, it could be harmful to both. They might expect the younger sibling to start obeying them like they obey their parents.

8. They might become controlling

In their quest for perfection and achievements, first born children may develop a tendency to control everything around them, including their younger siblings. Their inherent tendency to lead and the power to act as a second-parent to their younger siblings can be the reason why some oldest children become overly controlling.

How Can the Oldest Child Overcome This Syndrome?

If you notice your oldest child demonstrating some characteristics of oldest child syndrome, here are some ways by which you can help them overcome.

  1. Have moderate expectations from firstborn

Intentionally or unintentionally, the explosion of expectations from firstborns can put a huge amount of pressure on them. If your firstborn shows traits of being people-pleaser, they might also feel extremely bad or miserable when they fail.

Though this characteristic develops from a firstborn’s tendency for perfectionism, you must encourage and praise them even when they fail. Allow them to fail at times and teach them how to accept this failure gracefully.

  1. Provide ample opportunities

Most parents expect their first child to be more of a role model for their younger siblings, but little do they realize the number of responsibilities they are putting on them.

Do not overburden your firstborn with responsibilities, instead provide them ample opportunities to grow. At the same time, it is okay to encourage them to develop leadership skills, teach them not to become too bossy or dominating.

  1. Spend time with them alone

Irrespective of the number of children you have, make time for each child. The oldest children must be spoken to in a casual and friendly way. You can take an interest in their friends, school work, classmates, share memories of your childhood, and speak to them about their plans.

Doing so gives them a sense of confidence and trust and makes them realize that despite their younger siblings, their parents love them equally.

  1. Provide special privileges to them

One of the many situations that the oldest children face is a more-focused upbringing because first-time parents put all their attention towards this child. This might make their upbringing tough after the arrival of their siblings. To balance this out, you must give your eldest child some special privileges, such as late bedtime, longer playtime after school, and having a say in a few discussions. Set some rules for all your children and give some special privileges to each of your children. This evens out any biases that your children might have in their minds.

There is no right or perfect way of parenting. If you have more than one child or are expecting your second child, it is essential to understand what your firstborn or eldest child is feeling. With the right communicative channels and lots of love and care, you can equally parent all your children, without anyone feeling left out.

Key Pointers

  • Obsession, desire for perfection, high self-esteem, or pressure to meet parents’ expectations are common signs of oldest child syndrome.
  • Children with oldest child syndrome could show dominance and act as second parents to siblings.
  • You can help the child overcome it by not expecting much from them, paying special attention, and spending time with them.

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Dr. Neha Bhave Salankar

(MD)
Dr. Neha Bhave Salankar is a consultant psychiatrist at Bhave Institute of Mental Health based in Nagpur. Having been a meritorious student throughout, she bagged the prestigious gold medal for medicine in MBBS as well as in MD psychiatry. She also took training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru. She is... more

Dr. Meenakshi Maruwada

Dr. Meenakshi is a dentist and a passionate writer with over eight years of experience in dentistry and four years in writing. She started her career as a dentist with a dental chain in Mumbai and soon rose to lead the clinic as a Head Dentist. She then switched to working for two start-ups in healthcare, before beginning her own... more