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Is middle-child syndrome a thing? It’s certainly something psychologists have spent decades researching. Studies have come up with some interesting data. Science Direct reports that middle children are less likely than youngest and oldest children to turn to their parents for comfort during times of stress. The research also showed that middle children are the least likely to identify with their parents – as in, when asked if they see their parents’ character traits in themselves, they tend to say they do not. Research out of the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that middle children are the least comfortable talking to their parents about uncomfortable topics like sex education, and might be the most likely to develop issues with depression.

 

With all of this in mind, one can see how parents should probably pay close attention to the development of their middle child. Being the middle child isn’t easy. You’re not given the respect and freedom of the oldest child, nor are you babied and coddled like the youngest. What’s left as far as perks go for the middle child? They’re often stuck being bossed around by their older sibling, and being given babysitting duties over the younger one. It’s not always the fairest of trades. If you do have an odd number of children, here are some mistakes to be aware of that parents make with middle children.

middle child syndrome

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Uneven disciplining

Middle children can feel like they get the worst of all worlds when it comes to being disciplined. Parents might have learned some things and had some experiences with the eldest child that made them develop stricter guidelines for the second. The middle child watches the older one have more autonomy, while they face harsher rules. Meanwhile, the youngest child gets away with everything, always under the excuse of, “They’re a baby. They didn’t know any better. You should have known better.” Whichever way they look, the middle child sees their siblings enjoying looser discipline than they do. It’s important that parents discipline their children fairly, and evenly, to prevent rebellious behavior from the middle kid.

middle child syndrome

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Never having a room of their own

Middle children can get the bad end of the accommodations deal. They might first have to share a room with the eldest child, who probably resents sharing a room they at one time had to themselves. So there’s tension there, and the eldest might act like the boss of the room. Just when the eldest gets their own room and the middle child might get their own, the baby comes along. And then the middle child has to share a room with the youngest. It can feel like they totally miss their chance to have a place to call their own.

middle child syndrome

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Under-celebrated accomplishments

It’s common for parents to be incredibly proud of everything their first-born does. Scientific American even reports that first-born children tend to have the highest success. It could be due to a combination of high expectations, and then also the motivating high praise that comes with being a first-born. So they’re the golden child. Then the baby has a parade thrown for every tiny thing they do, from simply tying their shoe to not making a mess while making a sandwich. The middle child can feel that their accomplishments are under-celebrated. They’re never as good as the eldest, and they’re held to a much higher standard than the youngest.

middle child syndrome

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Never having anything of their own

The sharing goes beyond bedrooms for middle children. The age gap between children can play a big part in this. If parents had the two first children close together, and then the third one much later, it’s common that there will be many hand-me-downs passed from the first to the second, but the third gets a lot of their own things. At that point, the parents may have more resources to buy the baby of the family all new things. So the middle child gets the worst of it, never getting anything all brand new, never-used, that they can make their mark on.

middle child syndrome

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Putting them in the middle of fights

It’s common for parents to put the brunt of the blame on the middle child when a fight breaks out between all three children, or even just the middle child and one other. If the middle child fights with their baby, they’re told, “You should set an example. You should have taken the high road.” If they fight with their older sibling, they’re told, “Hey, you should respect your older sibling.” Somehow, they’re always wrong. If a fight breaks out between all three of them, it’s hard for the parents to believe any real tension arose between the eldest and the baby, because they’re so far apart in age, so they assume the middle child is the glue in this dispute.

middle child syndrome

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Comparing them to the others

The middle child might be constantly compared to their siblings. Their parents tell them to be more responsible, more mature, more ambitious, etc…like their older sibling. They tell them to be sweeter, more playful, less serious, and more easygoing…like their youngest sibling. It seems that the parents have assigned clear character traits to the oldest and the youngest, and then everything the middle child does is held under the light of comparison. It’s important that parents let their kids develop their own personalities, without the pressure of being similar to their siblings. And it’s important that parents celebrate those differences.

middle child syndrome

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Under-documenting their big moments

It’s easy for parents to forget to document their middle child’s big moments. Everything the eldest does is a huge deal because they are the first. They’re the role model for the others. They’re practically the spokesperson for all of the children. So every recital and tournament they’re in is well-documented with photos and videos. Everything the little one does is well-documented too because it’s just so cute. They’re the baby. And because they’re young, the standards for their achievements are lower. So everything they do is photographed and filmed. Parents should make sure they don’t accidentally wind up with very little footage of the middle child’s accomplishments. They can’t go back in time and remedy that.

middle child syndrome

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Leaving them to their own emotions

As a self-fulfilling prophecy, some parents can believe that when their middle child is upset, they are just being a middle child. They can project that idea onto them, and when they see them pouting, assume they just want attention, rather than thinking something real is wrong. So they can condition themselves to ignore a pouting middle child, and leave that child alone with their emotions. This can actually cause a situation where the middle child feels neglected, and pouts for good reason more and more. It can also lead to the aforementioned issue in which middle children stop going to their parents for comfort when something is wrong.

middle child syndrome

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Never giving them responsibilities

It’s normal that parents think the eldest child should always be in charge. If the kids are working on a home project together, they make the eldest the supervisor. If the parents have to leave for the day, they make the eldest the babysitter. The eldest gets the biggest responsibilities, all of the time. But eventually, the middle child becomes old enough to take on these responsibilities. Just because they’re younger than the eldest, doesn’t mean they’re still young. It can be good for their self-esteem to be put in charge sometimes, instead of the eldest. Never being the one in charge can make them feel that their parents don’t believe in their capabilities.

middle child syndrome

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Letting them stray

Middle children are the most likely to seek relationships outside of the family. They tend to be the most social, and parents might even think there’s value in the middle child finding a social life outside of their siblings. It relieves pressure from the parents to worry about the middle child having company. However, if parents don’t keep an eye on this, the middle child can learn to feel progressively that outsiders are their support system, instead of the family. They might socially disassociate from the family over time, which parents probably don’t want to happen. Keeping open communication and making the middle child feel included is important to keeping them close.

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