Table of Contents
If parents have two children and a third one is about to be born, does it affect the personality of the second child? Psychologists around the world believe that it is quite possible, and have termed it middle-child syndrome. So, if you are reading this as a middle child and thinking is the middle-child syndrome real, we are going to shed light on this subject along with the characteristics of a middle child.
What Is Middle-Child Syndrome?
A lot of experts who study personality and its traits firmly believe that the birth order in a family plays an integral role in a child’s development. The middle-child syndrome as the name suggests is a child that is neither the oldest nor the youngest. As a result, they don’t get enough attention from their parents and feel like they are “stuck in the middle.” This leads to them developing certain personality traits different from their older and younger siblings.
Is the Middle-Child Syndrome Real?
In 1964, Alfred Adler, an Austrian medical doctor, and psychotherapist had a theory that emphasized birth order and its importance on personality development. According to the theory, a child’s birth order severely impacts their psychological development even if they are born in the same family.
According to their birth order, their personality might have several characteristics:
- The oldest child is more like an authority figure and feels powerful because of the high expectations set by the parents.
- On the other hand, the youngest child is the spoiled baby of the family and cannot compete with other siblings.
- Lastly, the middle child was found to be calm and composed but had trouble fitting in as they were stuck between the older and younger siblings.
Adler’s theory was a starting point to look deeply into the birth order of a child and their psychological development. However, several studies have shown conflicting results with this theory.
Middle-Child Syndrome Characteristics
Being a middle child can affect a child’s relationships and personality. Here are some of the common beliefs about the personality of a middle child.
The middle-child is constantly overshadowed by their siblings and they often believe that their parents aren’t worried about them. When they look back on their childhood, they see it as negative. Their younger siblings are treated as a baby and their older siblings are strong-willed, which leaves them in the middle. As a result, their personalities are dulled down.
They have to fight for parental attention by competing with both older and younger siblings. The reason they fight for attention is that they think they run the risk of being ignored by their parents and their siblings. As they are in the middle of everything, they become peacemakers, good mediators, and trustworthy, and they work well in a team.
They don’t think that they are their parents’ favorite. And parents might also be blamed because they pay more attention to their older and younger siblings. As they fall in between, they aren’t the favorite of either parent. Moreover, they are less likely to rebel against their parents and they are less religious.
Not as Family Oriented
Middle children often have a feeling that they don’t belong anywhere. So, while some middle-children work great in a team, others struggle to work with others.
Middle children are often the first ones to move out of their parents’ house and they move the farthest away. This is because they think they were misunderstood by their parents and want to stay away from them.
They always pick up something their siblings aren’t great at. For instance, if the older sibling is an athlete, they will choose to become a scholar or an artist.
After looking at some of the middle-child syndrome characteristics let’s take a look at some amazing qualities possessed by middle children.
Incredible Qualities of Middle Children
If you are a middle child and see yourself differently, you will learn how to make friends, and learn a lot by watching your siblings and friends. However, the feeling of being second-best compared to your siblings can become the fuel for you to excel.
There are a lot of famous middle children that are trailblazers, negotiators, and fighters for justice such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Charles Darwin, Bill Gates, Susan B Anthony, CEO of Nabisco, and Michael Gerstner. Their competitive personality trait helped them become successful.
Middle children may not be perfectionists, but they are more prone to take risks and come up with new and innovative ideas. A study found out that 85 percent of middle children show more openness and only 50 percent of firstborns are able to do so.
Over time, you develop persuasive skills and a flair for debate. Moreover, you can look at an argument from various angles, making you more empathetic. A lot of middle children find success due to their ability to compromise. It’s the middle child’s uniqueness that has led to many important theories, discoveries, and social movements.
How are Adults Affected?
Experts say that the middle-child syndrome can impact the lives of middle children even when growing into adults. According to the traits mentioned above, a middle child could feel the negative effects even in their adult lives. The personality they developed as a child may even reflect in their adult relationships.
For instance, a neglected middle child would become an independent adult and may struggle in relationships that require codependency. Moreover, they will always be negotiators and a peacemaker at work or at home.
Lastly, their personality might not be as bright and chirpy as other adults and they might even feel that they are not the favorite person of their partner or their best friend.
What Does Science Say?
Regardless of the beliefs regarding the middle-child syndrome, birth order science is yet to be fully explored. Scientists have tested the birth order effects on a lot of subjects with schizophrenia, OCD, autism, depression, and anorexia. These researches also cover all birth orders, including the middle child.
What researchers have found is that middle children often have detached relationships with their parents. According to a study done in 2019, middle children feel uneasy talking about sex education to their parents. This survey was done on more than 15,000 people and most of them were women. 30.9 percent of last-borns found it easy to talk about sex to their parents at the age of 14 and 29.4 percent of middle children also noted the same. In the same study, 21.4 percent of last-born men found it easy to talk about sex education to their parents and 17.8 percent of middle-born found the same.
A much earlier study done in 1998, found that middle children are very close to their mothers. Another study states that middle children do not turn to their parents for help when they are troubled or under pressure.
A 2016 study reviewed 320 students and studied the effects of birth order. The researchers found out that middle children find it hard to be family-oriented as compared to their older or younger siblings. Other than that, they are likely to pick up maladaptive perfectionism, which is the constant desire of wanting things to go as planned. However, this research does not explore the entirety of personality development due to personality disorders.
Another literature review states that middle children are 33 percent more likely to become delinquents as compared to older siblings. The author of this review, however, stated that the result of the study was non-significant and it was just due to change and not by birth order.
Another research conducted in 2016 brought to light the relationship between depression and birth order. According to it, firstborns are more likely to develop depression. Other than that, a 2003 study found that middle-borns are highly likely to develop depression.
How to Handle Middle Child Syndrome Behavior?
To counterbalance the attention deficit of the middle-born child, you have to give them proper attention and accept exactly who they are. Here are some tips that might help:
If the middle child makes a mistake, you have to tell them that they are not being punished because of their siblings and you still care very much about them. When dealing with a middle child, you have to explain the reason for their punishment as they already feel lost between their siblings.
Don’t Leave Them Out
You have to give your middle child an appropriate amount of attention so that they are not mischievous to get your attention. If they draw, you have to praise their efforts otherwise you might end up cleaning the walls as the kid might finger paint all over the walls to get your attention.
Ask them about their day and assure them that they are equally important as their siblings.
Celebrate Their Achievements
When you over celebrate the achievements of your firstborn, it might not be as exciting when your other children get an A. It is important to reassure them that they are a part of the family, but it is also important to celebrate their accomplishments.
If your eldest won a spelling bee, it would not be ideal for the middle-born to follow in their footsteps. It makes them competitive and breeds conflict and feelings of animosity. Instead, encourage the middle-born to find their own passion be it athletic, academic, or artistic.
The Bottom Line
As a parent, you have to be unbiased when it comes to your children and love them all equally. Unintentionally ignoring your middle child can lead to the kids feeling neglected and can affect their personality negatively well into their adulthood. They can also act out to get your attention.
While there are many studies that show a relation between personality and birth order, there are other studies that have contradictory results. More research is required for some concrete results. Ultimately, social, familial, and financial factors affect the personality and life outcomes of a child, not the birth order necessarily.