Parenting Resources

Tips for Parenting Firstborn Children

The world of the firstborn is “the parent(s)”.  The parents of firstborns tend to be inexperienced and possibly anxious as they are parenting for the first time.  They may be inconsistent and ambivalent in their responses as they determine which parenting style feels comfortable to them.   On the other hand, parents of firstborns express more excitement in their children’s achievements.  Everything the child does is new and exciting – and captures the parents’ attention.  The child quickly learns that what he/she does can contribute to parental happiness – and this may translate into a desire to perform well at school.

Parents of firstborns may also have more time to parent than when they have subsequent children.  This may manifest as more time to pay attention to accomplishments, more time to pay attention to how chores are completed, more time to talk and read to the child – with consequences on how the child develops. Firstborns are usually exposed to only adults in the home with “adult language” where as subsequent children have their language exposure diluted by the immature “children’s language” of their older siblings.

This environment may contribute to some of the characteristics that are often noted in firstborns.

  1. Perfectionism.  Firstborns have a strong need for approval which leads to pressure to perform.  They have a need to be exact and precise. 
  2. Reliable and conscientious.  Firstborns are often asked to take on responsibility for younger siblings.
  3. List makers.   The firstborn may think, “What do I need to do to make sure I have the approval of my parents / others?  I will make a list to make sure I accomplish that.”
  4. Firstborns are sensitive to correction.
  5. Firstborns often like to be in control and may become bossy or critical of others.  They often want to be in charge of determining the rules when playing with their friends.
  6. Firstborns have been noted to have higher intelligence than their younger siblings.

Suggestions for parenting firstborns:

  • Recognize that firstborns often have a deep-seated need to be perfect. You can help your children understand that making mistakes is acceptable and will not impact your love for them!
    • Be willing to admit your own mistakes – “I was wrong”.  “I’m sorry.”
    • Occasionally make a ‘mistake’ on purpose and show how you can make a correction.  “Oh, look, I put too much milk in the pancake mix.  That’s ok, I can add a little flour.”
    • Make sure you don’t overly correct your child – accept a bed that is made, but still has some wrinkles in the covers.  In other words, “Don’t nit pick!”
    • Don’t be quick to help your child when she is learning a new task or problem solving.  Allow her time to try it on her own.
  • Recognize that firstborns generally respond better when they know the rules.  (“Tell me how I can please you.”)
  • Give the firstborns special privileges and later bedtimes commensurate with the additional responsibilities of his age.
  • Be careful to not make the oldest child the ‘built-in’ babysitter.
  • Encourage your child to allow others to make decisions, to pay attention to the feelings and emotions of others.


For generalizations and guidelines for parenting children of other birth orders, please look below.