With the wonderful announcement of the pregnancy of The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge’s 3rd child I’ve been interviewed a great deal about the phenomenon often called the “Middle Child Syndrome,” which tries to explain how birth order affects every aspect of a child’s life.
Dr. Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychoanalyst, first brought the effect of birth order to light. He suggested that birth order has a strong effect & influence on a child’s character. Dr. Adler was a middle child himself & I’ve recently come back from an Adlerian psychology course in Ireland on ‘The Significance of Birth Order’
Scientists the world over have spent countless words and oceans of ink debating the issue of nature versus nurture. But how your child develops might have as much to do with the order in which they were born, as it does with their genes or environment.
I think it’s a mixture of both.
Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Freud and Jung, first put forward the idea that when a child is born deeply impacts their personality. According to Adler, eldest children are socially dominant, highly intellectual, and extremely conscientious. Unfortunately, they’re also less open to new ideas, and prone to perfectionism and people pleasing – the result of losing both parents’ undivided attention at an early age, and working throughout their lives to get it back.
Middle children, sandwiched between older and younger siblings, often develop a competitive nature – making them natural entrepreneurs later in life. They tend to be the most diplomatic and flexible members of the family and often, eager for parental praise, develop musical or academic gifts. They may be an outgoing, somewhat rebellious child or people-pleasing, peace-making middle child.
Youngest children, according to birth order theory, tend to be dependent and selfish – as they’re used to others providing for them. But despite the negatives, they’re also quite often the life of the party – fun, confident, and comfortable entertaining others.
And only children?
Like last borns, they are regularly spoiled, according to Adler, and have a hard time when they don’t get their own way. School can be a particularly difficult transition, as they’re used to being the centre of the familial universe. But all that parental focus pays off. Only children are often mature for their age. They wow people with their vocabularies, and their comfort in adult circles. Plus, all that self-entertaining fosters creativity.
If you are wondering what your middle child may be experiencing, or how to possibly counteract any negativity caused from being a middle child here are some ideas to help!
Nature V Nurture
Middle child syndrome is defined as ‘the feeling of exclusion by middle children because the first child is more prone to receive privileges and responsibilities (by virtue of being the oldest), while the youngest in the family is more likely to receive indulgences. The second child (or middle child) no longer has their status as the baby and is left with no clear role in the family, so may suffer from feelings of being “left out”
Despite being used to explain a child’s behaviour, middle child syndrome isn’t actually a clinical disorder & Adler suggests you actually psychologically choose your birth order in terms of what it means to you.
According to these studies, middle children tend to be more outgoing and flexible than their older and younger siblings. One theory about this is that a middle child learns early on that they need to be vocal in order to be heard among their other siblings, as well as being flexible, as they are often ferried around to older siblings’ activities and have to wait for their younger sibling’s needs to be met.
Middle children tend to be “rebels,” more so than their other siblings. Good examples of this rebel personality is Kim Kardashian, , Britney Spears, Bill Gates & Pippa Middleton, oh and …… Donald Trump who are all middle children.
There are a few exceptions to the effect of being a middle child. The first exception is gender. If your middle child is a different gender than the older and younger siblings, the “Middle Child Syndrome” does not typically affect them at all.
The reasoning behind this is that when children are of a different gender, they are treated almost like a firstborn, because they have many different characteristics and activities, which will be “firsts” for a family (for example, the first sporting achievement or musical recital).
How to handle your outgoing, somewhat rebellious middle offspring or your people-pleasing, peace-making middle child.
Reassure your child.
Your middle-born child needs to experience acceptance exactly for who they are without any comparison to their older or younger siblings. Find a natural time regularly when you can hang out with your middle child doing something just the two of you together enjoy without your other children around. This send the message that they are important in their own right.Middle children often go to an extreme to get attention, which is why some dye their hair purple or get a tattoo because they are striving to find their identity. One way to avoid this type of behaviour is to give your middle child enough attention in the first place so they don’t feel the need to do that.
The Peace Maker
Sandwiched between two siblings, your middle child may act as a peacemaker during rows. Your eldest may refuse to share so your middle child is there to smooth things over. So just be mindful of that & don’t let your middle child get trampled on or feel they have to take on too much responsibility. Remember it’s your job to play referee, not your middle child’s.
Celebrate your Middle Child’s Achievements.
It’s inevitable that after going through all the ‘Firsts’ with your eldest child it’s not quite as exciting when you second-born (or third, fourth, or fifth-born) walks, talks, or gets ‘Student of the Week’ for their spellings. But if you are mindful of this fact you’ll make sure that it’s important for your middle child’s self-esteem to feel valued, special and celebrated for their personal firsts too.
Encourage your middle child to find their own niche, be it academic, athletic, or artistic hobbies. Don’t label any of your children, but do encourage them to pursue their unique interests, strengths and gifts. Make sure it’s not a competition growing up in your family. Embrace the ‘We Team’ Mentality where everyone celebrates each other’s unique and special gifts, talents and interests.
Regardless of when your kids were born, help each of your children recognise & celebrate what makes them unique and resist the urge to compare them to their siblings. That’s sure to make every member of your family blossom, bloom & thrive.