The middle child syndrome does exist, but its effects can be mitigated. Here’s how

Rewa took my hand, lifted it to her face and started to cry. I was aghast at her behaviour. She was sobbing and repeatedly saying, “I tried so hard”. It took some effort and time to quieten her.

Rewa had come to me because she was concerned about her nine-year old son’s academic performance. I found the little boy to be all right; he was of average intelligence. It was the mother who had a problem — she was overly worried about her son. In her anxiety she kept goading him to do better, believing that excellence in academics will make him popular, loved and accepted by everyone around him. It had come to a stage where the boy just did not want to try anymore. When I drew her attention to this obsession, she burst out crying. She said all her life she had tried hard to be accepted, loved and acknowledged, in vain. It was not the outsiders but her own parents and siblings who ignored her. She had an older brother and a younger sister. The parental affection was given to the eldest as he was the first born, who had introduced them to the thrill of parenthood and the youngest was cherished for she was the cutest child they would ever raise. She, the middle one, simply got ignored. She had to do something extraordinary to get the attention she desperately craved for.

It suddenly struck me that the ‘middle child’ syndrome is not a myth. It is real. If there are three kids in the family and you are the middle one then the chances are that you might constantly have to compete for family attention, try harder to be noticed, to get parental attention at any cost. I remember my brother, a middle child, who would do a headstand whenever the family entertained!

Low self-esteem

Studies show that the birth order and the sibling relationship contribute to personality traits, self-esteem and confidence. The middle child grows up in the shadow of his older sibling. Always trying to emulate him, trying to follow the milestones set by him. He gets too concerned about others’ opinion of himself. He often undervalues his own worth and ends up with low self-esteem. The low self-esteem the middle child experiences, makes him believe that every problem is somehow his fault. He spends time and resources helping people who probably do not deserve it. His problem is ‘being too nice’. Middle child syndrome does exist but with proper care, a middle child can grow up to enjoy a virtually drama-free life, give or take a few emotional outbursts.

It is natural for kids to compare themselves to their siblings and peers. And as a parent your challenge is to minimise sibling conflict and not aggravate it further.

I suggest that parents banish the word ‘comparison’ from their vocabulary. Your child will pick up any comparison you make and despair at any shortcomings of his own. This may lead to resentment and anger. Make a conscious effort not to compare your middle child to his peer.

It would be wonderful if parents could find one thing that makes their middle child feel special and highlight it. Try and find a creative out-let for him.

Creative expression will help him vent negative feelings and it also welcomes positive attention. But do bear in mind that middle child is a master of manipulation for he knows where he stands. Guard yourself against emotional blackmail.

Studies show that the birth order and the sibling relationship contribute to personality traits, self-esteem and confidence.

(The author is a remedial educator and can be reached at faridaraj@gmail.cm)