16 Signs of Oldest Child Syndrome and How to Deal With It

Are you the oldest child in your family? Do you carry a lot of pressure to be successful or to achieve a lot of things? If so, you may be exhibiting signs of oldest child syndrome.

While not all oldest children display these behaviors, there are some common signs to look out for.

According to experts, the following are signs of oldest child syndrome, along with ways to deal with it.

Emilia Moskal

Emilia Moskal

Parenting Content Specialist, HiJunior

Unfortunately, the oldest child is often treated as a secondary parental figure to their youngest siblings.

Their childhoods also differ due to the fact that parents tend to be stricter with their first child than with those after. There are, however, some pros too.

For example, the oldest children receive more toys and have no hand-me-downs. Parents also tend to take a lot more photos of them compared to younger children.

They are natural leaders and overachievers

The expectation on the oldest child can exert a lot of pressure, which then creates a bossy and overachieving attitude.

Related: How to Let Go of Expectations & Why It’s Important

Alongside this, they are naturally pushed into control at a younger age, acting as ‘teachers’ to their younger siblings. Not forgetting the fact that these attitudes may also result in a personality that leans towards being more serious and having a strong drive.

This can, however, also lead to being too overbearing, controlling, and having an unhealthily competitive drive.

Resentment toward their younger sibling

Although this may be difficult to spot from an outsider’s point of view, it is a very common occurrence.

Due to the fact that as the oldest and first child, they were most likely very pampered and used to having 100% of the attention and affection of their parents.

When another sibling comes, they have to learn how to share, which is not always the easiest.

How do we deal with these symptoms?

There are many ways one can counter this, arguably the most important being — spending time with your oldest child. Showing them that they are important and have their own privileges (since their younger siblings can get away with a lot more things!).

Sitting down and speaking with them about opportunities, expectations, and feelings is a great way to not only bond but also counter the two symptoms of the Oldest Child Syndrome.

Understanding that these kids are used to being the “second” authority figure or “teachers” is incredibly important in terms of knowing how to comprehend these children and speak to them.

Allowing their inner child to come out and feel special can ease the competitiveness and need for control.

Moreover, it is the parent’s responsibility to make sure that their child does not feel as if they have to take care of their siblings. It is normal to help out, of course, but they should not feel the pressure of looking after another child.

Ryan Kaczka

Ryan Kaczka

Board Member, ChoicePoint

The title of being the oldest child comes with its own pros and cons. The oldest child syndrome is real; one must be aware of its signs and how to deal with it.

Top three signs of oldest child syndrome:

They are dominating

The oldest child is the most dominating because they see themselves as better than their younger siblings.

The oldest child believes that their ideas and opinions matter the most and that they bring the most interesting ideas to the table. It is in their nature to boss around as they believe that they are second in command after their parents.

The oldest child likes to think of themselves as the teacher for the younger siblings also. They want to import the knowledge they gained from their parents to the younger siblings in their own words.

Not expressive enough

Despite being dominating, the oldest child will always be a little quiet and love to be left alone. Not because they don’t like their family but because they don’t want to express more than what is necessary.

Most parents don’t validate the emotions and feelings of the oldest child, thinking, “he is old enough to understand.”

This leads to the oldest child feeling like their words don’t matter. They would rather mind their own business than disturb anyone.

The need to make everyone happy

The oldest child always has this need to make everyone happy, even if that means compromising their own happiness. They cannot stand their parents feeling down and will do everything in their power to make them happy.

Dr. Rosmy Barrios

Rosmy Barrios

MD and Medical Advisor, Health Reporter

If they feel unhappy because they are imperfect

Being the first offspring of the parents, the eldest child receives many unrealistic expectations of what they should be, what they should achieve, how perfect they should be, and so on.

This kind of parenting usually puts a heavy burden on the child over time because they have to achieve a lot even if they don’t want to.

In fact, when the eldest child grows up, they may not even know what they really want from life because their dreams and goals have been determined by the expectation of their parents.

Such a pursuit of perfection causes a lot of pressure, so a person can feel increased anxiety or depression.

And since perfection does not exist, a person strives for the impossible and thus never reaches the goal, which makes them feel unhappy.

This can only be changed by realizing that living a life of “mediocrity,” setting realistic goals, and practicing gratitude is the only valid path to happiness, while striving for perfection is doomed.

If they show signs of narcissism

A person with the oldest child syndrome may show very strong signs of narcissism, such as dominance or excessively high self-esteem.

Eldest offspring usually assume the parental position when other children are born, as they are assigned to look after and care for them. This is not a bad thing until they feel a sense of power and become controlling.

Over time, this toxic dynamic between the children trains the eldest to seek dominance everywhere.

In the same way, being the oldest child, they’re the only ones who receive their parents’ attention, love, and high expectations for a certain period of time.

Such hype can lead to high self-confidence and sometimes even too much ego. The latter character traits are some of the signs of narcissism that may signal both disorders or one of them.

Only after finding out the true roots of these symptoms is it possible to consider ways of dealing with them.

Sameera Sullivan

Sameera Sullivan

Relationship Expert, Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers

Firstborns have a constant need to be perfect

They are more likely to be sticklers and have higher expectations. They can also be referred to as “achievers.” It is acceptable until they determine their cutoff points. While stressed, this disposition can ultimately lead to success in their lives.

The oldest child rarely jokes about most things and prefers to be separated from the others. This is the situation before their siblings arrive, incredibly not long after.

There isn’t a significant amount of resentment or discouragement. It’s just a part of their personality.

When their younger siblings arrive, firstborn children are pushed into administrative roles. They are driving and assisting their brothers/sisters to become an imbued proclivity that they carry forward even into their future.

It indicates the most well-known child disorder if they become overwhelmed instead of driving.

Michael Powers

Michael Powers

Owner and CFO, Cash For Houses

Being born as the only child in a family, you did not need to share anything. All the toys belonged only to you. No hand-me-down clothing and all the love and affection of your parents were showered upon you. But then the siblings came along.

A lot of jokes are made about “middle child syndrome,” but is there even something such as “oldest child syndrome?” Yes, there is.

Oldest child syndrome is an involuntary consequence of a changed situation. What exactly defines it? Is it good or bad? And how can it be handled? As stated above, the oldest child syndrome can be defined as a change in daily circumstances.

The hierarchy at home has been amended. A child is forced to go from being the only one to having to share his whole livelihood with one or more siblings.

Resentment towards siblings

A child may start resenting their younger siblings since they now have to start sharing love, affection, and physical things around the house.

This may not cause major problems; only when it starts to affect the other children physically will it raise alarm bells.

They have a teacher mentality

Older children may want to act as a teacher/parent figure for their younger siblings. The situation may require intervention when younger siblings are forced to treat the older child as a co-parent.

They tend to want to be perfect in every aspect of their lives

Wanting to be a role model is commendable. Wanting to be the perfect, faultless role model, not so much. Older children tend to want to be perfect in every aspect of their lives. Wanting to lead by example.

Be careful that this perfectionism does not destroy your child. They have to learn how to deal with failure, or else it will affect them later on in life.

Related: Why Is Failure Important in Life? (30+ Reasons Why)

Bossiness and dominance

These two go hand in hand. Obviously, the eldest child has been in the loop longer than the others. Having been exposed to more things and having had more life experience.

Being domineering can be borderline worrisome. Take care to monitor the situation between the children and curb the instances of bossiness.

Harsher punishment

As first-time parents, adults try to do everything perfectly. They can opt to adhere to strict discipline regimens with the children.

This tends to fade a bit as more and more siblings get added to the mix. Parents become more lenient. What was once forbidden for one sibling to do, is now acceptable behavior for the rest. This can affect the older child.

The past cannot be undone, but care can just be taken to treat all children as equals in relation to the discipline side of things.

All the doom and gloom aside, there are actually ways to handle this type of situation. The following are good pointers:

  • Quality time

Schedule weekly quality time with your eldest. Take time to delve a little into their world and figure out what makes them tick. Do not share this time with other siblings.

  • Let them play

We tend to add more responsibility to older children. Try to focus a bit less on this area and allow them more freedom to play and just be children.

Do not drive them to adulthood; enjoy the time with them as kids.

  • Extended Privileges

Being older has more responsibilities but also more privileges. Allow these to your oldest. Give them a bit more time before bedtime. Allow them a wider variety of movies to watch, extended playtime, etc. This will add a bit of “reward” to their newly defined “sibling” status.

Smriti Tuteja

Smriti Tuteja

Content Writer, Yogic Experience

Here are some signs in firstborns that point to oldest child syndrome:

The urge to dominate

Seeing a mewling and puking baby who cannot even move as they run around, firstborns often feel in charge of the situation and tend to lead their younger sibling.

Most younger siblings also imitate their older siblings; thus, a dominating trait may be cemented in the older child.

While it is good to guide and lead, trying to override the sibling and dominate their opinions can get toxic as they get older and is a part of older child syndrome.

Related: 50+ Signs of a Toxic Sibling (According to 10+ Experts)

Perfectionism

It is natural for parents to stress performance and applaud little victories.

However, as another child enters the mix, these little appreciations may make the older child feel that they are better. Thus, perfectionism goes a notch higher and becomes all about outperforming the sibling.

This leads to sibling rivalry, meltdowns upon losing a game, and sometimes aggression and mean behavior. This is a significant sign of older child syndrome.

Inability to accept failure

Academic pressure is often higher on older children because they are expected to be role models for their siblings. This often reinforces the compulsion for success and may lead to situations where failure can depress them. This can cause trouble as they grow older.

Apart from these, older children may become too controlling or may develop feelings similar to parental love. While these feelings may not necessarily be toxic, a lack of boundaries may cause issues later in life.

Here are some ways to avoid or deal with older child syndrome:

  • Do not overburden them with expectations, and let them know that it’s okay to fail.
  • Do not insist them to please people because they are older and you expect better from them.
  • Do not urge them to take care of their sibling independently for long durations.
  • Do not tell them that they have parental responsibilities toward their sibling.
  • Spend some time alone with them so they do not need to compete for love.

While there is no manual to parenting, it is important for parents to spend adequate time with their firstborns. This will help to spot behavioral changes and red flags and address them in time.

Esther Yong

Esther Yong

CEO, Homely Focus

Navigating being the “Experimental Child” and being expected to score full marks

I grew up being the oldest in a two-child family. In the 1980s, the world was developing at a fast rate. I grew up being experimented with in terms of education, diet, and parenting styles.

Although I did not have ample maturity (which a child does), high-performing outcomes were expected from a young age.

It left an imprint that caused me to shy away from growth opportunities that had a chance of failure. After all, it meant I would potentially expose my imperfection to the world and risk getting rejected.

How I am dealing with the hand, I’m dealt

  1. I am participating in holistic activities that encourage a realistic perception of myself. Namely, having one failure in a public area does not mean I deserve to be publicly humiliated.
  2. I now recognize the childhood I had was a slice of the entire human experience. I am consciously changing my valuing of my self-worth to be based on intrinsic value rather than gaining self-worth from what happened to me in childhood.
  3. I become open to change by intentionally talking to others who come from different backgrounds and may see things very differently from me, the oldest child.

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