Parenting the Middle Child

3 boys in a car

Parenting the middle child is not always easy and can sometimes present special challenges. Middle children often feel stuck, unfavored, or left out. However, recognizing the middle position in the birth order as a special position will help you parent your middle child better.

Special Challenges for the Middle Child

Middle children often feel left out, stuck or forgotten. They perceive that they are not as special as the oldest child because they don't receive the same privileges, and that they are not as special as the youngest child because they don't receive as much attention. Often times, middle children, finding themselves stuck in this "ignored" position, start doing things to seek attention-whether that is negative or positive attention. Middle children face a variety of issues, and as parents, it's important to recognize both the issues and the root cause.

The Perception That Life Isn't Fair

Middle children in particular tend to feel as if life is not fair. They are caught between the oldest child who understandably has more privileges and the younger child who may be perceived as "getting away with" things. Consequently, middle children can be quick to point out any perceived inconsistencies in your parenting, as well as be prone towards negotiating rather than obedience.

Not Being Heard

Middle children often feel as if they are not being heard. They may feel as if they are competing for attention with a younger sibling or feeling drowned out by an older sibling's accomplishments. Sometimes children who feel as if they are not heard in the family, end up avoiding conflict to a fault. In addition, middle children who have a sense that they are not heard might engage in attention seeking behavior.

Not Recognized

As parents, sometimes it's hard to maintain the same level of enthusiasm for each child's accomplishments. Middle children pick up on this and often seek to set themselves apart - but this doesn't make them overachievers. By contrast, it often causes them to achieve well in one area, or to just do mediocre in many areas. Austrian psychoanalyst Alfred Adler states that middle children have more of a tendency to feel left out and invisible.

Tips for Parenting the Middle Child

Of course your middle child is just as loved as your first born or your youngest, but helping your middle child see that can be a tough proposition. Follow some of these tips to help ensure family communication and harmony:

  1. Enlist your child's help whenever possible. This serves the purpose of giving your middle child responsibility and an opportunity to make valuable contributions to the family.
  2. Middle children are known for negotiating. Rather than allowing a scenario to get out of control, offer choices. You'll find that allowing your middle child some control over when he does the chores for example, will serve to maintain peace.
  3. Take stock occasionally and make sure that you are spending time alone with each child. One great way to do this is to take a child with you when you run errands. The grocery store, the bank or something else that seems trivial can be seen as an extra opportunity for attention for that middle child. This can be especially helpful if your middle child has begun to garner some negative attention.
  4. Clinical psychologist Dorothea McArthur and author of Defining Moments: Breaking Through Tough Times offered this tip for parenting the middle child: "Latency [from about age four to pre-teen years] is a very special time for parenting because children this age feel close to their parents, watch Mom and Dad carefully, ask a lot of questions, and learn a lot. Therefore, it is a valuable time to show them how to live a life with honesty, integrity, and care. Be sure to put your cell phone down each day to allow uninterrupted time for creative thinking with your middle child in place of 'just a minute, dear.' Your validation and support of your children shows them how to take care of themselves."

A Few Positive Words About the Middle Child

While birth order may well play a part in a person's personality, it's important to remember that the home environment and relationship to parents, along with spacing, all play a major role in one's personality. In an article on Psychology Today, Lynne Griffin, R.N., M.Ed. writes that one of the biggest pros to middle children is that they are great team players. Although middle children can feel sort of left out of the loop, typical personality traits of middle children also include being flexible, a good mediator, and easy going.

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Parenting the Middle Child