Middle child syndrome

From first hand experience at being a middle child, I honestly can tell you that middle child syndrome is very real. To what extreme is completely reliant on family dynamics, family function, or dysfunction.

It is claimed by researchers and child psychologists that birth order has a profound effect on how children develop psychologically as they grow into adults.

Alfred Adler, theorist, and middle child himself argued that birth order can leave a major impression on an individual’s lifestyle in relation to how they behave in friendships, work situations, and intimate relationships.

Alfred Adler believed that the second child within a family where there are three children may feel squeezed out of a position of privilege.

This child feels as though they don’t belong. They fight with their siblings for attention from the parents’ because they feel ignored – which leads to feelings of insecurity. This insecurity will most likely affect their relationships for a life time.

The roles:

  • Typically the oldest sibling is controlling,  a high achiever, more like the parents in personality, and tends to be responsible.
  • The middle child is the peace maker, a natural mediator, can be rebellious, and often goes outside of the family for attention and valuable friendships.
  • It is often claimed that the baby of the family is fun loving, self-centred, manipulative, and an attention seeker.

Middle child syndrome: How does it happen?

The first child is given the best deal out of all of the siblings. They reign supreme, and are the centre of the parents’ attention, and supply of love, until of course the second child comes along. The oldest sibling is the only child to ever have the opportunity (even if it is only for a short time) to bask in both of their parents’ attention, without their other siblings constantly interrupting.

By the time the second child comes along the oldest sibling is well and truly the boss, and the only child his or her parents’ already have a secure bond with. This bond with the parents’ provides the oldest child with the opportunity to use their dominance, age, and fluency to maintain and strengthen their union with the parents’, while the middle child is unintentionally left at a loss.

Through no fault of the parents’, middle children lose what is meant to be a time in their life where they are doted on and adored without interruption, to their older sibling, who is more equiped than their younger sibling to secure a strong relationship with their parents.

It often becomes a case of:

‘Well I was here first.’

The oldest child often dominates the middle child, bosses them around, and competes with them for attention. The introduction of a second child means that the oldest sibling now needs to learn how to share, may feel as though they have been thrust off their pedestal, and must now learn how to negotiate.

The middle child often feels as though they walk along in their older sibling’s shadow, ranking at second best.

The arrival of the baby

When the baby comes along, everyone, including the middle child, flocks to this child, dotes on, and adores them, even well into adult hood. The baby is pandered to, adored, and treated like royalty. By the time the baby is born, which is often years down the track, mum and dad have mellowed, and tend to let a lot of things slide, especially when it comes to discipline.

The baby of the family doesn’t need to impress the parents’ or siblings’. Instead they can just be, while love is thrown at them without question.

How does the middle child feel?

The middle child feels pushed out of the way by both the oldest sibling and the youngest; all the way over to sidelines, where they often learn to become dependent on themselves for their own happiness.

Middle child syndrome is a very real phenomenon, and can be the cause of feelings of rejection, low confidence, isolation, and feelings of unworthiness.

What is a middle child to do?

Little Miss or Mr middle sits in the background wondering when it will be their turn. As a result of this family conundrum, this child often wanders outside of the family for attention. Over time, they tend to quit relying on the family dynamic for their supply of attention, unlike their siblings’.

All of that time spent alone in the bedroom, or curled up in a ball wondering why they aren’t as important as their younger or older siblings’ makes middle children independent, innovative, and not afraid of being alone.

In some ways this feeling of emptiness, or accidental emotional neglect goes the other way for the second child, and they tend to use it to their advantage. This more empathetic, caring, and nurturing individual is renowned for having a big social life, and may even become a humanitarian, fairness or justice fighter.

Famous middle children include Nelson Mandella, Abraham Lincoln, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lopaz, and Martin Luther King.



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