Family relationship

The family is a network of relationships. The behaviour of each member is at least partly governed by his position in the family. Parents do not, for example, behave in exactly the same way towards all their children. They will be more anxious and often more strict with their first-born child, much more relaxed with later-born children.

First-born and only children tend to be ‘achievers’. They may also get on better with adults and tend to be more anxious than second or third children. These younger children have two models from which to learn: their elder brothers or sisters as well as their parents. Perhaps in consequence they are usually more sociable and at ease with other children, and less prone to worry.

All children need to feel they hold an important place in the family. It is usually easiest for the oldest and the youngest to feel special; their very place in the family order confers some sort of status upon them. The middle child, or a younger child in a large family, may have to struggle to create an identity, perhaps by taking on the role of ‘mother’ to the youngest child, or by extravagant behaviour that demands attention. Siblings of the same sex often compete with each other, especially when they are close in age – much more so than siblings of the opposite sex.


The presence of twins in a family can be difficult for other siblings. They may feel resentful of the ‘special-ness’ attached to being a twin, or the attention they attract, especially if they are identical twins. Parents may have to make extra effort to treat their twins as two individuals, so that they do not grow up to feel that being a twin is the most important thing about them. If they are continually treated as a double act, dressed in the same clothes and given the same toys, twins may find it hard to establish a separate identity. However, when they first start school there is no need to make any special effort to separate them, by sending them to different schools. Later such separation is likely to come about naturally, either because the children themselves want it, or bacause they come to have different interests or educational needs.