Is there such a thing as middle child syndrome, and are our children born in between the eldest and the youngest really that different? We look at the phenomenon of the middle child syndrome and whether this theory is something that parents need to be mindful of in their family dynamics.

It’s quite natural for middle children to feel as though they’re getting lost in the midst of family life. There’s your first child who got all of your excitement, love and attention, your youngest child who will get your complete attention when the others have moved out, and the poor middle child who will always have to share your love with their siblings.

This feeling of being forgotten is so common in families that it’s even been given a name – middle child syndrome. Although not technically a scientific diagnosis, you can ask any middle child whether or not they believe it to be true and they’ll likely agree wholeheartedly.

As parents, the last thing we want is to have any of our children feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick. For those kids stuck in the middle though it might be hard for them to feel as though they have a voice, so there are some things we can do to make the journey a little easier for them.

The Middle Child Syndrome

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The idea of the middle child dates back to some of the founding fathers of psychology, Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud. Adler argued with Freud about the impact that the birth order had on children, and it was believed that those born in the middle were somehow disadvantaged.

Although it’s called a ‘syndrome’, this isn’t actually a medical condition and there are no facts to back it up. But for parents of multiple children and those who have been there themselves and lived in a family as a middle child, they’ll tell you that it’s absolutely true.

One theory on the matter is that children who are born in the middle of other siblings resent their position. Extra attention is given to the eldest child and the youngest, which in turn leads to feelings of resentment from the middle child. This may even cause them to act out in ways designed to get attention, and not always in a positive light.

The best way to look at this is as an observation, so it doesn’t mean that every middle child is going to fall into the same category. Psychologists believe that while middle children may feel as though they’re overlooked, it’s something that they will grow out of and will become less obvious as your kids all mature into adults.

The Natural Order of Families

No matter where you live or what type of parent you are, you can pretty much guarantee a few things in the world of family. Families tend to have a natural order and aside from a few exceptions, this might sound pretty familiar at your household.

First/eldest child

When you’re pregnant with your first child and anticipating what parenting will be like, there’s a lot of excitement that goes into it. You’re more careful with handling the baby and likely impose a lot of rules or guidelines for how it will be raised. This child gets all of your attention for the first couple of years until the second arrives.

Second/middle

Children at the amusement park

The middle child is still an exciting time for families, and there is a lot of anticipation surrounding the birth and how they will get on with their siblings. As the older child has an established place in the house, it’s natural for the second child to form their own independent personality, which they may struggle with. There’s never a time when this child is alone with their parents and they may feel as though they missed out on something.

Third/youngest child

When the third child is born, parents are usually a lot more relaxed about the whole process and by now, many of the rules that we in place have been thrown out the window. The third child remains the ‘baby’ of the family regardless of their age and will continue to be looked at and treated as such. When the older two move out of the home, the youngest gets the parents undivided attention for a few years.

How Siblings Compare to Middle Children

Although there is a lot of discussion about middle child syndrome, experts believe that it has to do more with the order of siblings. As we’ve seen, the oldest child is the first and will likely have more rules imposed on them as parents are still testing the waters, no matter what the age.

Older children are believed to have more leadership qualities, with many famous faces in history being first born. Almost all of the US presidents and astronauts to land on the moon have been either first children or first sons. Although this is certainly no indication of greatness, it does highlight the leader spirit that they have.

Famous middle children might be more recognizable for their characters on TV, like one Jan Brady. Always feeling left out, especially when the spotlight shone on older sister Marcia, the middle child syndrome as alive and well with the Brady Bunch. Middle children are believed to be social, loyal, and may act out less than other birth orders, but they can also be resentful of their place.

Tips For Middle Child Parenting

Try as we might, our children still might feel as though we are failing them from time to time. Middle children especially might need some extra attention to feel loved, and there are some simple tips you can try to ensure they are valued.

Make time for them

We get so much time with our firstborn alone and we baby the youngest, so sometimes your middle child might be needing some love. Pick a time each week for just you and them so that you can keep your bond strong and show them that they’re important to you.

Don't compare

Try to avoid comparing your children and pointing out how good one is at something the other lacks. This will only breed resentment and could cause a rift between siblings.

Encourage their differences

If your middle child is especially good at something, like a sport or musical instrument, make a big deal about how gifted they are. Show them that their place in the family is an important one and that they have many things to offer.

Fewer hand me downs

Hand me downs are great for parents as a way to save money, but they can be doing damage to your kids. While it’s certainly fine to keep some things for the younger siblings, it’s also important that they create their own identity with clothing and shoes that fit their style and personality.

Treasure their memories

It’s completely normal for the baby books and first paintings to fall by the wayside when you get to the second child. For your middle child though this can be seen as not caring. Take some time to scrapbook their memories and show them what you’re doing so they feel loved.

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Give extra attention

Middle children sometimes feel the need to act out in order to get attention, and they may be the ones getting into trouble at school or causing a scene at home. To counteract this, try to give them extra attention before it occurs so there’s no need for them to go crazy to get it.

Watch out for them

Middle children can be more mild-mannered than their siblings, which may be used against them. Make sure your middle child isn’t always being used as the peacemaker or mediator between the eldest and youngest siblings. This is your job as a parent and not the role of a child.

Conscious Parenting Of All Children

If the thought of middle child syndrome is keeping you awake at night, remind yourself that it’s not a real condition and something that can be easily rectified in the family dynamics. Make a point of labeling your child anything other than the middle one, and instead focus on their other achievements.

We always do our best as parents to be equal, but at times that doesn’t always work out. As long as we are making a conscious effort to love and respect all of our children individually, there’s no need to worry that it won’t all work out in the long run. Just remind yourself of famous names like Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, and David Letterman, all widely successful middle children in their own right.

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