Why do middle children feel neglected and resentful?

Ellen's son

Ellen's son - Credit: Archant

In this week’s 2.4 Children, Ellen Widdup looks at whether Middle Child Syndrome really exists.

My son is a bit concerned about the fact that, when his new sibling arrives, he will no longer be my “baby”.

He has held this cosseted position for the last five years so I completely understand his trepidation.

He gets away with all sorts simply by crying the loudest. He gets the most attention for doing the silliest things.

The family joker, the little clown, the kid with the sunny outlook. The one who is babied, molly-coddled, spoilt rotten.


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He can wrap me around his little finger whenever he likes. And I find it almost irresistible not to smother him in kisses at every opportunity.

“What will I be if I won’t be the youngest anymore?” he asked me.

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“The middle child,” I replied, feeling indescribably sorry for him.

According to psychologists middle children tend to be neglected, resentful, lack drive, have a negative outlook, feel like they don’t belong.

It’s called “Middle Child Syndrome” – a dreadful affliction suffered by a group of embittered wallflowers whose symptoms

include cripplingly low self-esteem and a tendency to give up whenever the going gets tough.

My daughter – the eldest - is destined to be the person who changes your life, or at least gives it a really good try.

People like her become prime ministers, astronauts or Nobel prize winners.

She will almost certainly be rich and famous.

My youngest – not yet born but whose position in life is apparently already determined – will be the wild one.

Fun, spontaneous, outgoing, gregarious.

The one with loads of friends.

And my son? He will be doing other less exciting stuff. And feeling sorry for himself in the process.

Of course this is all nonsense isn’t it?

Surely research about family placement is as accurate as astrology?

After all, my daughter is a Leo – fiery, controlling, angry like a lion.

Except she’s none of these things.

Unless in the middle of a bout of pre-teen angst when I can blame her star sign for the unbearable behaviour.

My son is a Pisces.

Compassionate, adaptable, accepting, devoted and imaginative.

And yes, he is all these things. But when you that consider his birth was brought forward two weeks for a caesarian section, he should rightfully be an Aries and therefore someone who is short-tempered, independent and optimistic, which he is not in the least.

“I don’t think it will be fun being the middle child,” he told me morosely.

“Well I won’t love you any less,” I reassured him. “And I will still spend as much time with you as I do now.”

Which of course is a lie.

The second bit, not the first.

Because let’s face it, it does get harder to share your attention as a parent equally among your kids when you have more.

I remember feeling terribly guilty about this when our son was born.

For almost three years prior to his arrival our daughter had been an only child – our whole world.

She had our undivided attention and then, quite suddenly, she did not.

When our son had been home from hospital for about two weeks, she came to me, one pudgy finger twirling a strand of golden hair and, with her head cocked to one side, said: “It’s been fun having him here for a bit but when is he going to leave?”

The horror on her face when she discovered that he was to be a permanent fixture remains with me today.

I sometimes think that she is still trying to get her head around it even now.

Of course part of the reason for having another was to give her the gift of a sibling.

We thought she would like having a constant companion.

But instead she ended up with a sparring partner.

There is a rivalry that exists with brothers and sisters which is unlike any other.

Think Cain and Abel, Mary and Anne Boleyn, Liam and Noel Gallagher, Ed and David Miliband.

And my two are no exception.

There is plenty of “he said, she said”, hair pulling and general screeching in our house.

But a recent study claims that younger offspring who regularly argue with their older siblings are considerably more likely to be successful in later life.

Scientists found that arguments between brothers and sisters actually increase social skills, vocabulary and development.

And they say that falling out develops a healthy competitive streak which helps them in later life.

Interestingly enough it also shows that the kids who learn to resolve these disputes quickly and fairly tend to be middle children.

As well as being the overlooked outcasts it seems they are also the peacemakers, the team players, the negotiators.

And, as I pointed out to my son, they even have a special day all of their own – Middle Child’s Day.

“Like an extra birthday?” he asked me, eyes shining.

“I suppose so,” I replied.

“So when is it?” he pressed with excitement.

I paused. “I’m not really sure,” I replied.

I will look it up of course, but at that moment I couldn’t help thinking that the reason most people don’t know about it is that, like the middle child it is supposed to champion, it often gets overlooked.

Find me on Twitter @EllenWiddupSee more from Ellen Widdup here

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