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What are the effects of ‘middle child syndrome’?

When you've got three kids in a family, as a parent you're outnumbered and as a kid chances are you might get lost in the middle. But what does all that say about your personality? Stacy DeBroff, founder of, shares some tips on parenting three.Sibling birth order and rivalryWe know parents have a huge impact on our personality development, but so do our brothers and sisters. Statist
/ Source: TODAY

When you've got three kids in a family, as a parent you're outnumbered and as a kid chances are you might get lost in the middle. But what does all that say about your personality? Stacy DeBroff, founder of, shares some tips on parenting three.

Sibling birth order and rivalry

We know parents have a huge impact on our personality development, but so do our brothers and sisters. Statistics show we spend 33% of our free time with our siblings, more than anyone else! Now studies show that birth order and sibling relationships contribute to personality traits, self-esteem, and even ambition.

Birth order personalities

Oldest kids tend to emerge strong confident leaders. For example, almost all of the U.S. Presidents were either the first-born child or the first-born son in their families. And, all but two of the first astronauts sent into space were first-borns. The oldest child or the firstborn is always going to be the most anticipated and exciting for the parent. Parents are nervous and making a trial run of their parenting skills. Every first is something new and exciting to celebrate. Plus, the baby gets full parental time and attention. However, as a child gets older frustrations can develop as oldest children tend to have more parental restrictions than younger siblings. Older children also may have the added responsibility of taking care of their younger brothers or sisters.

Adding second and third children greatly impacts the family structure, and a middle child is created. Yes, the “Middle Child Syndrome” is very real. Middle kids bemoan their fate as being ignored and often grow resentful of all the parental attention given to the oldest and the baby of the family, and feel short-shifted. Three kids triangulate sibling relationships, with one child at any given point feeling like the odd man out from the chumminess of the other two.

Parents tend to be much more easy-going, less anxious, and less demanding with second and third children. Thus many middle children grow up with a more relaxed attitude towards life than their older siblings; though they have to compete for family attention against the milestones set by the oldest, and growing up in their shadow. Middle children have to try a little harder to “be heard” or get noticed. The middle child usually has to fight harder for the attention of their parents and therefore crave the family spotlight. They may feel that they do not get as much praise as the older children for simple firsts like tying a shoe or riding a bike. Those things just become expected.

The baby of the family basks in the sentimentality of being the last child, and are basically spoiled rotten. The youngest children tend to be most affectionate, and more sophisticated than their peers without older siblings to show them the ropes.

Having a third child also means a changed parenting style. Here you must move from one-on-one to a zone defense. You no longer have one parent per child and everyone gets less individual time and attention. You have to double-up and the logistics get more complex.

With three kids comes three times the chaos! Older children have to become more independent, which often involves being more adventuresome and more destructive. Suddenly you are feeding the baby and have sofa divers on your hands! Older siblings grow closer and develop as collaborators and co-conspirators.

A triangulation of sibling relationships occurs with three kids, which can often mean an odd man out. As allegiances switch, give your attention to the excluded child of the moment — whisk them off for an adventure and ice cream helps!


An especially charged topic among parents is favoritism. Favoritism is a word no parent would like to use, even if in most cases it is somewhat inevitable. As a parent, you find yourself drawn to a child who is most like you — traits that you can identify with and deeply empathize with as you experience them yourself.

But, siblings are like hawks when it comes to clues of favoring, and as parents we have endless capacity to love all our children uniquely. So you need to celebrate what you love about each, and absolutely curb yourself from ever saying that one child is more loved. It often helps to remind ourselves that we have endless capacity to love our children uniquely.

Sibling rivalry

Lastly, sibling rivalry is unavoidable, especially as a family grows. Although we would all like our children to just get along, we know it is an impossibility. The key is for parents to take a neutral position in sibling feuds to avoid the constant role of referee.

Reduce sibling fighting by staying as uninvolved as possible. One more person yelling does not make the situation less stressful. Also institute a “no-fault” policy. Make it a family rule that as long as no one gets hurt, no tattling is allowed, and both kids go to their rooms no matter who started it.

Also, in order to avoid sibling wars, never compare your children. Whether your child is the first born, middle, or youngest it is important to treat their accomplishments individually. It's natural for kids to compare themselves to their siblings and peers, and your challenge as a parent is to minimize sibling conflict, not aggravate it further. Your child will quickly pick up any comparisons you make and despair at any shortcomings of her own. As a result, she may start making judgments about herself in relation to her siblings and peers that mirror your opinions.

In order to give your children confidence in their own abilities, sign them up for different activities to give them the chance to shine individually and have the opportunity to make separate friends. Never confide in one child that she is better or more talented than her sibling. Praise your children for supporting, teaching, or cheering each other on.

My husband Ron, an only child, recently asked me when our kids Kyle and Brooks, ages 13 and 12, would stop fighting with other, and I assured him things were going well and it should be much better in a decade if all continues to go as planned!

In conclusion, having three children can affect all aspects of a family life. However, children don’t need to live out the negative stereotypes that exist about birth order and personalities. This is a classic case of forewarned is forearmed. Now that we know how much siblings impact each, parents can counter the negative effects of birth order.