Over the weekend, the Doctor and the Dad read an article on the always-popular BabyCenter blog titled “First-born children are smarter because…” by Joey Lombardi. The post seemed like it might give parents some useful information about if, why and how first-born kids end up smarter than their younger siblings. Unfortunately, Joey seemed to struggle with the research he was discussing – he kept trying to cite this one article that he’s pretty sure he thinks he maybe read at some point (but couldn’t quite remember where), and he ended up saying “don’t quote me” on basically everything he just tried to say.
So the article turned out to be kind of a dud.
But don’t sweat it, Joey. Understanding and analyzing psychological research studies isn’t easy – especially when you’re trying to take care of your kid every day too. We totally get that.
But we also get that if you’re writing an article that’s supposed to help your readers learn how to become better parents, you need to take the research you reference more seriously. At the Doctor and the Dad, we joke around a lot – but never about the data. For us, citing a research article without proper documentation is a big no-no. (Like, a “pooping in the bathtub even though we explicitly and repeatedly asked you if you had that poo poo feeling before you got into the bathtub” level no-no). We think that informing parents of current child development research and how it can benefit their daily lives is really important. And we always make sure to link to a bona fide source so that parents can quote us – and then use the information we’ve given them to benefit their kids.
So let’s do some of that right now in order to give you the real deal about first- versus later-borns.
First-borns ARE smarter…in some ways.
Many studies have shown that first-born kids tend to perform better than younger siblings in lots of easily measurable ways, like displaying larger vocabularies and higher IQs. While some of this success comes from parents’ high standards and expectations for their first babies, a great big chunk of first-borns’ developmental superiority can actually be attributed to getting a lot more one-on-one time with Mom and Dad.
Think about it. Having your first child keeps you incredibly busy – so much so that you wonder how you ever complained about being busy before you had a kid. (Seriously. We realize now that we only felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day because we slept ‘til noon every weekend.) But having just one child to take care of doesn’t normally keep you so busy that you don’t have at least some time to talk and read to her during the day. And each time you talk to your kid as you feed, diaper, bathe or read to her, you are helping bump up all those brainy stats.
By the time you have a second kid, your attention – and the time you have for one-on-one interaction – is divided. Your third kid? Let’s just hope you notice him before he eats all your books.
But later-borns have their own special skills.
The good news is that kids born second, third and beyond aren’t helpless inferiors at all. In fact, because of the circumstances they find themselves in, they often develop special expertise at becoming more effective communicators – making up for knowing fewer words by developing more advanced conversation skills.
Younger siblings grow up competing for your attention, so they get super savvy at getting – and keeping – it. We witnessed a great example of this one day when we were in the car with Amber’s sister and her two young kids. Her youngest starting calling, “Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!…” and kept it up until her mom stopped at a light and could finally turn back to look at her. And once our niece had her mother’s attention, she did not let it go – unleashing her secret baby jargon language, and despite the fact that she wasn’t saying any actual words, managing to use her silly cuteness to keep mommy’s attention through the entire red light. (Baby mission accomplished!)
So what are you gonna’ do about it?
Now that we’ve used some real psychological research to figure out what first- and later-borns excel at and why, we’re ready to turn that knowledge into practical parenting lessons for helping all of our children succeed.
…But that’s going to have to wait until Part 2 of this article coming later this week! (Right now, we’ve got to go get a library book out of our son’s mouth. Joey Lombardi knows what we’re talking about.)