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What does it mean to be a third child?

Can birth order can affect people's personalities and outlook on life? With the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's third child imminent, we spoke to a psychologist to gain insight into what’s in store for royal baby number three.

It’s official: Psychological research suggests birth order can have an impact on personality and personal relationships.

According to Lysn psychologist Elyse McNeil, the position you’re born into within your family can affect many areas of your life long-term, including your view of the world, your emotions and your relationships with parents and siblings. And being a third child can mean you are treated differently by your parents, she says.

So what will this mean for not just the new arrival at Kensington Palace, but for any family expecting a third child? Elyse answers our top questions.

Can the order of our birth affect the way our parents treat us?

Yes, there's actually a theory around third child parenting, which is best explained as a less-controlling approach to raising children. Usually parents will adopt a helicopter parenting-style for their first and maybe even second child. But once the third child comes along, experience enables parents to feel less stressed and less likely to micromanage every aspect of their children’s lives.

Each child in the same family is usually subject to a different style of parenting, largely due to focus and experience. Third child-parenting usually means parents have already built resilience when faced with obstacles and experience allows them to give their child more freedom and enable them to make their own decisions.

Does birth order affect sibling relationships?

The birth order and structure of the family affects sibling relationships, as do things like gender, genetics, temperament and age gaps between each child. However, the characteristics of each child also impact sibling relationships, so the dynamics of the relationship between each child is not as clear-cut.

If they're the youngest in the family, the third-born can be ‘mothered’ or ‘babied’ by their older siblings, which can cause them to become dependent on their siblings. 

How can parents prepare their existing children for the arrival of a third sibling?

Sometimes parents can underestimate the impact a new baby will have on their current children. This is especially true when it comes to having a third child, as most parents assume their children are prepared because they’re used to having a sibling. Unfortunately this is not always the case and it’s not unusual for your children's reactions to be negative. Sometimes they don’t have the ability to articulate complex emotions, so their initial reaction can be of not wanting the baby.

Regardless, it is extremely important to educate your children on how much time and attention a baby needs, perhaps by pointing out that they too were babies once and needed someone to bathe, feed and look after them constantly. Reassure your children that the new baby is not replacing them and make extra effort with the youngest child who may feel like they’re being pushed out of the spotlight.

If possible, in the lead up to the birth try to spend time with friends or family who have babies, to show your children just how much care babies really need. Encourage your children’s involvement in the experience of bringing a new sibling into the family, perhaps by taking them shopping for baby supplies or setting up the nursery. When the baby arrives and is inevitably showered with gifts, consider giving presents to your other children so they don’t become jealous or resentful.

What is the relationship like between a third child and their parents?

The third child can often be the youngest of the family, which sometimes means parents have decided that this will be their last child. Typically for the third child, the parents might relish the joys of parenting with a little more enthusiasm, such as nursing or co-sleeping for longer, which can mean the third child gets ‘babied' for longer.

Many people believe that later-born children don’t get the same amount of attention that first-borns do and this can make the child emphasise their neediness in order to keep their parents' attention for longer.

On a positive note, by the time a parent has their third child, parenting styles become a lot more relaxed, which can allow children to develop more independently. This often means third children have looser boundaries and rules and can get away with more.

What does the third child’s worldview typically look like?

A third child can often view the world differently to their siblings. By the time the third child comes around, their siblings have already been the first to accomplish things and nothing seems original. Unfortunately, this can make the third-born feel like nothing they do is important, especially if parents react with less spontaneous joy to their accomplishments. This could lead them to choose a completely different path to their siblings, to avoid direct competition and comparison.

If they are the youngest in the family, they may grow up expecting others to take responsibility for them, instead of taking responsibility for themselves. This can have a number of negative implications, including lower self-esteem and a depleted view of themselves and place in the world.

What are some character traits of a typical third child?

If the third child is the last born, they tend to be more outgoing, with a charming and social personality. When growing up, the third child is often less knowledgeable compared to older siblings, which can lead to a greater tendency to engage in attention-seeking behaviour to ensure their needs are met and make plays for the spotlight with their adventurousness.

Does a third child tend to develop any relationship patterns later in life?

Similar patterns to those that played out in the family of origin can occur, namely a tendency to be emotionally-dependent and reliant. However, birth order is not a fixed state and as a child gets older, they can learn to develop other ways of interacting and understanding the world.