The middle child syndrome is very real, some argue. What does science say?

The middle child syndrome is very real. Children born in the middle order (like second out of three children) tend to be insecure. Older children get the bulk of the attention. Parents pamper the youngest. Middle children feel left out and unloved, and have diffident personalities. Thus goes the argument. Yet, is this the case in most families with more than two children?

The theory behind middle child syndrome

Alfred Adler (1870–1937), an Austrian psychiatrist, was one of the first to suggest that birth order plays a role in personality. According to Adler, first-born lose their privileged position when the second comes along. The second is for a while center of attention, but as the third comes along, all attention diverts to the newborn. Middle children may feel overlooked, causing them to develop the so-called middle child syndrome. In the course of history, many scientists revisited this theory. No definitive conclusions have been drawn despite much research.

Stereotypes about the middle child

Recent research argues that the middle child syndrome is a problem with stereotypes. Many people argue that middle child syndrome does not exist in the most general sense. The responsible oldest child. The neglected middle child. The pampered youngest. These are stereotypes. As prominent psychologists have now pointed out, things are not always so simple.

How children develop does not depend only on birth order. Many factors are at play. The personality of the children themselves, the type of friends they make, the coping skills that they develop, major life events in the growth of the child – all these play a major role.

The Special Middle Child

Did you know that Bill Gates is a middle Child?

Often being the middle child puts children in a rather difficult position. So they often develop skills that the eldest or the youngest does not need. The middle child will need interpersonal skills that the eldest and the youngest may not. Because of their need, they will develop those skills rather than the eldest or the youngest. They develop closer relationships with their peers than with their parents. In the book The secret powers of middle children, author Lynne Griffin writes that middle children are often excellent negotiators, like Anwar Sadat and Michael Gerstner, and trailblazers like Charles Darwin and William Dell.

The talented middle child

Also, middle children often are special or talented. It is often noted that celebrities and the successful are often middle children. Examples include J Nelson Mandela, Scarlett Johansson, Chis Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Madonna. Quite a stellar list! There is a strong case to argue that middle children are excellent socialites. They grow up to be gregarious and outgoing personalities. This makes them accomplished professionals. This is particularly true in the entertainment industry where social networking is very important, along with natural talent.

Closer to siblings and friends

In a 1998 study, researchers Salmon and colleague professor Martin Daly found that middle children turn to their siblings for help when facing problems. More than their parents. This could be because they feel less close to parents. It is often the middle child that helps end a fight among friends and siblings. It is often the middle child who will speak on behalf of their siblings who have been told off. A review of over 200 birth order studies concluded that middle children were peacemakers, and as adults more faithful in monogamous relationships. Generally, middle children have the ability to get along with different types of people.

Does the middle child syndrome exist?

There is growing consensus that the middle child syndrome does not exist. There may be families with middle children who feel uncared for. Yet, generalizing this understanding to the assumption is not a tenable argument. In fact, such assumptions are more due to stereotypes in the media and television. A person’s success or failure in life depends on much more than order of birth. For example, if one has abusive parents, the order in which you are born will not matter. The children born into such a family will find it difficult to cope with real life. Thus, concluding that all middle children will face the middle child syndrome is a mistake. It is a trend of thought supported by cultural stereotyping. In reality, children are shaped by many, many factors. And modern research finds no proof that being a middle child will decrease your effectiveness and your success in any way.


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