Being the Youngest Child

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Being the youngest child in a family has definite advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, babies are fussed over and pampered. They enjoy special status in the pecking order and often get away with behavior that other family members can't. On the other hand, many youngest children feel that they never quite measure up to their more experienced and accomplished siblings. To borrow a phrase from a famous comedian, they get no respect.

Psychologists use a variety of words to describe last-borns: affectionate, sensitive, people-oriented, attention-seeking, indulged, dependent, laid-back, tenacious, absent-minded, relaxed, fun, flaky. What family relationships might be at work molding youngest children into these diverse shapes?

Relationships with parents
Some parents look on their youngest child as their last chance to do everything right. In these families, the youngest may feel a great deal of performance pressure, similar to a firstborn. Other parents seem to decide that they will never allow their last child to be unhappy, ever. The predictable effect of constantly catering to the child's wishes is to make her into a demanding, dissatisfied tyrant. Psychologists sometimes refer to such a child as being "enthroned."

In most families, however, last born is a relatively low-pressure position. The parents have more experience under their belts and are more likely to take a laissez-faire attitude toward such issues as developmental milestones, toilet training, dating, and so on. They are more confident that things will work out for the best., and their relationship with their last-borns is less intense than with the older children. This makes sense because the parents have to divide their attention among more children.

Having somewhat more distance in their relationship with their parents can give last-borns freedom to explore new ideas and new places. On the other hand, if the emotional distance is too great, youngest children may feel...
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