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Baby Care

Middle Child Syndrome: Characteristics & Personality Traits

Are you struggling with sibling dynamics, either as a parent or a sibling yourself? Here are the 101’s on the characteristics of middle child syndrome.

March 28, 2022

If you grew up with siblings, you know how difficult it is to compete with your brother or sister for parental attention. 

Facing the competing obligations of school, work, household repairs, family vacations, and chores, you’ve more than likely felt the burn of accidental neglect — especially if you’re the middle child.

You’ve probably heard about “middle child syndrome” and how it can affect this dynamic, but what exactly is the middle child theory? 

If you’re scratching your head over the terminology, here are the characteristics of middle child syndrome and what it means for your family.

What is middle child syndrome?

This syndrome is the idea that middle-borns are inadvertently given less attention than older siblings, younger siblings, or only children by their parents. Because of this, they develop a set of specific personality traits that follow them into adulthood. Some of those traits become quite negative. 

Some “common” traits of a middle child syndrome include:


Juliane Liebermann -

Is middle child syndrome a real thing?

Sort of. Many studies have been conducted on birth order psychology since it was introduced in the first half of the 20th century. However, humans are complex beings, and science hasn’t solved all the questions. 

Birth order theory started with the 20th-century Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler’s approach to childhood development. In the early 1900s, Adler hypothesized that common characteristics arose in children because of their birth order. He found that second children were affected by this because of a lack of attention from their parental figures. This unequal attention could be everyday behaviors, like offering one child study snacks during a challenging study period before an exam, or could occur during significant life events, like giving financial support to the youngest child but not their older sibling. 

Currently, there’s a lot of anecdotal info pointing toward ingrained middle child personality quirks, especially when you contrast those quirks against common trends with younger siblings or the eldest. Studies have been completed too that seem to disprove some famous anecdotes of middle child theory, specifically, the idea that they’re less family-oriented.

Many external factors can shape a person’s personality, self-esteem, or mental health. Additional studies are needed, so it’s better to consider birth order as one factor in intrafamily dynamics, but not the only one.

What are the personality traits of the middle child?

According to this theory, you’ll find affected individuals show particular personality traits.

The middle child’s negotiation skills stem from their people-pleasing characteristics. Because they’re often raised with less strict guidelines than firstborns, this translates to a need to be creative in how you attract parental attention. Many middle children feel like they must perform their “child” role agreeably to catch the eye of their caretakers.


Eliott Reyna -

What are the common characteristics of middle children?

Middle children’s characteristics are qualities or beliefs expressed by their overall group. Generally, they’re supposed to include:

1. Feeling left out

Parents (even inadvertently) tend to divert more resources to the eldest children or the last-borns: oldest children are the child  through which a family learns to parent, and they have a lot of responsibilities as the eldest to help others within the family unit. The youngest children are viewed as the baby (even when older), and need more assistance or indulgences. Middle children, falling into this nebulous space within the sibling structure, are susceptible to shifts in attention or perceived favoritism. 

For example, if you were planning to make chocolate chip cookies with your youngest child, the middle child is guaranteed to notice if you didn’t invite them. 

2. Disrupted sibling dynamics

Middle children can have trouble relating to their other siblings because of this exclusion. Rivalry can occur and harm their ability to form deeper, stronger connections. 

On the flip side, a study from 2015 discovered that birth order didn’t affect positive traits like emotional stability, extraversion, or the desire to become achievers in their own right. Famous middle children like Bill Gates and Jennifer Lopez are excellent examples of this personal drive to succeed. 

What does middle child syndrome in adults look like?

Middle children have less familial bonds to their parents than their older siblings, who often have higher expectations placed on them. The general sense that they’re misunderstood by their family widens this divide. Conflicts started with siblings over perceived favoritism can run well into adulthood. 


Obie Fernandez -

Sometimes, being stuck in the middle is OK

While birth order theory maintains its pop culture grip, more research needs to prove the hypothesis. On top of that, sometimes being a middle child means you’re the “center kid.” Nothing more. Being a middle child isn’t a bad thing but simply describes a factor in your family dynamics. 

Are you a mother who just had her third baby, and you’re looking for maternal support or advice because you’re worried about this dynamic? 

Be aware of how equitably you treat your children going forward. Your offspring will pick up positive shifts in attention. In contrast, negative changes or unequal guidance can affect the entire family dynamic later on. Remember, these attention shifts might not feel significant: It can be as simple as buying individual candies for all of your kids on certain occasions instead of telling the middle child to share their treat.

If you want to shop for some snacks for all of your children, check out Gopuff. You can order your supplies online and have them delivered to free up some quality time to spend with your kids.

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