Gulp. According to a study of children across America and Denmark, second-born children are likely to be more challenging. Especially if they’re a second-born boy. Double gulp.
As the mother of two boys born three years apart, you could say this research has stuck in my throat.
Especially as it turns out, the level of attention parents give to their second-born child is one of the most significant contributing factors.
Could it really be true?
In a quest for clarity I turned to child development expert and parenting educator Karen Young of Hey Sigmund! for some answers.
“All of our children will grow up with different strengths and different challenges. Children from the same family may be drawn to different things and they might need different things from us as parents,” Karen says.
“Some children, for example, might need us to encourage them towards brave behaviour, and to take safe risks, whereas others might need us to point out the risks and slow things down enough for them to make healthier, less risky decisions.”
Second children enter a different environment to their older siblings
From the very beginning, their world is shared with a sibling. They share parents, space, and the emotional and physical resources of the family. By the time a second sibling comes along, as parents, we are more experienced, but possibly our resources may be more stretched.
“Second siblings will face different opportunities and different challenges to their older brothers and sisters. They might be driven to explore ways to experiment with their independence and identity that are different from the paths their older sibling might have explored. This might give rise to an interest in different things, and the discovery of different strengths and different ways to shine,” says Karen.
All children make mistakes
Their attempts to shine, or to assert their independence, or to explore a way of being that is ‘different’ to their older sibling might raise challenges for us as their parents. But this also opens up the opportunity for them to expand their resilience, grow their courage, and find their own individual place in the world.
Find the opportunity for growth
In the midst of the challenge, it can feel tough, especially if the challenge is being thrown down in front of us by one of our small humans.
“When this happens, look for the opportunity to grow them that comes with it,” says Karen. “In terms of parenting, it’s always important to look at what each individual child needs and respond in a way that is right for that child. This is one of the reasons parenting can be so tough. There is no script. What works brilliantly for one child might be not so great for another.”
Every challenge presented by our children is fuelled by a strength
According to Karen, children who won’t hear ‘no’ will have beautiful, strong minds. They will have a keen sense of what is right for them and what isn’t.
“That might not feel so great when they’re three, but parenting is a long-term gig,” says Karen. “In an adolescent, that strong beautiful mind and willingness to stay true to what feels right for them is a gift – for them and for us. “
“While the child who tends to be anxious and reluctant to try anything new is likely to be insightful and empathic, with a wonderful capacity to connect to the people they feel safe with.”
At the end of the day, Karen reminds us that the key to parenting our children is to find their key strengths.
“We need to give them what they need to help that strength flourish – regardless of the order in which they came into our lives.”