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.

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4. Give him love and attention

While parents know that they should show their love and care for their children equally, it can be difficult to meet the needs of each child. Be more aware with the needs of your middle child – “Communicate and share feelings about what is happening in each other’s life, and take an interest in him,” Koh suggests. One-on-one time with each parent is important.

He adds, “Be there for your child when he needs you and don’t ask others to take over. Involve him in your routine like shopping for food, or cooking together. Set aside time together after school, or play and laugh for 10 minutes before going back to doing other things.”

5. Give him choices

Because your middle child can feel overlooked at times, it’s important to let his voice be heard, to prevent him from becoming rebellious, or even a “people pleaser”. Encourage him to make choices ― such as what clothes he’s going to wear for the day, where to go for the family lunch, and what movie to watch together. Doing so empowers him in his decision-making, and helps him to be a more confident child.

Draw him into conversations, let him express his views and be a part of decision-making processes.

6. Make sure he has some non-hand-me-downs

The oldest child probably has the benefit of getting everything ― from strollers to clothes to toys ― brand-new. Since the items are still in pretty decent condition, the middle child “inherits” these pre-loved belongings. Once, the third child comes along, the clothes are all worn out, the puzzles have missing pieces and the toys have broken parts. In all likelihood, you’ll have to buy the new “baby” of the family spanking new items. There’s nothing wrong with hand-me-downs, but taking your middle child shopping reminds him that he’s an important part of the family. Even letting him choose his own new T-shirt is how you show him that he has a voice.

Having these “personal possessions” may seem a little superficial, but it does matter to a child ― particularly a middle one. “What I found important for all my kids ― and especially the two middle ones ― is their own chest of drawers,” says Janine Rankin, a mum of four. “They keep their most treasured possessions in there, like letters from their grandparents, diaries, and it helps them to create their own sense of identity. So, while they share most of their toys and clothes, there are certain things ― like a favourite doll or book, that they are allowed to keep as their very own.”

7. Give him responsibility

He’s not just your second youngest, he’s also your second oldest. While his older sibling is doing chores like making his bed and sweeping the floors, give him his own set of chores, such as folding his clothes or wiping down surfaces. It gives him a sense of purpose, and is also a way for him to find his identity within your family. If your youngest is still a baby, allow your middle child to help with grabbing the wet wipes, or even wiping up bubba’s drool ― he’ll learn that he has a role to play in helping the family, instead of focusing on being replaced as the “baby”.

8. Be sensitive

If your middle child is often throwing tantrums or withdrawing into the corner, it’s time to tune in to him more. Whether you’re playing a board game as a family, having a meal, or just chilling and watching TV, make an effort to include him. Draw him into conversations, let him express his views and be a part of decision-making processes. Sometimes, he just needs an extra cuddle, affirmation or reassurance.

Photos: iStock

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