What is Oldest Child Syndrome?


Authored by Kate Beswick in Parenting 
Published on 09-24-2009

It’s long been known that the order in which babies are born has a great deal to do with how their personality will form. Each child, whether they are first, middle, or last born, have general attributes that are chalked up to where they fall in the birth order. Oldest children have mostly been known for being the responsible ones of the bunch. Even if they have a sibling that is close to them in age, they will always be the oldest child. And while this has positive attributes, such as the responsible part, it can also lead to negativities. This is when oldest child syndrome may become a problem.

Oldest children are known for being the most responsible among siblings. And while being responsible is something every parent wants for their children, this can also have its downfalls. Because parents realize that oldest children tend to be the most responsible, they may place unnecessary pressure on them to be more responsible than children can handle. Often, this isn’t done intentionally. For instance, it’s natural for parents to want their oldest child to watch their younger children when babysitting services are necessary. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with this, the oldest child can often feel as though they are responsible for anything that goes wrong whenever the parents aren’t right there to watch all of their children.

Because of this, oldest children may feel as though it’s their fault if something happens to younger children while they’re at school, or even if they’re in another room playing and one of the younger children becomes hurt. While it’s certainly not the oldest child’s fault, they may experience some of the oldest child syndrome because they are so accustomed to being held responsible for their younger siblings. It’s important that parents let their oldest child know that even though they may be responsible at certain times for their siblings, they are certainly not always responsible for them.

Older children are also often taught to be an example for their younger siblings. Parents will often say things such as, “Show your sister how good girls sit and eat their dinner.” This can often send the wrong message that oldest children need to be perfect at all times. And should younger siblings ever mimic undesirable behavior that their oldest sibling has displayed, the oldest child can feel even more responsible for that. Correcting this is very easy. Parents need to make sure they are only making children responsible for their own actions. One child certainly cannot control the actions of younger children. And making them feel as though things the younger child has done is their fault compounds the problem of oldest child syndrome.

Oldest children are also known for being perfectionists. This is often because of the reasons that are stated above. Because oldest children are held up to such high standards by their parents, they can often feel as though they are expected to be perfect at all times. Of course, this is an unreasonable expectation for any child and could lead to bigger problems later on in life.

The best thing parents can do to ensure that their oldest child doesn’t suffer from oldest child syndrome is to treat all of their children equally. Children should never be expected to be perfect at all times. As well, children should only be held responsible for their own actions, and not those of others.


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