Birth Order

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birth order

Refers to the child's ordinal position among children in the family. According to psychologists, whether a child is the class clown or a serious striving person is strongly related to whether the child is the oldest or youngest in the family or somewhere in the middle.

Because adoptive families may be composed of both biological and adopted children, perhaps "family order" is a more appropriate term when considering their relative age.

Most social workers seriously consider the ages of children already in the family when they are considering a placement; for example, they may not wish to place a child who is older than the oldest child already in the home.

Often the oldest child already in the home occupies a position with some privileges, and this role is very important to the child. To bring a new child in who is older and probably worthy of even greater privileges could be disturbing to the formerly oldest child.

The much-cherished baby of the family may find her or his nose out of joint when a newly adopted baby or younger child receives a great deal of attention and seemingly everything done by the new child is perceived as amazing by the adoptive parents. Being bumped from the privileged status of the baby of the family to the role of the middle child requires a considerable adjustment, whether the new baby is born to the family or is adopted into the family.

Of course, bringing any child into the family will change the family order. A new child will become either the baby, be in the middle or be the oldest. Anyone who formerly occupied those positions-with the possible exception of the middle child-may evince resentment until adjustments have been made.

Author, therapist and adoptive parent Claudia Jewett disputes the common practice of placing only children younger than the children already in her home and says many families can successfully adopt a child who is older than children already in the home. Jewett says the practice of placing only younger children is unfair to older children who may need to behave younger than their chronological age would permit.

Claudia L. Jewett, Adopting the Older Child (Boston: Harvard Common Press, 1978).

Dr. Kevin Leman, The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are (New York: Dell, 1985).

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