Since decades there has been a belief that middle children don’t get the attention the eldest or the youngest in the family gets. This may not be an issue in every household, but you need to take care to avoid the situation at your home. MomJunction tells you about the second or middle child syndrome, its symptoms and ways to make your child overcome it.
What Is Second Child Syndrome?
A second or middle child syndrome is a disorder in which the second (in case there are only two siblings) or the middle child (in case there are three siblings) is affected by the presence of siblings.
This situation could arise when parents pamper the youngest child and give all the responsibilities to the eldest one, while the middle child gets none.
In The Birth Order Book, psychologist Kevin Leman argues that when children are caught between two siblings, or at a position where they feel ignored, is when they suffer. They would never directly come out with the truth, but give away subtle hints of their uncomfortable behavior.
Do All Kids Suffer From Middle Child Syndrome?
Not all children suffer from this syndrome. However, if there is an extreme amount of favoritism and partiality from parents towards one child, then this becomes an issue. At homes where all kids are treated equally, there is no evidence of this syndrome.
Signs And Symptoms Of Middle Child Syndrome:
Your middle or second child could be showing these signs. Look for them and understand why your child is withdrawing from you.
1. Low Self-Esteem And Jealousy:
Your second or middle child could develop low self-esteem if he is compared to the elder one. If he is the naughtier among your children, you would unknowingly tell your second child to learn from his elder sibling. This comparison pushes them towards jealousy, making it hard to reach them.
Never compare kids as they not only make the siblings dislike one another but also lower their self-esteem and morale.
Middle children could be directionless, not knowing their goals and ambitions. They are confused as their parents are more focussed on the elder child. This lack of focus leaves them aimless and contributes towards lack of social skills.
3. They Feel That Nothing Is Expected Of Them:
If they do not hear words of appreciation or enjoy some time alone with parents, they begin feeling that their family expects nothing out of them. They feel that they are not good at doing anything, and do not expect people to give them any responsibilities.
Characteristics Of Second Child Syndrome:
In his book Birth Order and You, Donald W. Richardson, clinical director at the North Shore Counseling Center, claims that middle children are confused about their identity, and therefore get caught up between trying to be grown-ups and helpless.
This comes from watching their siblings at both ends and wondering who to be like. Your first responsibility as a parent is to understand whether your child is an extrovert, who expresses himself well, or introvert, who shies away from everyone. This will help you know how to approach him.
Different children react differently to this syndrome. However, low self-esteem, mixed feelings towards their siblings, feelings of emptiness or inadequacy, jealousy, and unfriendliness are some common traits (1). Here are a few more characteristics:
1. Yearns For Your Affection
Your second child may not respond to your love and affection in the same way as your first one does. If you feel your younger child does not love you or want your attention, think again. He needs as much love as you can give him. He is probably trying to show you that he is not happy with the amount of your love and wants more from you. Make sure you tell him each day how much you love him.
2. Tries To Grab Your Attention
Middle children may seek your attention (2) by asking too many questions or seeking help in everything. They refuse to do things by themselves and rely heavily on parents or other siblings. They could be very naughty or mischievous and do things that would draw your attention.
3. Hates Comparisons
Each time you compare your children, your second child will take offense and do the exact opposite of what you want him to do. Avoid comparison among siblings.
Your second child is at a higher risk of developing emotional issues, especially if he feels unloved or neglected. Not giving enough attention to his needs, developments, and achievements will also make him feel demotivated. Make sure you cheer for your second or middle one each time he does something new. Get him to realize that he is special for you like your other children.
4. Introvert Or Extrovert
Inferiority complex, which comes out of not getting enough attention, coaxes kids to switch to the extreme of not making friends and becoming introverts. They shy away from people and avoid socializing. Extrovert ones, on the other hand, vent out their frustrations. Anger is how these children react with. The smallest of things could offend them.
5. Sibling Rivalry
One of the most obvious consequences will be sibling rivalry. They would not just fight with each other like they are enemies, but never agree on anything. Negative or sour feelings develop between the siblings. Even though the eldest sibling may continue to care for the middle and youngest children, the middle child may not appreciate that.
Possible Triggers Of Middle Child Syndrome:
Your second baby could note the difference in your attitude early in his life. This is likely to affect his self-esteem and also create sibling rivalry. This might lead to second child syndrome in your kid. While the main reason could be the lack of attention, there are some other causes which could affect middle or second children.
1. Identity Crisis
As the child suffering from the syndrome believes that the attention is either given to one sibling or shared among the others, except him, he tends to have an identity crisis. He fails to understand why he is not as good as the others to get the same attention or love. He looks for places to fit in and struggles to understand the situation.
2. Parental Support
Parents tend to concentrate more on one kid than the other. This could be due to a variety of reasons. Some kids are very young and need more care, while some may have a lot of school work, in which parents might have to help.
They have to be careful about the time they spend with each child and its productivity in terms of their relationship with their children.
Does Birth Order Affect A Child’s Personality?
No, birth order does not have an influence on the child’s personality. A report by the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) says that the child’s personality does not depend on the order of his birth.
The study (3) has found “no birth-order effects on extraversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness, or imagination.”
“On the basis of the high statistical power and the consistent results across samples and analytical designs, we must conclude that birth order does not have a lasting effect on broad personality traits outside of the intellectual domain,” it says.
Tips To Prevent Middle Child Syndrome:
Parenting and right counseling are the most efficient ways of tackling the second or middle child syndrome. Right parenting, support and guidance from family and friends can work wonders. Here are a few tips you may follow:
1. Treat Equally
As mentioned earlier, comparisons are something that put kids off. Even as adults, we hate comparisons. Kids are more sensitive to comparisons. Do not tell your children that their siblings are doing well, or are better than them.
If you appreciate the behavior of your other kids, you could show your middle children the right way to do things. Make sure you don’t hint at who does it best. Give them learning time and also provide some feedback.
2. Do Not Over Pamper
While pampering your children is essential, as it would make them happy, overdoing it is going to harm them as well their siblings. Your second child might feel left out if you over-pamper your first kid, leaving a long-lasting mark on his psyche. Treat all your children the same way and teach them to be independent.
3. Be A Listener, Not A Judge
Listen to what your kid has to say. Do not brush aside any query or enthusiasm that he might show. At this tender age, he will look up to you for help, and you must be there to support him. Don’t dismiss anything as stupid or unwarranted.
4. Let Them Be Different
Imagine one of your first children is a champion at a sport or activity and you want your middle child to follow in his big brother’s footsteps. Aren’t you putting him through a lot of pressure? This would not only affect his morale but also kill his self-esteem. Allow them to choose their path and you guide and motivate them along the way. Be a supportive parent.
5. Play Along
Capture moments and memories of your kids and let them know how you think each one of them is special. Pay your middle child attention and show him his moments of failure and success. Play along with him and be an integral part of his life.
6. Make Your Child Feel Special
All children must be treated equally but you can also make each of them feel special. Do not make them feel that they are losing on your time to their siblings. Plan activities with your second child or give them some extra time when you help him with his homework.
7. Help Them Love Siblings
While it is true that middle children grow up to be good negotiators and are empathetic towards others, they have to learn to love their siblings. You have to help them play together or work together so they understand that their siblings aren’t always at an advantage and that everyone can live together happily under one roof.
8. Teach Them To Share You
As middle children don’t get enough time with you, explain and talk to them about why that doesn’t happen. Communicate with them and understand their fears. You have to let them know that you can’t always be present and that they would sometimes have to make do without you.
Also, tell them about how the youngest needs more care as she is still growing up. Try to be moderate and communicate well. Let them know why you do what you do, always.
Challenges For A Middle Child:
Things might not be rosy for middle children as he may have to face several challenges. Here are a few listed:
1. They Have To Be More Convincing
As the middle child lacks his family’s attention, he finds it hard to tell people how he feels. As they cannot convince people easily, they opt to be silent. They either give up or give in.
2. The Hand-Me-Down Issue
Middle siblings are sometimes forced to use the things used by their elder siblings. This not only hampers their freedom to choose but also makes them feel less important. They don’t feel the sense of importance as they do not have access to new things, which they can flaunt.
3. They Get Stuck Solving Fights
Middle children often have to act as a referee in fights between the elder and youngest siblings. They do not get to put across their points, nor team up with anyone. However, in the long run, this quality helps them be better negotiators.
The Positive Traits In A Middle Child:
While middle children are prone to the syndrome, they can also turn out to be rather successful in their lives. As this is not a clinical disorder and only more of time deficiency from the parents’ end, middle children can raise to greater goals. Below are a few positive characteristics of middle children.
As middle children are aware of how both their siblings would react, they know the two sides of an argument. This makes them good at peacemaking and debating. They know how to tackle a situation. They are skillful debaters and manipulators.
As middle children struggle for attention, they develop a natural tendency to fight their best battles. They are very competitive by nature, as they try to prove their worth, and end up mastering almost anything they put their heart to.
Coming from the ability to maintain peace on both sides of the party, middle children are good diplomats. They know how not to offend anyone, while getting the right or correct point across. This ability helps them grow in ranks.
Middle children are largely flexible due to their ability to adapt to any situation. They are used to being by themselves and hence, can adapt to situations which require any extremes. (4)
Middle children are independent and tend to think outside the box. This makes them excellent team players and partners.
Remember that middle child syndrome is not a clinical disorder and only needs some help and support from you to ward it away from your middle or second child.
Have you experienced the second child syndrome in your family? How did it affect your children? Share your experiences with other mommies below.