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Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Sunday, October 23, 2005


The manager and the reverse psychologist

Some lay great claim to the idea that birth order determines personality traits and is a good indicator of how a child sees himself or herself. Some think that’s a bunch of hooey and claim that many factors--including economic status of family, trauma in childhood, and illness--are what influence how a child, and eventually an adult, behaves, acts, and see himself or herself.

Which school of thought is right? What do you believe?

Having kids is the most important--and most interesting--social experiment I will ever undertake. I spend a lot of time wondering how my nurturing is affecting my kids long-term. On a bad day, I wonder how my lack of nurturing is affecting them. I also wonder how big a role nature plays in the unfolding of their budding personalities.

Does birth order fall under the nature category or the nurture category? If I had made the choice to have only one child, would Emily's personality be different? If we make the choice to have a third child, are we doing a terrible disservice to Thomas by turning him into the dreaded--and emotionally deprived--middle child?

If I don't know the answer to how to get a two-year-old to pee somewhere other than her pants, I certainly don't know the answer to questions like these. All I do know is that I have two kids with which I spend inordinate amounts of time. And because I spend so much time with them, I notice certain traits that seem to jive with popular notions of how first-borns and second-borns are supposed to act.

Take Emily, my first born, for example. According to this Birth Order chart, she feels she must "gain and hold superiority over other children," and she "strives to please." And it's true: now that she has a younger brother to lead and manage, she's performing both of those functions very well.

In our house, Emily's the boss and younger brother Thomas is the employee. We hear a lot of "No, Thomas, No!" and "Dance, Thomas!" So she's bossy but sometimes in a nice way. Emily also looks out for Thomas like any good manager would. If she sees his bottle on the floor, she picks it up and hands it to him. When cookies are being doled out, she says, "Thomas cookie, too!" She pleases Thomas by looking out for him and by looking out for him, she pleases us.

As my second born child, Thomas "always has a sibling ahead who is more advanced," and "may be a rebel." Therefore, Thomas is forced to try harder to be a leader or discover unique ways to get out from under the limelight of his older sister. In Thomas's case, the rebelliousness is subtle: he's the master of reverse psychology.

My mom noticed Thomas's clever use of reverse psychology when we were at a crowded indoor play area at a local mall. Thomas was playing with a toy and another little girl came over to play with it. He carefully went over to another toy and feigned interest in it. The little girl followed him like she would the pied piper. Once she was busy with the second toy, Thomas raced back to the first toy. He tricked her into getting what he wanted.

I believe that making assumptions about personality based on birth order is fun and interesting; much like making assumptions about the future or the present based on fortune cookies and horoscopes is fun and interesting. If I pull a fortune out of a cookie and I think it's apt, I stick it on my fridge or pin it on my bulletin board. If I read my daily horoscope and it seems to hit the proverbial nail on the head, I might cut it out as proof that my life is definitely going to change and--as the horoscope reveals--for the better.

Like with fortunes in cookies or predictions in horoscopes, I have a take it or leave it attitude with birth order assumptions. There's no right or wrong; if the shoe fits, wear it. If not, move on to the next pair. Or, in this case, the next half-baked theory or notion that makes for great bulletin board fodder.

Fortune cookie wrap-up
Emily: You will become a great leader perhaps even the manager of a Walmart. You are righteous and fair and believe everybody deserves their own cookie.

Thomas: You will become a great leader perhaps even the manager of a Walmart. No one will question your authority but some will wonder how you ended up with the best office and the cutest secretary.