Middle Child Syndrome: Symptoms, Characteristics & Prevention Tips

Middle Child Syndrome – Signs and Tips to Prevent It

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Dr. Rashmi Prakash (Psychologist/Psychotherapist)
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The ‘middle child syndrome’ is a psychological condition that is said to exist among children born before and after another child i.e., in between. They are often plagued by negative feelings of emptiness, unworthiness, inadequacy, and jealousy and are characterised by low self-esteem and extreme seclusion from the outside world. If left untreated, in some cases, these things may even lead to the child developing psychotic behaviour later in life.

This article gives you an insight into this second-child syndrome, which is quite common but does not receive enough attention, and also shares some tips on how to prevent it.

What Is the Second or Middle Child Syndrome?

The middle child syndrome is a psychological condition where a child, who is the middle one between two siblings, feels left out. The middle child’s behaviour towards her siblings becomes negative. The middle child feels pangs of jealousy and inadequacy, has low self-esteem and becomes an introvert.

Do All Middle Children Suffer From This Syndrome?

The existence of middle child syndrome is a topic that is up for debate. It has been observed that not all middle children develop such traits or symptoms. However, this could be due to the differences in parenting techniques, which vary in individual families. If the parents are conscious of the difference in their behaviour with each of their children and focus on each child equally, then the middle child is highly unlikely to develop any such psychological problems. It also depends on children’s temperament, as some children are carefree and handle differences better. Hence, there are fewer chances of negativity to creep in.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of the Middle Child Syndrome?

A middle child’s characteristics are different from the eldest and the youngest child. Due to the feeling of being excluded and differentiated from her siblings, a child who is born as the second child may suffer from the middle child syndrome. The signs of a child suffering from this syndrome are as follows.

1. He/She may have low self-esteem

The feeling of being excluded, discriminated and unloved by the parents affects the child negatively, giving way to many mental health issues as well as low self-esteem.

2. His/Her behaviour may be unsocial

The child may withdraw themselves from outsiders or peers in social situations for fear of being treated the same way their parents treat them. It’s a difficult situation for the child as they crave attachment but are far too scared of being rejected again.

His/Her behaviour may be unsocial

3. He/She may feel unworthy

Not being securely attached by the parents affects the children’s behaviour in multiple ways. They don’t understand it’s not their fault and end up blaming themselves as unworthy of love and attention.

4. He/she may also feel frustrated

When primary caregiver differentiates between their children, it gets very frustrating for the middle child. Every child has a need to be loved and cared for by their parents, and failing to get these basic needs fulfilled increases frustration, anger and aggressiveness in children.

5. He/She may exhibit attention-seeking behaviour

The need for attention is one of the basic needs of a child. Children with middle child syndrome fight for this basic need and end up becoming more demanding and attention-seeking, and may start throwing tantrums or act fussy for the smallest of things.

6. He/She may also exhibit extreme behaviour

At times children with the middle child syndrome turn into extremely accommodating with everyone. And as a result of this extreme submissiveness, they develop frequent mood swings.

7. He/She may develop trust issues

A child with middle child syndrome may have trust issues. Everyone learns to trust when they feel close to someone or feel loved. Children with such issues cannot open up to or confide in anyone. However, not all children suffering from middle child syndrome distrust people. Some of them may go to extremes just to lean on people or trust them.

8. He/She may view siblings as rivals

The middle child syndrome may cause the child to resent her siblings for the attention and care they receive from their parents and others. This could breed feelings of jealousy in the child and, in turn, cause her to treat them as rivals with whom she must compete.

child yelling

Does the Order of Birth Affect a Child’s Personality?

Personality development is a complex process, and the birth order of children does have a way of affecting this process. As per Alfred Adler’s theory (1964), the birth order greatly influences children’s psychological development, even though born in the same household. 

In usual cases, the firstborn is the receiver of undivided love, care, and attention from the parents, while at the same time, is mostly expected to set a good example for any child younger than her. So while she will be confident, mature, and able to handle a lot of things, she also tends to deal with the pressure of being perfect. In some cases, losing out on their parents’ undivided attention can also cause her to bear resentment for her younger sibling.

The second child is born to parents who are more self-assured the second time around and, thus, benefits from this confidence. Having an older sibling to look up to and learn from helps her catch up on things quicker, but she may also have to deal with the pressure of living up to the example set by her sibling. At the end of the day, though, this child is still considered the baby of the house. That is, if she is the last child to be born to her parents. If she has another sibling, she becomes the middle child.

Now, the middle child is neither the youngest one (the baby of the house) nor the eldest one (the responsible one), and is squeezed in between the two. She tends to get the least amount of attention, as compared to her siblings. This makes her crave more attention from her parents, and on not getting it, she may feel left out and unloved. This makes her more independent as a child and later on as an adult too. She also learns to act as a pacifier and be a good listener since that is what she does while dealing with both her siblings. The feeling of ‘being left out’ may make her either an unsocial person or she may try hard to lean on someone. She may also turn out to be shy and an introvert with hardly anyone to turn to or anyone to call a friend. The emotional tie between a middle child and her family members may be less since she feels neglected by them. As per a 1998 study on the birth order and familial sentiment of middle children, it was revealed that middle children will least likely say that they are closest to their mothers.

Possible Triggers of This Syndrome

We cannot say that a child harbours negative feelings or thoughts without any rhyme or reason. If you dig deeper, you will always find a reason. Therefore, getting to the root cause of the problem can help. Listed below are some of the triggers of the middle child syndrome.

1. Identity Crisis

This is one of the main causes of the middle child syndrome. The middle child tends to be confused about where she fits in and what is expected of her. She never had the opportunity to be the ‘only child’ like her elder sibling or got very little time to be the ‘baby’ of the house. She may get a feeling that the oldest one gets more privileges and more adulation for achievements while her younger sibling gets more attention. The feeling of being unimportant, unseen and unheard might leave her in a state of perplexity. Getting squeezed in between the seeming favourites of her parents, she might suffer silently.

2. No Support System

A middle child may feel neglected and alone because she may not have a particular person to turn to. This feeling of a lack of support could make her feel lonely and may cause her to sink into depression.

Tips to Prevent This Syndrome

It is imperative for parents having three kids (especially of the same gender) to follow certain rules while raising them. Listed below are some tips which you can follow to prevent your child from developing middle-child syndrome.

1. Gain Awareness About Middle Child Syndrome

To ensure that your child doesn’t develop the syndrome, it’s important that you know about it in the first place! In case you see your middle child exhibiting the signs and symptoms of the middle child syndrome, acknowledge it and work towards dealing with it in time.

2. Be Patient

Every child is special for every parent. However, if your middle one feels and thinks otherwise, be patient. It is quite possible that you may get frustrated when, even after counselling her an umpteen number of times and trying to make her feel loved, she thinks differently. Continue with your counselling, and someday you will be able to make a mark.

3. Give Extra Attention to Your Middle Child

If, after being close to her, she feels unwanted, unloved and not cared for, make sure to connect more with her. Give her all the attention she craves. Make her feel special just the way you make her siblings feel. There may be times when you may disagree with what she says. However, remember to hear her out to make her feel that her point of view has been heard and given importance.

Give Extra Attention to Your Middle Child

4. Make Her Feel Important

Everyone wants to feel important. However, being in the middle, this need may not be met frequently. You could give her some responsibilities which should be acknowledged when she fulfils them. This will make her feel important and like she is significant to the family.

5. Encourage Her in What She Excels in

Making your middle one feel encouraged and motivated in all her endeavours is important, but also, pay attention to any particular tasks or areas where she may be showing a lot of strength. Provide her with the encouragement to excel in that area so that it becomes hers to shine in!

6. Teach Your Middle Kid to Stand Up for Herself

Ask her to voice her needs, concerns or opinions to her siblings or anyone she is playing with or socialising with. Teach her to stand up for herself and not to be submissive even during an altercation.

7. Listen and Empathise with Her

In order to make her feel loved and cared for, you have to listen to her more intently and also empathise with her in case she has any complaints. This will also make her feel important and like that ‘significant someone’ she yearns to be.

8. Make Her Feel Special

Make her feel as important as the others in the family. Do not hold her siblings in higher regard than her or treat them better than her. This will make her feel resentful towards her siblings and towards you as well.

9. Praise Her

Like any other individual, your middle one also needs praise and acknowledgement for her achievements. This will increase her self-confidence and self-esteem. Even if you feel she hasn’t achieved anything much that’s conventionally praiseworthy, do it for whatever little she has done. After all, your praise will only benefit her.

10. Show Her Respect

Like any individual or any of her siblings, she has the right to express her feelings, emotions and ideas. Therefore, treat her seriously by listening to her and giving her respect for the person she is.

11. Spend a Day Every Week/Month

Keep a day once a week or once a month for each child. On these days, you can take the child out with you play with her or do something that she enjoys doing. This will make your middle child realise that you are unbiased and give her importance just the way you give to her other siblings. This one-on-one day will also give her an opportunity to talk to you or open up in front of you and bring her closer to you. She may end up relying on you as her confidante rather than her friend.

12. Stop Comparisons

No two individuals are the same. Each one will have their own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, never compare your other two children with your middle one or vice-versa. This will only have an adverse effect on all of your kids. Love and appreciate them for what and who they are.

child tying shoe lace

Positive Attributes of a Middle Child

Despite the challenges and problems discussed, a middle child has certain qualities and skills that are irreplaceable, such as the following.

1. Excellent Negotiator

As a child or even as an adult, in between two siblings, the middle child doesn’t really get to have a say. While this makes her good at compromising, she also picks up on certain details thanks to her listening skills, which she’ll put to good use when the need to strike a deal arises.

2. Fair and Just

Having seen both sides of the coin from a very young age, the middle child knows exactly how it feels when one is unfairly treated. So she usually has a fair and justified take on everything and everyone.

3. Risk Taker

Sometimes, due to the attention she doesn’t receive (thanks to her siblings’ achievements or antics overshadowing her), the middle child can get away with certain things. This means that she might get a chance to explore different spaces and areas and take risks that the oldest or youngest child might shy away from.

4. Flexible

Being in the middle and having to adapt to situations and changes constantly, she becomes very flexible and adaptable.


1. Is the Middle Child Always the One Who is More Successful than Other Children?

No, that is not a certain thing. While it is unfairly stereotyped that middle children are underachievers, they are actually good performers in life and everything. Every child is unique and possesses different qualities and talents.

2. With Whom Do Middle Children Pair Best?

Middle children often pair well with someone like them, but they are not restricted to just middle children. They are open to everyone. Apart from that, every child bears a unique quality, which helps shape their choices and likes.

A middle child may have her share of negatives, but she is also someone who has a lot of positive sides to her personality. A parent should try to recognize and acknowledge these positive traits and try to bring out the best in her.


1. Horner. P, Andrade. F, Delva. J, Grogan-Kaylor. A, Castillo. M; The Relationship of Birth Order and Gender with Academic Standing and Substance Use Among Youth in Latin America; J Individ Psychol (1998); https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3375868/; June 2012

2. Bjørngaard. J. H, Bjerkeset. O, Vatten. L, et al.; Maternal age at child birth, birth order, and suicide at a young age: a sibling comparison; Am J Epidemiol.; PubMed; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23479347/; April 2013

3. Middle-child syndrome; Amerian Psychological Association; https://dictionary.apa.org/middle-child-syndrome

4. Salmon. C. A, Daly. M; Birth Order and Familial Sentiment: Middleborns are Different; Evolution and Human Behavior, Volume 19, Issue 5, Pages 299-312; ScienceDirect; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1090513898000221; September 1998

5. Cundiff. P. R; Ordered delinquency: the “effects” of birth order on delinquency; Pers Soc Psychol Bull.; PubMed Central; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4105693/; August 2013

6. Çabuker. N. D, Epli. H, et al.; Does Psychological Birth order Predict Identity Perceptions of Individuals in Emerging Adulthood?; International Online Journal of Educational Sciences; https://iojes.net/?mod=makale_tr_ozet&makale_id=42558; 2020

Also Read:

Child Psychology
Sibling Rivalry: How to Deal With It?
Effects of Birth Order on Child’s Personality

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