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OU on the BBC: Child of Our Time 2010 - Megan's story

Updated Tuesday, 10th October 2006

What does Megan's story tell us about child development?

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Megan: a child of our time Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

In this programme about Megan’s first five years of growing up we see that she seems to have become a rather dominant member of her family, even though she is the youngest. Is this all down to her inborn temperament, or has the environment of her early years played a part?

Parents often express surprise at how different their second or third child is from their first, and sometimes think that they have provided the same environment for each of their children, so it must be a matter of genes, not upbringing.

But it’s not as simple as this, as Megan’s story helps us to see. Megan was born into a family where there were already two children. When this happens, the newborn child has to learn about sharing their parents’ attention right from the beginning, and the more older children there are, the more competition there will be for the parents’ attention.

The first child doesn’t experience this at first, although they still have to share their parents’ attention with all the other things that demand their time. So it can be quite a shock for a first child when a second child is born into a family to suddenly find that they have to take second place to the new sibling.

For the second child, things are very different, and second children have more opportunities to learn about sharing. Most parents make efforts to recognise these differences, and it doesn’t mean that any of the children necessarily suffer. But it does mean that each new child is born into a new family dynamic, a different environment.

Megan was born into a family with lots of competing calls on the parents’ time: as well as her two siblings’ needs, the demands of a farm don’t run on a nine to five schedule. But Megan found that she had ways of getting her fair share of attention and sometimes, perhaps, getting a bit more!

From what Gaynor and Rhodri say, they are keen to encourage their children to take initiatives, to make the most of the opportunities of living on a farm, so the space was there for Megan to express herself and take on tasks that simply wouldn’t be available for a child living in a city, which must contribute to her growing sense of mastering lots of challenges.

This story tells us is that what we’re born with doesn’t determine our childhood, but it does affect how we may take advantage of the opportunities that our place in our family offers us, which is unique to us, just like our genes.

To find out more about siblings and the effects of birth order, explore the impact of siblings.





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