Though not clinically recognized as a mental health disorder, the term middle child syndrome is accepted as a descriptor for the common feelings of being ignored or not seen as extraordinary or special by people in the middle of the birth order. Oftent, middle children feel as if their older sibling is more loved and receives more attention while also feeling as if their younger sibling gets away with more and is coddled.
Syndrome vs. Characteristics
Middle child syndrome is a description of characteristics often displayed by middle children by their position within the family dynamic. Birth position as it pertains to personality has been studied extensively, and while pop culture often attributes specific personality traits to adults based on their birth order, scientific research largely shows only insignificant trends with personality and birth order.
Middle children are generally assumed to display these characteristics into adulthood, according to proponents of a middle child syndrome theory:
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of inadequacy
The theory supporting these traits is that family dynamics generally allow one parent to bond better with the eldest child, while the other parent bonds best with the youngest. This leaves the middle child feeling unloved, unappreciated and out of place. Of course, not every family follows this dynamic. Indeed, in many families, the middle child displays none of the above characteristics.
Positive Attributes of Middle Children
Psychology Today points out that not all middle children harbor resentment about their place in the family. They also note if middle children are inadvertently given less attention by parents, this may eventually prove to be a positive rather than a negative. The unintentional "neglect" makes middle children more independent and gives them more ability to think outside the box. Both attributes can be beneficial in a professional setting.
Further, a lack of a "special place" within the family dynamic may help adult middle children have reasonable egos.
An article in Parents Magazine says birth order is not as significant to shaping personality as is the roles the siblings adopt themselves alongside the positive (or negative) reinforcement from parents. For example, if the eldest child is encouraged by the parents to discipline younger siblings, it would be no great surprise that the eldest child adopts a leadership role within the sibling group.
Middle children who are quickly disregarded by siblings, and who do not have parents who advocate for their inclusion, will likely adopt a personality trait of consistently fearing exclusion. Therefore, it is more important for parents to take active roles in ensuring middle children are included in sibling play in order to avoid so-called middle child syndrome.
Research published by the American Psychological Association suggests that any personality traits held by adults by virtue of their birth order starts to wane as the person ages. So while some middle-born children may seem like walking, talking billboards for middle child syndrome, it's likely they may outgrow these traits.
Business Insider suggests that middle-borns are best suited to marry last-borns, based upon middle-born tendencies of introversion and conflict avoidance paired with last-born tendencies of extroversion and selfishness. They base this upon a book published in 2000 entitled, The New Birth Order Book: Why You are the Way You are, written by a psychologist and based off a study done in 1966.
Middle child syndrome is not a designated disorder and not all middle children are doomed to feelings of inadequacy for their entire lives. Not all middle children feel left out, and those that do feel this way likely reflect their family dynamic and the roles encouraged by parents. Parents who do not want their middle child to feel left out should take steps to encourage the middle child's inclusion in family activities and help foster a feeling of specialness.