Middle child syndrome is a real problem that parents of multiple children face. When middle children feel ignored by their parents, they tend to act out. Their behavior can be disruptive and destructive to the family dynamic. Learning to recognize the signs of middle child syndrome, as well has how to prevent and treat it, will lead to closer family relationships and a happier home life for everyone.
Alfred Adler, a colleague of Sigmund Freud’s, believed that the order in which a child is born into a family affected the personality traits of the child. His theory is that differing parent attitudes towards oldest, middle and youngest children affects the child’s personality and behavior. Birth order may also affect the child well into adulthood.
Middle Child Syndrome
Middle child syndrome refers to the feelings a child in the middle of the birth order have about being unimportant compared to their siblings. Middle children never get the benefit of having the undivided attention of their parents like the oldest does, and the attention they receive is further split once a younger sibling is born. This perceived lack of individual attention can manifest itself in the child and cause personality and behavioral problems.
Parents tend to be more attentive with the oldest and youngest, leaving the middle child to fight for individual attention. The middle child is not celebrated for accomplishing milestones because parents aren’t as excited, having already experienced these moments with the oldest. Parents also tend to concentrate their attention on the youngest because the younger children need more from them.
Symptoms and Behaviors
Middle children tend to suffer from low self esteem. They believe that they are not special or unique in anyway. Middle children also grow resentful of the lack of personalized attention and often vocalize these feelings. The resentful feelings often lead to sibling rivalry. Middle children tend to fight for attention and crave the spotlight within the family. The behavior of middle children tends to go between extremes. They may be rebellious at some times and extreme people-pleasers at others.
Prevention and Treatment
To prevent middle child syndrome, parents need to give middle children enough attention before they see signs of a problem. Even if your child does begin to show resentment, it is not too late to change their behaviors. Praise each child for the unique qualities and skills that set them apart from their siblings. Dispel sibling rivalry by taking steps to avoid perceived favoritism. Treat each child as an individual and do not make comparisons between children. Lastly, make special time for the middle child. This can be done by asking what they would like for dessert or scheduling a special day where they get to choose the activities you will be doing.