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The firstborn is often used to being the center of attention; he has Mom and Dad to himself before siblings arrive (and oldest children enjoy about 3,000 more hours of quality time with their parents between ages 4 and 13 than the next sibling will get, found a study from Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah). "Many parents spend more time reading and explaining things to firstborns. It's not as easy when other kids come into the picture," says Frank Farley, Ph.D., a psychologist at Temple University, in Philadelphia, who has studied personality and human development for decades. "That undivided attention may have a lot to do with why firstborns tend to be overachievers," he explains. In addition to usually scoring higher on IQ tests and generally getting more education than their brothers and sisters, firstborns tend to outearn their siblings (firstborns were more likely to make at least $100,000 annually compared with their siblings, according to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey).
Success comes with a price: Firstborns tend to be type A personalities who never cut themselves any slack. "They often have an intense fear of failure, so nothing they accomplish feels good enough," says Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., a child and family therapist in White Plains, New York. And because they dread making a misstep, oldest kids tend to stick to the straight and narrow: "They're typically inflexible -- they don't like change and are hesitant to step out of their comfort zone," she explains.
In addition, because firstborns are often given a lot of responsibility at home -- whether it's helping with chores or watching over younger siblings -- they can be quick to take charge (and can be bossy when they do). That burden can lead to excess stress for a child who already feels pressure to be perfect. "I'm constantly reminding my oldest daughter, 9-year-old Posy, that I'm the mom; I should be the one worrying about everyone else," says Julie Cole, a mother of six from Burlington, Ontario. "I don't want her to be a little grown-up, but it's also easy to give her responsibilities; I really can trust her."
Firstborns are constantly receiving encouragement for their achievements, but they also need to know it's okay if they don't succeed at everything, says psychologist Kevin Leman, Ph.D., author of The Birth Order Book. So tell your eldest about that time you didn't make the cheerleading squad or got fired from your first job -- any situation in which you tried something and it didn't work out exactly as you planned. Be sure to emphasize why it was okay in the end and how you learned from your mistakes. You want her to see that making a few of her own is nothing to worry about and can actually be a good thing.