The Malta Independent 16 November 2018, Friday

The one in the middle

Wednesday, 21 March 2018, 13:02 Last update: about 9 months ago

The oldest receives a lot of attention and privileges, the youngest is spoilt and has more freedom, while the child in between can just feel short-changed.

They call it a syndrome, like nearly everything else these days, Middle Child Syndrome. Hours have been spent theorising and pages have been written about the perceived problems of being neither the youngest nor the eldest child in the family.

In many circles there is a destructive belief that middle children are resentful because they see brothers and sisters getting privileges and advantages which they think are the result of their being older or younger. This can be true; it will not go unnoticed if the oldest gets new clothes and the next one gets had-me-downs, or if the little one gets to stay up because it's easier if all the kids are in bed at more or less the same time. And since while the eldest child needs help 'forging ahead' with life and the youngest in catching up, the one in the middle is bouncing between the two looking for a way to do things at his or her own level.

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It's not easy for middle children. The oldest has a clearly defined role as example setter and, to a certain extent, protector of younger ones; the youngest has no such pressures. But the one in the middle may feel pulled between the two, identifying more with one or the other, being expected to obey one and fetch and carry for the other, having to share more of his possessions and time with either sibling, even if he would rather not have to. It's not unheard of either for a middle child to get the blame for some misdemeanour committed by one of the others, and that can build up resentment.

But how a child sees its family status is less to do with the order in which he or she was born and everything to do with upbringing - how parents see each child as an individual. The age gap between siblings, whether they are the daughter between two sons or the only boy between girls are just a few of the issues that influence a child's behaviour, security and ultimately fulfilment.

There are huge advantages to being a middle child. With the right support they can carve out a perfect position in the family chain. They can learn from observing the behaviour of their siblings, by weighing up their parents' and other adults' reactions to said behaviour they can balance their own, to their advantage.

They quickly discover which of their siblings' characteristics gain most favour, and develop their own personalities to get attention they want. This often leads to improved skills in negotiating; putting their points across clearly and economically to different groups of people in a variety of circumstances. They find it easier to see both sides of the coin and are more likely to understand the importance of listening to all sides of an argument or several different ideas and points of view.

In many ways a middle child is bound to be compared with the older and younger ones and that is not easy. Parents often can't help themselves noting the differences in their children. But if these differences are treated with care and respect and the good ones celebrated to the children's benefit there should be no problems for any children. Wherever they appear in the pecking order it should be a place from where they can grow into confident, successful considerate adults with a enormous capacity for happiness. 

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