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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


Second Borns - Lucky Position or Victims of Bad Timing?

By Michael Grose

"What about me?"

This seems to be the second borns' lament. It was certainly the response my daughter (a second born) gave when she read an article in Sunday Life published by Fairfax newspapers last Sunday, where my birth order book "Why first borns rule the world and last borns want to change it" was the basis of an article about siblings.

She claimed that the article was three pages long and only one paragraph was devoted to second borns. Only a second born would take notices of that!

Certainly second born and middle children are generally the victims of poor timing. They are born too late to get the perks and privileges of their eldest siblings and, if they have younger siblings, too early to benefit from the more relaxed style of parenting that they generally experience.

The arrival of the second doesn't draw the same amount of attention in families, as does the birth of the first born. It is not so much that parents have 'been there and done that' but their life has already been altered and a pattern of life has emerged that includes another entity. It has been dramatically changed already.

The first born has a vested interest in keeping the second child in his or her place, or at least being seen to be superior or better. He or she will often go to great lengths to remind their parents of their superiority. They often point out their second sibling's misbehaviours or inadequacies to their parents just in case they haven't noticed. Number ones often don't leave such matters to chance. So the second faced with competition will go either head to head or develop their own unique personality, traits and characteristics. They often excel in areas that are leftover by the first born.

The second born child leads a different life to that of the first born. His or her life will in all likelihood revolve around the life of the first born. Seconds had better get used to tagging along after the first born because they will in all likelihood accompany the first born to playgroup and pre school activities. They are often woken from their afternoon naps so adults can pick up the first born from school. Second borns learn to fit in so flexibility is often a key component of their personality.

Their flexibility tends to make seconds borns far more resilient than first borns and they expect a little less of life. They learn early on that life doesn't always go their way. While working out personality traits for seconds is tricky, there is however one rule of thumb to go by. Seconds will usually differ in personality, interests and achievement areas than first borns. If the first born is responsible, then there is every chance number two will be a terrorist. If the first is an academic star, then number two may well find another field of endeavour to shine. Seconds and middles often choose a different path than their siblings.

They also tend to have more friends as this cohort tend to look outside the family for their belonging. If they are stuck in the middle of three children they often develop an array of social skills so they become the social glue in many groups as adults.

Seconds are often into social justice as adults. Fairness is a large driver for this group as they move through school and into adulthood. While firsts often need a purpose in their lives if they are to feel successful, many seconds need to get behind a cause to give their lives meaning.

Seconds need different parenting experiences than their elder or younger siblings. They sometimes get squeezed, forgotten in the crowd and can spend less time alone with their parents. Parents need to be alert to the messages that this cohort give as their voice can be lost in the crowd at home. Many learn to be secretive and keep their opinions to themselves. "It's not fair" is their mantra and parents need to be careful not to fall into a guilt trip with this group.

Making time to spend with this group, assisting them find their own area of expertise and helping them feel special seems to be keys to raising happy, resilient second borns. This means parents need to be pro-active to initiate time with them and especially sensitive to the fact that they don't want to be a compared to a successful elder sibling.

Each birth order position has its own unique requirements from parents but it seems that it is seconds and middle borns that perhaps challenge and concern parents the most.


Michael Grose is the author of Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change it. You can purchase this ground-breaking book (and find out just want your first, second and youngest children need from you) at

Child Development

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