Do Middle Children Suffer from “Middle Child Syndrome”? An Overview

Have you ever heard of the term “middle child syndrome”? It’s a term that has been popularized in the mass media, and while it sounds like a legitimate psychological disorder, it is not officially recognized as such by the scientific community.

The middle child syndrome refers to a supposed set of negative personality traits or behavioral patterns that is often associated with being the middle child in a family of three or more siblings. However, like most stereotypes, the middle child syndrome is mostly based on anecdotes, myths, and misconceptions, and has little or no empirical support.

What is Middle Child Syndrome?

Middle child syndrome is a term coined to describe a phenomenon where the second or middle child in a family feels left out or neglected, as they are not the eldest or the youngest child.

The middle child often feels overshadowed by the eldest child who is expected to be the responsible one in the family and the youngest child who is often seen as the baby of the family. As a result, the middle child might experience feelings of low self-esteem, insecurity, and a lack of identity. They might also have trouble feeling like they belong in the family, and this may lead to issues with trust and affection in social relationships outside the family unit.

Is Middle Child Syndrome Real?

The term “middle child syndrome” is not recognized as a psychological disorder by any credible health organization such as the American Psychological Association or the World Health Organization. The notion of middle child syndrome is largely based on a few anecdotal stories, and there is no empirical evidence supporting its existence.

While some middle children may experience the symptoms of the syndrome, these same symptoms could be experienced by anyone in any ordinal position in a family. The predisposition to these symptoms is not unique to middle children.

What are the Characteristics Associated with Middle Child Syndrome?

According to the stereotypes, the middle child is perceived to possess certain common characteristics due to the middle child syndrome. These characteristics include:

  • Feeling neglected and unappreciated
  • Low self-esteem and insecurity
  • Rebelliousness and attention-seeking behavior
  • Difficulty in socializing and making friends
  • Feeling left out of family events and traditions
  • An inclination towards independence and self-reliance

However, these stereotypes are not necessarily accurate, and many middle children do not exhibit these traits. Rather, these are generalizations made based on a small subset of the population.

Why is the Middle Child Syndrome Misunderstood?

There are a few reasons why the middle child syndrome is a misunderstood concept that has been perpetuated over time. One of the main reasons is that it’s a relatable concept. Many people have siblings and may have experienced feelings of neglect or jealousy towards their siblings, especially if they are the middle child.

Another reason is that the concept has become pervasive in popular culture, with many media outlets perpetuating the idea of the middle child syndrome. Books, movies, and TV shows often portray middle children as problematic, as it creates a compelling storyline. As a result, the general public continues to believe in the concept, further extending its life.

How Can Middle Children Deal with Perceived Neglect or Insecurity?

For middle children who feel like they are struggling with a lack of attention or insecurity, there are some things they can do to help themselves. Here are some suggestions:

  • Communicate: Sometimes, middle children feel like their parents or siblings never listen to them. It’s important to communicate your feelings clearly and express your needs in a calm and rational manner.
  • Embrace your independence: Rather than waiting for attention, focus on developing your strengths, talents, and interests, and become more self-reliant.
  • Be open to friendships outside of the family: Find people outside of the family unit who share your interests, values, and personalities. Building a healthy social network can help build your self-confidence.
  • Don’t believe the stereotype: Just because you’re the middle child doesn’t mean you’re destined to be a problematic or unhappy person. Remember that stereotypes are not always accurate and don’t define who you are!

The Bottom Line:

The concept of middle child syndrome is largely a myth. While some middle children may feel neglected or unappreciated, these feelings can also be experienced by anyone in any ordinal position in a family. It’s important not to stereotype or generalize about people based on their birth order.

If you’re a middle child, remember that your well-being is not determined by your birth order. Every person is unique, and birth order is only one factor that comes into play in the complex human psyche.

FAQs

What is Middle Child Syndrome?

Middle Child Syndrome refers to a condition where middle children feel neglected or left out in their family dynamic. It is a psychological phenomenon that commonly affects middle children who feel that they do not receive the same amount of attention or recognition as their older or younger siblings.

What are the effects of Middle Child Syndrome?

Middle Child Syndrome can lead to various emotional and psychological effects, including feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, and anxiety. Middle children may also feel resentment towards their siblings or parents, and may experience difficulty in forming relationships or expressing themselves.

How can Middle Child Syndrome be addressed?

To address Middle Child Syndrome, parents can give equal attention and recognition to their middle child, and involve them in family activities and decision-making. Middle children should also be encouraged to express their feelings and interests, and given opportunities to develop their skills and talents. Therapy or counseling may also be helpful in addressing any underlying emotional or psychological issues.


References

1. Feist, J. D., & Schroeder, B. J. (2019). Middle child syndrome: An integrative review. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 11(2), 191-206. doi: 10.1111/jftr.12323

2. Rohner, R. P., & Khaleque, A. (2008). Role of parental acceptance-rejection in the psychological adjustment and mental health of children: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70(1), 47-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2007.00428.x

3. Sulloway, F. J. (1996). Born to rebel: Birth order, family dynamics, and creative lives. New York: Pantheon Books.