Middle child syndrome theorizes that your birth order, specifically, being born in the middle can affect your personality.

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Pop culture paints middle children as always wedged between the shadow of their remarkable older sibling and their adorably lovable younger sibling.

But is this true? Is it possible for middle child syndrome to affect your personality growing up and through adulthood?

Experts debate over supporting research on both sides.

Middle child syndrome is the belief that middle children — those born between the first and last child of a nuclear family — can develop personality differences based on their birth order.

You can be the middle of three or more children, and more than one kid can have middle child syndrome if your parents had enough kids to form a basketball team!

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines this as a “hypothetical condition” since studies haven’t definitively shown that being a middle child drastically affects your personality or influences whether you’ll develop a mental health condition.

The belief that middle child syndrome exists at all may have something to do with assumptions and how media portrays them.

The stereotype is that parents will overlook the middle child because the oldest has the most responsibility or is the trailblazer while the youngest gets all the attention as the baby of the family.

If these two dynamics exist, it could leave the middle child feeling like an outcast or as if they don’t get enough attention from their parents. The theory states that the middle child may develop a rebellious, attention-seeking nature.

Middle child syndrome symptoms

The entertainment industry has perpetuated several middle child stereotypes, some of which are untrue and others are exaggerations of middle child syndrome symptoms.

Experts have studied how birth order may affect things like personality traits, the presence of mental health issues, intelligence, and so on. These studies have found conflicting information over the years.

A large 2013 study relying on data collected through surveys and interviews from 1994 to 2008 found that middle children were much more likely to have trouble with delinquency compared with their older and younger siblings.

In a small 2016 study of 320 undergraduate engineering students, researchers found that middle children reported being less family-oriented compared with their older siblings.

Birth order may play a role in how a child communicates with parents, a 2019 study suggests. Researchers noted that middle-born children are the least likely of siblings to talk with their parents about sex. However, the difference between percentages was not great.

In another 2019 study, researchers looked at birth order links to the risk of suicide and the development of other mental health conditions, such as depression. They noted that suicide and mental health risk increased with higher birth order. So, older siblings would be more likely to develop depression than the middle or youngest child.

However, if you are a middle child, these findings don’t mean you will have these traits. The same goes for any middle child you may be a parent of or caregiver for.

The APA goes on to state that birth order may have small effects on intelligence and personality but that it doesn’t strongly affect psychological outcomes.

The middle child personality may largely be guided by popular perception, rather than actual differences in how their personality shines through. Some commonly held beliefs of middle child personality include the following:

Feelings of rivalry

Because they’re not the first born or the youngest, middle children may feel like they need to compete for a parent’s attention. They may feel overly jealous of their siblings and compete against them whenever possible.

Neglected

A middle child may feel like their parents don’t pay them enough attention. If you’re a middle child, you may also feel like you’re not your parents’ favorite child because either your older or younger sibling is getting the majority of the attention.

Why is my middle child so angry?

If you notice your middle child acting out more than the others, they may be trying to gain your attention. It’s possible, through no fault of your own, that they might not feel special as their siblings, or they may feel like their older or younger siblings are getting all the attention.

You may find that setting aside some extra time just for them each day or every few days may help reduce their behaviors. Check this out for more tips on parenting that you may find helpful.

Since middle child syndrome is largely a set of possible characteristics, it can be difficult to make predictions of how being a middle child will affect you.

A 2020 survey of university students found negative identity perceptions with middle and only children, and positive identity perceptions with oldest and youngest children.

The feelings of neglect, attention-seeking, and rivalrous behaviors the survey found in the middle children could magnify or persist into the adult years if left unaddressed.

Therapy could be helpful in identifying and redirecting negative characteristics due to middle child syndrome. Plus, therapists can provide strategies to practice self-acceptance.

Middle child syndrome can include a possible set of behaviors that may explain your personality traits or those of a sibling or child, among other things.

Some research has found that birth order may affect mental health, behaviors, intelligence, and how close you feel to your parents.

However, more recent research suggests that if any effects exist, they’re slight and not likely going to influence how you develop as a person.