Middle Child Syndrome – Fact Or Fiction?

Middle child syndromeCouples who have two children and who wish to complete their family with a third child, often hear of the middle child syndrome, or they are cautioned against having a third child because of it! The question is does this syndrome truly exist and if it does, what are the consequences of adding baby number three to a two-child family?

Child experts are divided on the validity of the middle child syndrome, with some saying that the syndrome is purely fictional and all children, regardless of their birthing order or their position in the family, will at some time or other feel or experience the same emotions as the so-called middle child (or the second born child). The other half of experts are armed with supporting evidence that show that the second-born child in a three-child family exhibit the same or similar symptoms and as such, this is proof enough that the middle child syndrome is a reality and the effects of this syndrome will be felt by the child well into adulthood.


The common symptoms that are experienced by the middle child

  • Reclusive – A number of middle children seem to be introverted and reclusive and it is often common to find a middle child growing up to become a loner. Research which has been conducted into the effects of growing up as a middle child is that the growing up child spends a lot of their time alone and as such, struggles to form meaningful relationships. The oldest and the youngest child tend to form a bond, leaving the middle child to feel like an outsider.
  • A diminished sense of belonging – A middle child typically feels that they have no place or rightful position in the family or they feel they do not fit into the dynamics of the family. They are not the baby nor are they the oldest. To this end, they may feel unwanted or even ignored.
  • Reduced self-esteem. Self-esteem issues are stems from the child’s inability to form relationships and the fact that they have a reduced sense of belonging.
  • Little sense of direction – Children suffering from this syndrome often have trouble finding direction in life and do not feel at ease confiding in their parents or in their siblings. With their unease in confiding in those who are close to them, the middle child becomes untrusting or develops a cynical attitude.
  • Continually seeking attention and love – The fact that a child who is born in the middle struggles with trust issues and with lowered self-esteem, often causes them to use negative behaviour as a means to attract attention. As such, a number of kids who are a middle child appear have behavioural issues.
  • Never show favouritism – For some parents, this may prove to be difficult however; children are quick to pick up on even the most subtle hints and gestures. If the oldest child achieves high marks, is excellent on the sport field and is an all-round, well-balanced child – do not use this child as a gauge to measure the success of the second or subsequent children. This is true for any child regardless of their birth order. Each child is unique and each child has their own weaknesses and strengths. Families should rejoice in the strengths and help children to overcome shortcomings. Favouritism in a family will not only cause the middle child syndrome to become more pronounced, but it will have a far-reaching effect and very harmful impact on the whole family. Children who are continually compared to their older or younger sibling will develop a resentment to the -valued’ child and they will feel that they are unable to live up to their parent’s expectations.
  • Improve a child’s sense of belonging – parents should try for good child spacing. A middle child who has had little time to bond with parents and who has little time to find their footing in the family because the third child is close in age, may suffer from a diminished sense of belonging. The newly-arrived infant will take up much of the parent’s time and attention, leaving the middle child to feel unloved and neglected. Most childcare experts recommend that a two or even three year gap between siblings is reasonable. If however, the third child arrives within a year after the second child, the parents need to try to ensure that the second and first child is given sufficient attention and is made to feel special, wanted and loved.
  • Parents may subconsciously attach a lot of importance to the first and last child – and even though their actions are not deliberate, the middle child will feel that they are unimportant and they may seem to constantly compete with the youngest and oldest child. It is important for parents to recognise that valuing the first and last child will have devastating consequences for the middle child.
  • Families are urged to find activities that interest each individual family member and allow a child to enjoy -alone’ time with mom or dad. The middle child syndrome may very well have little or no effect if the child is given equal attention by their parents.


How can parents prevent the syndrome from affecting their family?

The fact of the matter is that the middle child syndrome need not become an issue if parents take into account the needs of each of their children on a personal level, regardless of their birth order. By using positive parenting skills, the effects of the middle child syndrome can be prevented all together. Positive parenting and by making sure that all children in the family are provided with sufficient attention and if they are seen and recognized as individuals, will allow a child to grow up with a developed sense of self-worth and an enhanced sense of belonging!

Interestingly once a fourth or subsequent child is born; the affects of the middle child syndrome are significantly reduced, which is perhaps a further indication that this syndrome is indeed fact rather than fiction.

 – Kathy


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