Oldest sister syndrome

8 Signs Of Oldest Child Syndrome And How To Deal With It

Pay attention to signs and help your child develop healthy relations with their siblings.

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Have you heard about the oldest child syndrome? According to Alfred Adler’s Birth Order Theory, one’s personality and who one becomes as an individual is influenced by the order they come in the family (1). Although the theory has been challenged repeatedly, a few characteristics stated for oldest, middle, and youngest children remain consistent, and oldest child syndrome is one characteristic that is usually spoken about.

The birth order, family’s situation, a combination of these, and other factors play a major role in shaping the child’s personality and its development. Read this post to understand about oldest child syndrome.

What Is Oldest Child Syndrome?

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Have you noticed your oldest child getting unexpectedly competitive with their younger sibling or throwing a tantrum out of jealousy? Do they show dominance or boss around their younger siblings? These may be signs of oldest child syndrome in your firstborn.

With most firstborns across the world, the birth of their sibling brings a normal transition in their lives. From being the “only child” of their parents, they are now de-throned and have to share their parent’s love and attention with their younger siblings. This transition can be stressful and may cause a developmental crisis for many children (2). It could be the root cause of sibling rivalry, jealousy and a traumatic experience for the firstborns (1).

Though there are pros and cons of being the oldest child, certain behaviors and personality characteristics can give rise to the oldest child syndrome.

8 Characteristics Or Signs Of Oldest Child Syndrome

The oldest child in a family experiences some emotions. While some of these characteristics are good, a few characteristics may not be healthy for their personality.

1. They might want to lead and dominate

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Firstborn children are thrust into a leadership position when their younger siblings arrive. Leading and helping their younger siblings become an ingrained habit they carry forward even in their future (3). But if they become dominating instead of leading, it becomes a sign of the oldest child syndrome.

2. They might have a constant urge to be perfect

A study conducted in 2008 states that the firstborns tend to be perfectionists and have higher standards (4). They can also be called ‘achievers.’ It is fine until they know their limits. If they become aggressive or depressed when they cannot achieve or when their sibling wins, it becomes an unhealthy trait.

3. They might have the pressure of parent’s expectations

Due to their constant urge to be perfect and tendency to please their parents, older children have greater academic pressure than their younger siblings. Also, parents expect their oldest children to be a role model for their younger siblings in every aspect, including academics (5). The pressure from the parents and the need to excel could take them into a zone where they cannot accept failure, which could become problematic in their latter years of life.

4. They may have high self-esteem

According to Adler’s theory and multiple studies in recent times, it has been found that older children tend to have higher self-esteem and confidence (6). It helps them in their academic performance and professionalism but may not be helpful in social life. High self-esteem could lead to ego, and if they are not humble and do not have gratitude, others might not accept them.

Related: 7 Tips To Build Self-Esteem In Children & Activities To Do

5. They might develop an unhealthy competitive attitude

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When the sibling rivalry and jealousy on the sibling’s arrival is not handled properly by parents, the firstborn can hold it as a grudge against their parents or their younger sibling. This creates an unhealthy competitive attitude even after growing up—a sign of the oldest child syndrome.

6. They might become obsessive

The oldest child becomes a protector of the younger ones. It is a good quality until it turns extreme.

If you find your child going overboard trying to make something perfect to the level of obsession, it is unhealthy for them and the younger siblings. Even the younger children may get used to the protection and become dependent, while the oldest ones could lose themselves to their siblings and become obsessive.

7. They may act as a second-parent to their siblings

When parents have their second child, they encourage their firstborns to care for their younger siblings. Many a time, this gives rise to a sibling bond where the firstborn becomes a second-parent figure to the younger sibling. Some oldest children may develop parental feelings and responsibility towards their younger siblings, evident in their personalities and behavior. It goes smooth until the attachment is within boundaries. Otherwise, it could be harmful to both. They might expect the younger sibling to start obeying them like they obey their parents.

8. They might become controlling

In their quest for perfection and achievements, first born children may develop a tendency to control everything around them, including their younger siblings. Their inherent tendency to lead and the power to act as a second-parent to their younger siblings can be the reason why some oldest children become overly controlling.

Related: 5 Ways To Handle Your Out-Of-Control Teenager

How Can the Oldest Child Overcome This Syndrome?

If you notice your oldest child demonstrating some characteristics of oldest child syndrome, here are some ways by which you can help them overcome.

  1. Have moderate expectations from firstborn

Intentionally or unintentionally, the explosion of expectations from firstborns can put a huge amount of pressure on them. If your firstborn shows traits of being people-pleaser, they might also feel extremely bad or miserable when they fail.

Though this characteristic develops from a firstborn’s tendency for perfectionism, you must encourage and praise them even when they fail. Allow them to fail at times and teach them how to accept this failure gracefully.

  1. Provide ample opportunities

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Most parents expect their first child to be more of a role model for their younger siblings, but little do they realize the number of responsibilities they are putting on them.

Do not overburden your firstborn with responsibilities, instead provide them ample opportunities to grow. At the same time, it is okay to encourage them to develop leadership skills, teach them not to become too bossy or dominating.

  1. Spend time with them alone

Irrespective of the number of children you have, make time for each child. The oldest children must be spoken to in a casual and friendly way. You can take an interest in their friends, school work, classmates, share memories of your childhood, and speak to them about their plans.

Doing so gives them a sense of confidence and trust and makes them realize that despite their younger siblings, their parents love them equally.

Related: 12 Fun Weekend Activities To Do With Your Family

  1. Provide special privileges to them

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One of the many situations that the oldest children face is a more-focused upbringing because first-time parents put all their attention towards this child. This might make their upbringing tough after the arrival of their siblings. To balance this out, you must give your eldest child some special privileges, such as late bedtime, longer playtime after school, and having a say in a few discussions. Set some rules for all your children and give some special privileges to each of your children. This evens out any biases that your children might have in their minds.

1. How being the oldest child affects personality?

The oldest child in a family is usually under more pressure, making them more anxious and serious. Parents usually look up to them to take care of their younger siblings, making them more responsible. When the second child is born, parents’ attention shifts to them, making the oldest child independent.

2. Are oldest children more attractive?

The birth order may not determine the attractiveness of a child. However, the older child can be more serious and responsible. The younger children, on the other hand, tend to be carefree and more relaxed. Nonetheless, it cannot be generalized, and every child has unique personality traits.

Oldest child syndrome comprises the behavioral changes exhibited by your firstborn after the birth of their younger sibling. They may show dominating tendencies, develop an unhealthy competitive attitude, and become controlling. However, these changes in their behavior and emotions are natural and experienced by most older siblings. Try the tips mentioned here to help your child overcome their insecurities. Further, spend whatever spare time you have with them, and ensure you give them your undivided attention. If you feel you are unable to help your child, you could seek help from professionals.

Key Pointers

  • Obsession, desire for perfection, high self-esteem, or pressure to meet parents’ expectations are common signs of oldest child syndrome.
  • Children with oldest child syndrome could show dominance and act as second parents to siblings.
  • You can help the child overcome it by not expecting much from them, paying special attention, and spending time with them.

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Dr. Meenakshi is a dentist and a passionate writer with over eight years of experience in dentistry and four years in writing. She started her career as a dentist with a dental chain in Mumbai and soon rose to lead the clinic as a Head Dentist. She then switched to working for two start-ups in healthcare, before beginning her own...
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Dr. Neha Bhave Salankar is a consultant psychiatrist at Bhave Institute of Mental Health based in Nagpur. Having been a meritorious student throughout, she bagged the prestigious gold medal for medicine in MBBS as well as in MD psychiatry. She also took training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru. She is...
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What Is Eldest Daughter Syndrome & How to Heal From It

Because the trauma is real.

If you’re a Twitter addict, you may have noticed a very bitter conversation simmering for the past few months. Yes, there are a lot of bitter conversations on Twitter, but this one has been circulating among adult women who all have one thing in common: They’re the eldest daughters in their families, and have paid what they feel is an unfair price.

“Eldest daughters really are just therapists and marriage counselors for their parents,” one tweet reads, while another user states, “being an eldest daughter is like an unpaid internship for the rest of your life.” Harsh words, sure, but the anger is justified: The Internet is ablaze with eldest daughters expressing resentment for shouldering too much responsibility for their family’s wellness at early ages.

If you’re the oldest, these hurt feelings may resonate with you. And if you’re a younger sibling who was partially (or even fully) parented by an older sibling, you may be discovering that the arrangement was unfair or unhealthy. If you’re a parent, you may be rethinking your current — or past — reliance on your firstborn.

What is “Eldest Daughter Syndrome”?

It’s only a recently uncovered dynamic, but Dara Winley, Ph.D., LFMT, a family and couples therapist, writes that “eldest daughters experience the most pressure as their parents are trying to figure out parenting through trial and error for the first time.”

no one talks about how draining it is to be an eldest daughter. everyone will expect so much from you. from your achievements to chores but not even once received a "thank you" or "i’m so proud of you" and they will easily be disappointed with one fcking mistake.

— IDGAF (@idgafahhk) November 10, 2022

Many eldest daughters are subjected to a form of parentification, which Healthline defines as a type of dysfunction wherein kids take on traditional parenting roles in the household: “​​Instead of giving to their child, the parent takes from them. In this role reversal, the parent may delegate duties to the child. At other times, the child voluntarily takes them on.” Healthline clarifies that in some cases, children take on logistical duties (like paying bills or weekly grocery shopping) and emotional responsibilities, like caring for their parents’ mental health.

The eldest daughter phenomenon specifically describes a family dynamic in which parents place these adult tasks on the shoulders of their eldest, female child. According to Healthline, this can happen for a huge variety of reasons: Parents may have ill health, substance-use disorders, financial hardship, or a long history of abuse that affects their ability to care for the family. Parentification may also happen if one parent dies, or if parents are immigrants and need help navigating an unfamiliar culture. Basically, parents feel deeply overwhelmed and lean on their children for help.

Why do daughters often bear the brunt and not sons? Ellen Bradley-Windell, LCSW, the co-founder and clinical director of the Valencia Relationship Institute, explains, “Girls, as opposed to boys who have the eldest role, are often expected to be more responsible, and care for their other siblings, emulating the role of their mother. ” Meaning that if a mother takes on a traditional role in the family — caring for and running the household — the eldest daughter might mimic some of those behaviors.

Gail Gross Ph.D., Ed.D., the author of How to Build Your Baby’s Brain: A Parent’s Guide to Using New Gene Science to Raise a Smart, Secure, and Successful Child adds that parents placing too many burdens on their eldest can result in an unfortunate feedback loop — especially when parents want their eldest daughter to assume consistent responsibility for younger siblings. After a daughter fulfills these tasks, an appreciative parent may reward their eldest daughter with affirmation. Receiving positive reinforcement, the child may continue to seek out those responsibilities. If the parent gives into that impulse, ”the child loses her childhood.”

Eldest daughters, rest & self-care isn’t something we have to earn, it’s a necessity. In a lot of our households, resting is seen as a sign of laziness. We may feel a lot of guilt for prioritising our needs and listening to our body but remember you are deserving of rest.

— HomeGirlsUnite (@HomeGirlsUnite) November 12, 2022

How to heal from the eldest-daughter effect

Becoming too responsible at a young age can have long-term ramifications. Dr. Gross says that women who took on their parents’ struggles are likely to ignore their own emotions: “By parenting her parents, and taking over some of their responsibilities, the oldest daughter, in a sense, is suppressing her own feelings, wants, and needs,” she explains. “She loses the capacity to not only recognize how she feels, but also to speak her feelings. As the oldest daughter enters adulthood, she may experience sadness and depression without identifying a reason for either. This state can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as personality disorders and free-floating anxiety.”

Untangling complicated family dynamics can be overwhelming (to say the least), but Bradley-Windell points out that narrative therapy can help eldest daughters make sense of their experiences. “See the situation from an adult perspective,” she says. “Know that you didn’t do anything wrong. All you knew was that you were being compliant and doing what was expected of you.”

Bradley-Windell also suggests focusing on forgiveness — a child who was parentified can take steps to forgive their parents, but also take steps to forgive themself. She suggests “literally talking to your younger self and saying something like, ‘I’m sorry you had to be put in that role when you didn’t know better.’ Forgive the little girl who felt so alone because she couldn’t do things her friends were doing and wasn’t able to just be a kid.”

Bradley-Windell says that acknowledging some of the positive results of this situation can help, too. To focus on the good, she recommends an affirmation like, “My independence and ability to navigate adulthood stems from how independent I needed to be as a child, which has helped me throughout my life.”

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Dr. Gross says that therapy is key to resolving childhood issues, but that an overburdened eldest daughter might have trouble asking for help in the first place: “Once you’ve experienced parentification, you might find it difficult to trust those in a parental role, such as a therapist. ” She suggests combatting that aversion by carefully, repeatedly rehearsing a request for support so that “you can strengthen your resolve to step out of your comfort zone and seek help.”

She also points out that if you don’t feel comfortable with one-on-one therapy, “group therapy and support groups offer a very good beginning to a lifetime of self-discovery.”

How to prevent yourself from perpetuating this pattern?

Unfortunately, we often unconsciously repeat dysfunctional family dynamics — it’s one of the most annoying parts of being human, and a deeply hard habit to break. If you’re a parent, you may find yourself heaping responsibility upon your eldest daughter without realizing it.

If you’ve been an overly responsible oldest daughter or were partly raised by an overburdened older sister, you can break that cycle with your own children.

Bradley-Windell recommends generally approaching parenting with mindfulness. Take the time to question your instincts: “As soon as you start to react or respond instinctually, take a pause to reflect on what this experience was like for you, and how you’ll prevent anything negative from repeating itself. What would you have wanted your mom to do differently?”

the oldest daughter urge to be the family therapist

— 🙂 ♀ (@babydelatine) November 16, 2022

Dr. Gross adds that as a basic rule, you can prevent perpetuating this dynamic by steadfastly sticking to your role as a parent: “Don’t ever change roles with your child.” That means giving your oldest kid space to be themselves instead of turning into a mini-you: “Avoid making the oldest daughter responsible for her younger brother and sisters. Allow and encourage your oldest child to be a child without the burden of parental duties.”

Of course, acting mindfully can be easier in theory than in practice. Rewiring your perception of family, parenting, and childhood won’t happen overnight, so Bradley-Windell suggests seeking community online when you’re feeling overwhelmed. “Resources like The Common Parent from Cat & Nat is a great place to start — you can search by specific topics and themes where experts have provided valuable insights and education on very specific issues. ” Naturally, she also reminds us that you can’t go wrong with an expert, outside perspective. “Seek out professional help to better explore the norms you may be less familiar with, and to help you manage what to expect of your own kids during their various developmental stages.”

If you’ve already raised an eldest daughter, we’re definitely not implying that you necessarily overburdened her. However, if some of the patterns and signs in this article make you uncomfortable, consider that you may have reversed roles at times. And if your daughter has explicitly stated or implied that she raised her siblings, took care of you or another parent, or kept the family running, then she’s made herself pretty darn clear.

While it may be tempting to offer a simple “I’m sorry,” both of our experts say that a true apology can’t happen unless you take steps to rethink your behavior. Bradley-Windell says that a solely verbal apology can do more harm than good: “Apologizing may actually put them back into the parental role, because while you’re taking responsibility for your actions, you’re not necessarily being solution-minded.

Dr. Gross points out that an effective apology will come from within — and present itself in the way you treat your child from now on. “Actions speak louder than words. By changing your behavior toward your oldest daughter and encouraging her to only be responsible for herself, you lift the heavy duty of parenting from her shoulders.”

You might even need to reevaluate what types of dialogue you have with your child. Dr. Gross says to take the focus off yourself: “​​Don’t defend, don’t make excuses, don’t beat yourself up.” These behaviors will deflect or shut down your child’s emotions.

And if you’re still unsure how to ask your child what your parenting might have lacked, Dr. Gross recommends a line that can cut to the heart of the issue: “Tell me what you need from me.”

"Big Sister Syndrome": why it occurs and how it affects our future

Adults often underestimate youth social networks, call them a waste of time and believe that they are only suitable for videos with cute animals, dancing and other antics. However, seemingly funny videos can be one of the forms of communication between young people about really serious problems and inner experiences.

For example, recently TikTok began to actively discuss the "big sister syndrome". Users in the form of ironic sketches began to spread their thoughts about how they were affected by the birth of a second (or more) child in the family.

There are now over 173 million clips under the #oldersister hashtag. We decided to find out if this syndrome really exists, how it affects girls and how dangerous it is for their future.

Causes of the syndrome

"Big sister syndrome" is a special case of the more well-known phenomenon - "older child syndrome".

Before the birth of a brother or sister, the eldest child, being the only one, was the center of the family, he had little reason to doubt the love of his parents. With the advent of a brother or sister, in his opinion, the situation changed dramatically - the love of parents had to be shared with someone else.

“This is how the 'trauma of dethronement' arises. The child ceases to be the only one, envy arises and competition is formed. And this is normal, it is biologically and psychologically obvious, ”says psychologist and psychotherapist Irina Belousova.

Most often, children between the ages of three and six get into this situation, they are just going through the Oedipal period - they learn to identify themselves, come to terms with their "I". In a situation where parents devote more time to other children, the child experiences difficulties with self-determination and independence too early and begins to look for the cause of the problem in himself.

“He remembers how he was loved before the birth of his brother or sister and how attention was cut back after. And the child’s psyche is usually egocentric and gives the installation: “Everything that happens is all because of me,” the psychologist explains. In her opinion, girls are more difficult to cope with this complex, so this syndrome has separated into a separate phenomenon.

The path to success

The development of "big sister syndrome" has two sides of the coin. The first is the girl's thoughts that she can win back the love of her parents. For example, with the help of good grades, certificates or merit in sports.

“She has an illusion: “If I bring achievements and be good, I will probably get back the lost 'throne'. And parents do not understand what is behind the fives and the Olympiad diplomas, which can already be pasted over the walls. They really sincerely rejoice at the success of the older child, and this, in turn, only “sharpens” the older sister for achievements even more, ”says Irina Belousova.

If this situation is not accompanied by at least some manifestation of warmth from the parents, then in adulthood a person can become emotionally deaf and melancholy, as well as begin to suffer from problems in the sexual sphere and low self-esteem.

“Older sisters who live in constant struggle are always on the fine line between flash of triumph and depression. In such cases, aggression towards parents for rejection - forbidden, unaccepted, unreasonable - turns on one's own "I".

Endless questions to myself begin: “Why am I not like that? What sins have I committed? What else do I need to do to finally earn love? Belousova explains. Some psychoanalysts call this condition "negative narcissism."

Big sister syndrome - Natalya Anatolyevna Bogdan, a good psychologist.. yes, just

For those who can't understand why they endure a bad attitude towards themselves for an infinitely long time, and strive to respond to evil with good. Regardless of gender.

When a child is born, he gets the feeling that he is the center of the universe, the whole world revolves around him, and in exactly the direction he wants to go now. And this is good, "the theater begins with a hanger" - if the first acquaintance with the world is successful, this will be a good help in overcoming further difficulties. A positive first experience charges us with faith and strength in case difficulties begin.

And then one day you will know that this is no longer the case, you are no longer the center of the world. This event can come into your life in many ways. Sometimes gradually, in small portions, which alternate with light stripes. And sometimes, like a blow - once and for all and "without the right to correspond", without the possibility of at least sometimes being in the same place.

Such displacement is necessary and useful and important, especially if done in a humane way. Because: yes - life does not revolve around you. By her own.

But, since you have known this pleasant feeling, you want to experience it again and again. And so you learn to do it. And, from time to time, you succeed, and then more and more often, getting better and better... not the most important, not the most beloved. Every normal child should experience this event as unpleasant. No one can rejoice in the fact that he is no longer the center. No one can feel love for someone who took your "window seat" away from you.

It is normal for a child to experience this displacement, experience gradually and smoothly, sometimes still return to the center of the solar / family system, sometimes, together with a brother / sister, experience how both of you were displaced by your parents for some other reason.

A lot depends on the parents here. You can sow eternal competition and hostility, or you can create truly brotherly love and friendship between your children.
Of course, parents tend to the second option. And very often they use this technology for this: they inspire the elder that it is a great joy - the appearance of the younger, that it is so wonderful - to play with him, help him, babysit him, it's so wonderful - to share toys and tasty treats, walk with him, and not with your friends.

A frightened elder feels that in order to at least sometimes be able to be in the same place of a beloved child, one must definitely give up one's own joys, one must put the interests of another/younger above one's own, one must respond to his "evil" (scattered toys, wet pants) " good" - to regret, to clean up after him, to do instead of him.

This is how a wonderful older sister (sometimes a brother) turns out. And then a wonderful person, taught to pay attention not to those he likes, but to those who need him. A person who will forgive and forgive, regret and regret, endure and endure. After all, only under this condition does he receive an inner right to at least count on love.

This is how parents teach their child to turn their own feelings inside out: suppress internal aggression, resistance, self-defense and self-preservation, instead of showing them, but in an acceptable form; instead of learning to express them competently and in a variety of ways, these feelings are simply ignored, crushed, and internally reprimanded. And they are taught to use self-infringement, self-sacrifice inadequately more often than necessary, and even more often than is permissible, which forms a person who is shy of compliments, never takes the best piece from the table, decides to buy only if this thing is at a discount, markdown.

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