If you’re the parent of three or more kids—or you come from a large family yourself—you might be familiar with what’s been coined as “Middle Child Syndrome.” It’s the idea that middle children have distinct personality traits and interpersonal relationships that set them apart from their older and younger siblings. Children with Middle Child Syndrome feel undervalued compared to their brothers and sisters and feel like they’re last on their parents’ list of “favorites.” This can lead to some serious issues down the road, so it’s important for parents to know how to avoid fostering Middle Child Syndrome at all costs.
It’s also good to note that even though Middle Child Syndrome, a theory which first came into circulation in the 1960s, has no scientific backing, these tips are still good for parents with large families to utilize in order to ensure none of their children feel overlooked, overshadowed, or forgotten. Because regardless of if your kid truly is the middle child, if they don’t feel like they’re being sufficiently cared for and supported, the hallmark symptoms of Middle Child Syndrome could come in full force. So, without further ado, here are the top 5 tips for parents to make all their kids feel fully valued.
Whether it’s letting your middle child organize the weekly family chore chart or take a turn babysitting their younger brothers and sisters, it’s a great idea to show your middle child you trust and value them by giving them more responsibility around the house. If you constantly let your oldest sibling delegate tasks and be the boss when you’re gone, your middle child will feel like they have nothing to offer and may even begin to resent you and their senior siblings. Not only will this help your middle child feel more valued at home, but it will teach your oldest child to share their authority.
Spending extra time with your middle child will go a long way. The main reason many children have Middle Child Syndrome is that they feel like their parents are too busy with other commitments and kids to focus on them. But by carving time out of your busy schedule, you’re showing that your middle child is a priority and someone you want to have a good relationship with. Let them decide what to do on your outing and don’t let anyone else tag along. It’s important for them to know this time is reserved for them specifically and to feel uniquely loved and cared for.
Your children will all grow up to be different people, even if they come from similar molds. With this in mind, it’s important not to hold them all to the exact same standards or expect them to act identically. If your oldest child is an athletic prodigy, don’t worry about getting your middle child to follow in their footsteps. Constantly comparing your children’s achievements is bound to make at least one of them (likely the middle one) feel jealous and like they’re constantly overshadowed. Instead, focus on their unique strengths and how to improve them with coaches, tutors, and teachers. Respecting and encouraging all of your children’s individual talents is an important step to take in ensuring none of them feel left out or underappreciated.
An easy way to stop yourself from comparing your children is to help them hone their unique talents into different kinds of activities. If your kids all invest their time in different sports, activities, and extracurriculars, it becomes much easier to make them feel validated for their skills. Don’t ban them from doing the same thing as another sibling—this can be an awesome bonding tool—but if one of your kids expresses an interest in something new, show all the support you can muster!
You might think this sounds easy, but it might prove much more difficult than you think. There’s a chance your child feels overlooked because they don’t think you’re fully invested when you’re listening to them; you might be looking at your phone, working at your laptop, or consistently interrupting them to deal with other household duties. If your child is talking to you, do everything you can to show you’re invested in what they have to say. This might mean shutting off your phone or closing your computer entirely to give your undivided attention. Nod along and wait for them to finish speaking (a.k.a. don’t interrupt them). When they’re done, thank them for sharing with you and offer whatever help you can. Letting your child know you’re truly interested and concerned with what they have to say will let them know you value them and work to prevent Middle Child Syndrome.
At the end of the day, there’s no real science behind Middle Child Syndrome; a variety of factors determines how children relate to their parents and fellow siblings, and birth order has very little to do with personality. However, without taking proper steps, the symptoms of Middle Child Syndrome—alienation, trust issues, and family divides—can still arise. I hope these tips will help you show all your kids just how much you appreciate them!