8 ways to avoid Middle Child Syndrome

Follow our advice to give your middle child what he needs most to grow into a healthy, well-adjusted person.

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Mum of three Esther Yang believes that the Middle Child Syndrome is real. When her 8-year-old eldest child, Lianna, turned 6, she had her second child, Ethan, now 2.

“The large age gap meant that we ‘babied’ Ethan a lot. Lianna really doted on him, too,” says Yang, a stay-at-home mum.

However, she fell pregnant again just 10 months after Ethan’s birth. His younger brother, Declan, now 8 months old, quickly changed the family’s dynamics. “I guess Ethan could feel that he was no longer the baby of the family, and he started acting up,” Yang says. “Now, together with the fact that he’s probably facing the Terrible Twos, he melts down quite often and we know it’s a cry for attention.”

Yang notes that she tries to give him the care that he needs by letting her husband focus more on Declan, while she gives Ethan her undivided attention. “It’s hard, because I’m still breastfeeding Declan, and since Lianna is in Primary school, I need to help her with her homework during the day,” she laments.

Insights Mind Centre psychologist Daniel Koh explains that the Middle Child Syndrome is the feeling that the middle children get when they no longer receive the attention they had before. And while not all middle children face this issue, “any emotional or behavioural issues can be associated with their birth order,” Koh says.

“He may not understand why the parents are showing anger towards his behaviour ― resulting in distress and jealousy.”

Koh says that the middle child may also be having a negative response to the changes, and he may not understand why the parents are showing anger towards his behaviour ― resulting in distress and jealousy. “But it’s only when the treatment and changes are very extreme that it may have both an emotional and psychological impact on the child,” he points out.

So, how do you ensure that your middle child doesn’t get lost in the family shuffle? Here are helpful tips.

1. Recognise your middle child’s positives 

It could be hard to see beyond the fact that your middle child often acts up, is defiant, and demands attention when you’re at your most stretched. But note that middle kids have some awesome personality traits, thanks to their unique positions.

Many middle children are more creative and flexible, as they try to carve out their unique personality wanting to be different from their siblings. They are also more independent and resourceful, since their parents are often caught up with their younger siblings. They are drawn to relationships outside of the family, which makes them great social creatures.

Realising that your middle child is an incredible human being is the first step to making sure that he feels valued.

2. Don’t compare

The middle child is often following in the footsteps of his older sibling ― he may attend the same preschool, the swimming and dance classes, just a few years later. You might hear remarks from his teachers ― “Your jie jie was really good at art ― we’re sure that you’ll be great, too,” for instance. This puts undue pressure on your middle child, and may even make him feel bad if he doesn’t live up to the standards set. As a parent, avoid making comparisons ― don’t talk about who started walking and talking first, who does better in exams, or even, who finishes their meals faster.

3. Nurture individuality

Instead of setting him on the same path as his sibling, take the time to find out where his strengths and interests lie. If he doesn’t want to go for swimming classes like his kor kor when he turns 5, don’t force it. Let him learn to ride a bike instead. He’ll soon learn to carve out his own unique path in life and experience his own setbacks and triumphs.

Deliberately nurturing an interest in your middle child is wonderful for his self-esteem. For instance, if music is “his thing”, this quality becomes something that only he is recognised and applauded for in the family.