Parenting is tough and whoever thinks that it gets easier the more children you have (ergo, the more “practice” you’ve had raising kids), has it all wrong. But for those of you who have two or more kids, have you ever wondered why disciplining your second born seems to be a little bit tougher than the other children in the family?
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) economist Joseph Doyle, along with 4 other researchers, studied thousands of families in Denmark and the USA with two or more children to find out whether second-borns really got into more trouble than their siblings. It’s important to note, however, that his sampling focused on families who had a boy as their second child.
The study found that second-borns had more “challenging” behavior. They were more likely to get in trouble at school, be a juvenile delinquent, or even go to prison!
“In families with two or more children, second-born boys are on the order of 20 to 40 percent more likely to be disciplined in school and enter the criminal justice system compared to first-born boys even when we compare siblings,” the study authors wrote.
What’s even more alarming is that the study implies that parents are partly to blame for the problem behavior — they pay less attention to their second-borns compared to their first child. “We consider differences in parental attention as a potential contributing factor to the gaps in delinquency across the birth order,” said the study authors.
Sadly, it makes sense. First-borns have your undivided attention up to the moment of your second child’s birth. The study also implies that parents do not give the same commitment and attention to their second-borns especially during the child’s formative years.
But before you beat yourself up and feel guilty for not trying to divide your attention between the children hard enough, Doyle points out that apart from parents, the second-borns are also influenced by ate or kuya, which might explain the erratic behavior.
“The firstborn has role models, who are adults. And the second, later-born children have role models who are slightly irrational 2-year-olds, you know, their older siblings,” said Doyle in an interview with NPR. “Both the parental investments are different, and the sibling influences probably contribute to these differences we see in the labor market and what we find in delinquency. It’s just very difficult to separate those two things because they happen at the same time.”
While the study has a huge amount of data to back it up, it is just painting a broad picture. Not every family experiences the same thing, so we shouldn’t automatically think that our second born is destined to be a troublemaker, nor should we assume that it’s solely our fault if he is.
What we can do is to try and spread the love and attention between children equally. Sharing mom and dad’s attention can be a lot difficult for small children, which can cause sibling rivalry and provoke bad behavior.
Recognize that each child is unique and adapt to it, says MayoClinic. Their personalities, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and interests can fall anywhere from similar to polar opposites.
And, just in case, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out on your second-born. If anything, the study should motivate you to focus more on them! Remember: building a strong bond is essential for molding good behavior. “When children feel close to their parents, they want to ‘follow’ them...That's why connection is 90% of parenting. Until the child feels the connection, she isn't open to our direction,” says parenting expert and psychologist Laura Markham.