Tips for Parenting First Borns and Oldest Children

Get six important tips for parenting your first born child. Learn what to do and what not to do with your oldest child.

Parents with oldest child

I find The Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman to be very interesting on many levels.

As an individual, I find it interesting to get some insight into why I am the way I am.

As a spouse, I find it enlightening to get some insight on why my husband does some of the things he does.

As a parent, I find it valuable to get some advice on how to parent my different children.

My last post on Birth Order was advice for parenting all birth orders. Leman also goes into further detail on each individual birth order group, and that is where we will visit next, starting with first borns and only children. This is my take on the chapter.

A huge obstacle you need to take note of and handle carefully with your first child is perfectionism. As Leman points out,

“When you are little–very little–and try to imitate someone much older and bigger, you soon get the idea you have to be “perfect”.

(page 269)

So what is the first rule for parents toward their first born?

Don’t nitpick–don’t fix

A lot of parents can do this without realizing it. Your little one wants to be just like you and wants to help you with everything you do.

So she wants to help vacuum. You let her. Then you go over it after she is done.

This can give her the message that what she did wasn’t good enough. This can happen with folding socks, making beds, dusting…anything really.

A whole lot of parenting books talk about the importance of not going behind your child and re-doing chores.

Most of the books I have read have given this advice because doing so can cause a child who won’t do chores well–why bother?

Leman brings up a good point that it can make the child feel like she isn’t good enough and that she never will be.

>>>Read: How To Help a Perfectionist Child Who Won’t Try

Hey, I understand the desire to fix something that isn’t perfect. I am really glad I first read to not fix behind your kids when Brayden was still a baby. I have to stop myself from doing it!

And don’t think you can fix it when they are out of the room and they won’t notice; they will. I have a good friend who tells stories of her mom fixing things behind her. She knew.

When your child has given her best effort, accept it. Ask for excellence, not perfection.

The next obstacle in parenting your first born is that your child wants to be just like you. And because your first born is the only child to take your time and attention, your will often be overprotective. An important thing for you to do as the parent of this first born is to …

Ask forgiveness

Your child wants to be just like you. If you hide your every flaw or refuse to recognize your mistakes, your child will aspire to the same.

Apologize to your child when you mess up. Ask for forgiveness. It is good for your child to see you acknowledge your mistakes and your own need for improvement. Don’t make excuses for yourself, and don’t blame others (or extenuating circumstances) for your actions.

Take ownership.

The next point with your oldest child (and you can see these could easily apply to any child–these points are especially important to an oldest because of a perfectionist tendency.

A perfectionist takes mom fixing his bed hard, while a non-perfectionist might see that as an opportunity to put in less effort next time since mom will re-do it anyway)…where was I…oh, yes, next point.

Focus on positive

Focus on the positive of what is happening, not the one flaw. Don’t say great job and follow up with the “you missed a spot.” Just end it with the great job.

Your perfectionist oldest child doesn’t need her flaws and mistakes pointed out to her.

Now, this isn’t to say you should go through life never correcting your child or encouraging her to put more effort it. As a parent, you definitely need to do that.

You will have to use your discernment to decide if and when you should say something and if and when you should leave it at the positive.

Next is something that can actually be hard for parents who are not a first born type themselves.

Explain the rules. Explain why

A first born wants to know the rules and he wants to know why (page 287).

When Brayden first started Kindergarten, he was sent home with a list of rules for school. He asked me to read those to him over and over again. I understood that; I am the same way. I like to know the rules.

If you aren’t a rule-follower, be patient when your oldest asks for the rules, and be extra patient when your child asks “why.”

Next, as your child gets older, you will give your child extra responsibilities. If your child has siblings, you will very likely be giving this child more responsibility than younger siblings, which is the correct thing to do. If you don’t do that, work on it. I do know parents who don’t give more responsibility to older kids.

But you need to balance that with privilege.

As responsibility increases, increase privileges. 

A lot of parents will avoid this because they don’t want to listen to the younger children crying because they don’t get XYZ.

Keep things fair to the individual child–not fair among the children.

In other words, a 5 year old and 18 month old shouldn’t have the same responsibilities and shouldn’t have the same privileges. The 5 year old will have chores the 18 month old doesn’t. The 18 month old will take a long nap and the 5 year old will have a short rest time.

Next, firstborns react well to adult interaction. Leman recommends

Two on one time

He suggests you have both parents spend time alone with the oldest.

Oldest children often don’t get as much focussed attention because obviously younger children need more attention than older children so far as physical needs go.

Leman suggests taking the oldest out with you while you run errands or go out to dinner (page 287).

In reality, that sounds like it would be a hard thing to work in consistently. Between normal life and trying to have a regular date night with your spouse, regularly getting a babysitter for the younger children so you can spend time with the oldest seems like an idea that won’t happen because it is too hard to work out.

One thing we do is one on one time with each child by doing dates, which we see great results with. But I agree that two on one would be special to an oldest, so I thought about how to work that in.

I think you could do that at home and still have it be special to the child. You could do it while the younger children were napping. You could do it after the younger children have gone to bed. You could then also try to have some times you left the house with the child, but I think working it in at home sets you up better for success.

My final focus point is

Give help when he asks for it

Leman suggests you don’t be so quick to jump in and help when your child seems to struggle with something.

His example was when reading (page 288). Give your child time to either figure it out on his own or to ask for your help. You don’t want to jump in so much that your child gets the impression she couldn’t possibly do it on her own.


As an oldest child myself, I definitely agree with the things listed here. I see them as ideas that will help your oldest be the best he can be without being too hard on himself.

Naturally, you are not going to be able to be perfect any more than anyone else can be perfect. Do your best, allow your child to do her best, and both of you work on asking for and giving forgiveness.

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4 thoughts on “Tips for Parenting First Borns and Oldest Children”

  1. Thanks for this post Valerie! My husband and I were at a worship conference a couple of weekend ago, and Dr. Leman was one of the keynote speakers. His talk was about marriage, so he only briefly mentioned his other books. Our son is only just a year old, but I can already see bits of a perfectionist in his personality. I think we'll have to read this book!On an unrelated note, thank you so much for this blog! It's been such a great tool for my journey as a mother so far. I share it with a lot of friends who need a bit of guidance regarding sleep and routines. Brittany

  2. I loved this book! I read it when pregnant with my second, and I think I need to go get it again and reread it now that I am pregnant with my 4th. Thanks for the nudge!

  3. This is great for me, a perfectionist raising a perfectionist. Seems like I get a lot of things wrong…but I do ask for forgiveness! 🙂


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