The oldest, middle, and youngest child
The coming of the new baby is especially hard on the first child in the family, for he must share mother and father for the first time. It is naturally difficult for him to give up their full attention. It sometimes continues to be hard on the first child as other babies come, for he is often the one who is expected to grow up quickly and take care of his own needs and even those of his younger brothers and sisters. Care should be taken not to expect too much of the oldest child. He should not be expected to give up too many of his own interests to watch his smaller brothers and sisters or to play with them. He should have his freedom when he is playing with children of his own age. Then he will help more willingly when he is at home with the smaller children in the family, and will be proud to help on special occasions when mother says she really needs him. The oldest child must be helped, too, to feel that growing up is just as important as being a baby, and that there are good things about it, too.
The youngest child is sometimes under the handicap of being “baby” and feeling left out of the activities of the other children. Sometimes, too, he cannot keep up with his older brothers and sisters and so begins to feel less sure of himself, or else he gets tired and irritable as he tries to do what they do and becomes upset because he cannot succeed. Parents sometimes do not like to see the “baby” of the family grow up, and they often make it harder for him to do so by continuing to do things for him and protecting him past the age when he needs or wants their help. Often they expect less of him because he is the baby, and so make him less self-reliant than he would normally be.
The middle child is under the double handicap of seeing mother and father give much attention to the baby and of watching the oldest child do things he himself is unable to do. The middle child may become the timid and withdrawn child as he feels less loved than the baby and yet cannot keep up with his older brother or sister. On the other hand he sometimes becomes the aggressive, difficult youngster, who tries to maintain his place in the family by quarreling and hitting out at the others.
It is well to recognize that the place a child occupies in the family brings its special problems. These need not become serious if parents are aware of them and try to help each child to be successful at his own level of growing up. If six-year-old Jim goes over to the neighbor’s to play, and three-year-old Henry cannot keep up with the older children but interferes with their play, the wise mother will ask three-year-old Mary over to her yard so that Henry can have a playmate for the afternoon. If she takes the time to do this, Henry will neither be made anxious because he cannot keep up with his big brother nor feel left out, since he, too, has a friend to play with.
Much of the quarreling that goes on among children in the family is just a normal part of their learning how to live together. If the children seem to enjoy one another in spite of their quarrels and if good feeling prevails among the members of the family, the quarrels need give no undue concern. But frequent quarrels with an undercurrent of bitterness are usually a sign that there is too deep a feeling of jealousy and rivalry. By listening to the quarrels, parents can sometimes discover some of the causes. They will sometimes find that it is one child who seems to start the quarrels and fights. If so, this is the child who is in need, not of punishment but of help. He is the one who should be given an extra amount of affection, attention, and encouragement from mother and father.
Talking things over
If the family gets the habit of talking things over with the children, even when they are small, many of the tensions and feelings resulting from rivalry and jealousy can be eased. Even the little child is helped when mother says, “I know you are feeling mad”; or, “I know you didn’t like what Billy did.” Parents who help their children to express their feelings in words will avoid many explosions that come from bottled-up feelings. They can then help their youngsters to express these feelings through their play or in other desirable ways. The happy family is one in which the parents accept both the harmonious, loving feelings and the ones resulting from the normal jealousy and rivalry present in every family.