Is Middle Child Syndrome a Myth or Do Parents Need to Take It Seriously?
Any parent with three on more kids has certainly wondered whether or not each one is getting enough individualized attention. And what's with all that birth order stuff? Does it really matter? If you're particularly worried about your middle child, here's some good news: you don't have to be. It turns out there's a lot more to his development than simply the order in which he was born. Here's what you actually need of be aware of when it comes to your middle kid.
Is Middle Child Syndrome Supported by Science?
If you grew up sandwiched between a few siblings, you've probably heard of "middle child syndrome" . . . or have even suspected one of your own kids of having it.
But is your child really doomed if she's stuck between two other siblings?
Some psychologists would say so. According to the book You're a Better Parent Than You Think, middle children are often in limbo since they don't get the undivided attention like the oldest kid and they're not the youngest, either. Dr. Ray Guarendi says children with both older and younger siblings have "feelings of isolation, of not belonging." The author goes on: "[They don't get to] enjoy the parental attention and expectations given to the eldest, nor the relaxed parental standards experienced by the youngest. The middle child is supposedly lost in the shuffle, caught in between with no unique position of his own."
But because this hasn't actually been studied using a controlled, scientific method, there's no confirmed proof that a child's behavior can be explained by birth order.
Although middle children definitely exhibit certain traits thanks to when they were brought into this world, there isn't a hard and fast rule for how that affects their personalities.
Misconceptions About Middle Kids
If you've ever encountered someone maladjusted and bitter and then found out they were a middle child, fear not for your own kids — there's no science to back up those correlations people harp about. While it may be true that these kids don't necessarily get as much attention as the child who was born first, it doesn't always lead to resentment or a life doomed to living in their older sister's shadow.
So where did these old wives' tales come from? To be honest, the middle child syndrome debate has been going on for a long time, particularly in fiction. Look at Regan in the Shakespearean play King Lear, for starters. And Jane Austen, a middle child herself, often wrote her lead protagonists as the same. And more current popular books and TV shows like The Brady Bunch, Full House, and Malcolm in the Middle only add to the stereotype.
Psychologist Dr. Catherine Salmon, the coauthor of The Secret Powers of Middle Children, gave a real-life example of how the negative stereotypes of middle children are often inaccurate in an interview with Business Insider.
"Of course, this theory is based on the idea that a lack of attention is a bad thing," said Salmon. "Many people do not actually like being the center of attention, and actually thrive when they're left alone. Others are the opposite."
So when it comes to middle children, you really can't group them all together. It's completely case-by-case basis based on personality.
Benefits of Being the Middle Child
Children with both older and younger siblings tend to be pitied, but being in the middle can have a lot of long-term benefits.
Middle children are often considered to be the most independent, resourceful, and open-minded in such pursuits as trying a new skill or maintaining a healthy relationship.
Salmon dives into the reasons that being born second or third isn't all that bad. She points to middle-born people who've changed the world for the better, like Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela, and even Britney Spears. All of these trailblazers have some traits that contributed to their success.
According to research, kids born in the middle are able to mesh with many different personalities and they've mastered the art of negotiation, which can equate to success down the road.
In the end, there are some soft "traits" that may apply here or there, but a kid's personality really depends on the kid, not the birth order. So instead of worrying about your middle kid being shy because of their ranking among their siblings, just know that's who they simply are. And if you have a middle kid who's totally awesome, it's likely because he's just awesome on his own.