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How to Avoid the Middle Child Syndrome

If you’ve got two children already, say, aged around six and three years, and you’re pregnant with your third, you might start to worry about the possibility of middle child syndrome. 

That’s when your second kid starts to feel disadvantaged because she’s sandwiched between her siblings. She complains that she gets the worst of both worlds, claiming that the youngest is spoilt and allowed to do things she was never allowed to do at that age, and that the elder child gets to do all the fun stuff first and has the most freedom.

Some middle children develop a very strong sense of injustice, feeling that they are hard done by, and this emotion can persist throughout their lives.

The following personality features are associated with a middle child, though such characteristics are certainly not inevitable:

She’s unconventional compared to her siblings, often preferring the arts to the sciences, and dressing in fashion that leads rather than follows. She is attracted to the unusual, in all spheres of life.

She’s settled, with an easygoing and carefree manner, and takes life’s daily challenges in her stride without getting stressed or anxious. She may also have lower aspirations than her elder sibling, but is very resilient when faced with minor upsets.

She’s less competitive
Parents and teachers are often tempted to motivate a middle child by comparing her to her siblings. Instead of acting as an incentive, such competitive comparisons usually have the effect of demotivating her.


Avoid the syndrome

The way your four-year-old’s personality, abilities and achievements emerge during childhood depends a great deal on your parenting. So if you want to avoid the middle child syndrome, there is lots you can do.

For a start, help her to feel she is special, and as important as the other children in the family. If she thinks that you value them more, sees that you treat them more affectionately, or worries you give them more opportunities, she’ll start to resent her position.

Ask her occasionally how she feels about her siblings, and be prepared to listen to any complaints she has (even if you think they are unjustifi ed and irrational).

In addition, show as much enthusiasm for her achievements as you would with the other two. You may find that you are less excited about her successes (such as her first step, her first word, her fi st maths test score) than you were about your eldest child’s triumphs.

It’s not that you love her any less – it’s just that the novelty wears off with successive children. If you do feel your enthusiasm and excitement fl agging, don’t let it show in your words or actions.

Above all, respect her. Remember that she has the same psychological need to be loved and accepted by you – her position in the family doesn’t affect that. She has emotions, thoughts and ideas like everyone else, and has a right to receive your
respect and to be treated seriously. That’s the best way to avoid the middle child syndrome.


Richard C. Woolfson, Young Parents, December 2015

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