CHILDREN / Dethronement

Click to follow
THIS is an apt term hijacked from Freudian psychology by developmental psychologists. It describes an experience exclusive to first- borns which may be crucial to their personal development and future relationships.

Professor Judy Dunn and her group studied 40 families in Cambridge, watching children at home with their families and questioning mothers about their relationship with the children. This was done over three periods: three months before the birth of their second child, two to three weeks afterwards and 14 months afterwards.

Not surprisingly, the mothers' attention switched unavoidably to the new arrivals after the birth. They had less time to chat, help and generally show interest in the older child (average two years old). After a few years' basking in their parents' undivided attention, the older children were understandably put out; family friction increased as they fought to maintain their number one status, an impossible goal for at least the first few weeks, if not forever. Older children became tearful during this time, more demanding and more negative towards their mothers. Some even lost previously learnt toilet habits. Despite this, two-thirds showed affection towards the new baby. It was mum they felt had let them down.

Dunn stressed that there are striking differences in the reactions of first-borns, with some proving more vulnerable than others. For some, the effects can be lasting and more vulnerable children may continue to feel more jealous and upset into middle childhood and adolescence. These feelings are most likely to resurface in terms of general insecurity and anxiety at times of family crisis or upheaval. In later life, dethronement can also mean that vulnerable first- borns retain an added sense of competitiveness and rivalry, although the impact may lessen as peer groups and the experience of school become more important.