Middle Child Syndrome

middle child syndrome

What is a Middle Child?

A middle child is someone who is born in between two or more siblings. Being born in the middle, as you’ll soon find out is not that simple. The middle child, unlike the eldest or youngest child, does not get much attention. Middle children are also usually considered outcasts in their families and often develop a condition called Middle Child Syndrome.

What is Middle Child Syndrome?

Middle child syndrome is a condition in which children born in the middle experience feelings of emptiness, inadequacy and jealousy. It is also characterized by low self-esteem and extreme introversion, sometimes even leading to psychotic behavior.

The middle child, unlike the eldest child and the youngest child, is not given much attention. They have to go the extra mile just to get some of it. Middle children tend to be achievers because they need awards to be recognized by their parents. Sadly, this also goes the other way around, they can be very troublesome and determined to get noticed even if it means getting scolded at or punished.

Because they lack emotional support and guidance from their parents, they will always have a sense of low self-esteem. These feelings of emptiness and loneliness make them not very friendly and maybe even weird to other people. Most likely, these negative feelings will also stop them from pursuing what they want.

Other observable traits of middle children are insecurity and jealousy. Being raised in an environment where they have to compete for attention, it’s natural for them to have feelings of insecurity and jealousy of others. Seeing others easily get attention while they continue to strive for attention, these feelings of resentment towards others will continue to build up. All these repressed feelings of being unloved, unwanted or even hated can trigger an extreme case of middle child syndrome where they show psychotic behavior.

Possible Causes of Middle Child Syndrome

After discussing the common traits of people with middle child syndrome, we can find two main causes, identity crisis and lack of emotional support.

Identity crisis is very common to us all, and it’s something that we all experience at some point in our lives. Wanting to be different from everyone else is very normal and there’s not much we can do about it. The other cause is lack of support. Because the eldest and youngest are the common favorites, the middle child is not given any support or attention. This unloved feeling makes them less confident and envious of others, often leading to even more problems such as drug abuse.

Is there a Solution?

Some say that middle children should be given the love and attention that they should have had when they were young, but I believe this will only make them more dependent on their parent’s approval.

There are also cases where middle children tend to separate from their family at a relatively early age to have families of their own. While having a new family means getting another chance, I do not think this is the best solution because escaping the past will not really resolve any childhood issues and these issues may haunt them for the rest of their lives.

The main cause of middle child syndrome is lack of emotional support, which is the responsibility of the parents. So logically, I would have to say that good and responsible parenting is the real and outright solution for middle child syndrome. While this may sound more like prevention rather than treatment, I think that it’s never too late for good and responsible parenting.

But this is just my opinion, what do you think? Comments are very much appreciated.

P.S. I’m a middle child in case you’re wondering. :)

Feel free to join the discussion. We’d love to hear from you!

888 thoughts on “Middle Child Syndrome

  1. I would suggest a wonderful book for everyone. It is called “The Secret Power of Middle Children” by Catherine Salmon and Katrin Schumann. Thanks for all the comments, everyone. I learned a lot! ^_^

  2. I am a middle child. My sister is 4 years older and my brother 6 years younger. I’m not sure what middle child syndrome is. I have never felt that my parents loved me less or paid me less attention. My sister, the eldest, craved attention and usually found a way to get it negatively. At 45 she is still an attention-seeker. My brother, the baby, was coddled and it took him a long time to grow up but he did and is a wonderful adult today. I am 40, successful and self-confident. Being a middle child is no different from being born anywhere else in the family structure. Who you are is who you decide to be. Stop whining!

    1. Birth order characteristics are also highly influenced by age difference, if I’m not mistaken. I read that there is a window of about 4 years of spacing and it changes things. So, with your age ranges, you would probably be more apt to develop emotional characteristics of either a youngest child, an only child, or an oldest child rather than a middle child.

  3. its nice to see other people feel the same way,
    im 20 middle child i have an older brother 23 and a younger 17,
    right from the start my older brother was the golden boy whilst my little brother ws the baby and i feel it really got to me i became very rebellious started failing school even took to stealing from my parents just for the attention i feel that what ive been through has really messed me up i find it very difficult to make friends which is worse just having moved away and despite the fact im the only one still living with my mum and stepdad it still feels like im ignored its alwas about how they miss the others and what they’re doing i cant even get a how was your day at work anymore, now i struggle to hold down relationships because its always why cant you find a girlfriend more like your brother’s and i feel like im throwing posibble happiness away just to get some praise from my parents, so now when i do find a girl i like and they approve i tend to try and rush things so i can get that approval we all desperately crave in doing so i push them away and end up unhappier than i was before its a harsh life for a middle child

  4. Hello im 20 yrs old and I AM A MIDDLE CHILD I thought I was the only one until I found this website. I have an older brother who is 22 and a younger sister of 7 as you can see yes I was like the baby for 13yrs and she came along but I was very excited and no I did not feel any jealousy then. I get along with my brother very well I love him so much and as well as my sister. Buttttt… My parents show more affection to my brother and always making it seem that he so perfect by the things they say about him about everything he does and I see where that comes from because he is so funny always makes us laugh and very outgoing. And of course my sister is the baby so she gets all the attention. And it seems like they always leave me out of everything. Making me feel so unwanted. Finding myself isolated in my room all the time. Plus im so shy and quiet maybe that has something to do with. I just feel that if i say i love you to them or hug them that i will be rejected since its been like 4 years that they have really hugged me and said they love me. I have very low self esteem. I’ve had suicidal thoughts because i feel so lonely especially when i see them getting along and my mom and brother all lovey dubby. I used to be daddy’s little girl but that has changed completely and i miss that. I feel like a 3yr old just wanting so much love and attention at the age of 20 and it gets even more imposibble since years go by and im growing older and tired of waiting for their love. Its just so depressing and the worst thing of all is that im guessing as parents that they are, who else would know you more than them? AND THEY CANT EVEN OPEN THEIR EYES AND REALIZE WHAT IM GOING THROUGH. I COULD WALK RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM AND THEY WONT NOTIVE ( AND IVE DONE THAT) FYI. If they seem not to care so much for me, i wonder if anyone else would? Ugh oh well. =(

    1. Karina, I`m sorry to hear that and I hope things are better there. But I can tell I feel quite the same. I mean, I`m 20 years old and I am a middle child. Me and my older brother are from the same parents, but last year my father had another daughter with another woman, so I know exactly what you mean by miss “to be daddy’s little girl” I do as well. And I don`t quite know how to deal with this situation. I don`t live with my father, nor does my sister, but when we are all together I dont know how to manage, I really dont. I wish I could love her as much as I love my brother, but I dont know how. And I know it is not her fault, it is nobodys fault.But the our family`s world have been such a mess lately, and there she is. I just wish I could love her, and not feel depressed, or alone. I know for my mother i`m still the youngest but anyways, i miss my dad caring about me, and I cannot open up and tell him how i fell. I just wish I could run away and start my life far from here.
      But I trully believe deep down they do love us, they just dont remember we also would like to see their admiration upon us.
      I dont know, I`m just trying to take care of myself If I cant expect for my dad atention or support anymore.
      Sorry for english mistakes, but it is normal as English is not my mother tounge.
      and best of the luck for us, a beutifull life for all the middle child born!

  5. i am 11 and i am middle child i did have a lack of love and attention.
    that was when i was living with me dad. it resulted badly i got girlfriend. my grades dropped badly. then i got got rpc. when i got home, i ran to room and just cried and cried and cried. then when graduated something over the summer happend i moved back with mom. there where i was wanted and loved. Now i am in middle school and the conflict was resolved i dont see my dad but i am glad i dont see him. he said one dad that he’d pick me up at 1:00 p.m and he didnt i waited for 3 hours. and so i just went with my mom.

    1. Adrian, you’re not unloved because you are a middle child. You are unloved because you are a stupid child that can’t write in English.


      A middle child

    2. I’m the middle child too and my parents are giving me attention, not the kind I want though (btw I’m 11 too ) they made me actually get BRACES. Yeah that’s right. BRACES. I had them for a few days and let me tell you one thing. THEY HURT LIKE HELL. I feel like ripping them out and slapping my dentist. I know this has nothing to do with being the middle child but just wanted to talk about these freaking braces. I think my family actually hates me if they want me to have braces. :(

      1. Hi Katelin,

        I know how you feel. As a middle child, we are always trying to put our needs clearly on the table, and as caregivers, our parents are always trying to equalize us with their other children. You are not alone and your suffering is endemic. I think all people in this world want more than anything to be treated fairly , and that means not losing our identity / humanity behind some braces or some role that parents and our society defer upon us. You should tell your parents how you feel about the braces and be objective in your confidence. You have every right to get the braces removed if you think it best. You are the sole person responsible for your life. No one else. Not your parents and not your dentist. Take care, and I love you.

        Watch this video if it makes you feel better:

  6. I’m a middle child, 18 years old with an older half-sister and a younger brother. My sister and my mother were always closer than I was to my mother, as was my brother and my father. When my parents divorced, I didn’t really know how to feel; I always knew that my father preferred my brother over me, as his only two biological children my father would often lavish extra attention and focus on my sister, who relished with the attention and love of both parents since her birth-father was and is not around. When I was old enough, I stopped contact with my father – he obviously doesn’t want to spend his time with me, why should I bother? As I grew older with just my mother as my one and only parent, I noticed that she spent more time with my sister and brother, that those three had more in common than I did with either of them. Around the age of fifteen, I tried to change myself so I could spend time and ‘fit in’ with my mother and siblings, I did the things they enjoyed, wore the clothes they liked, listened to the music and watched the TV shows they liked; purely so we would have a common ground. When I realised that no matter what I changed about myself, my mother would always prefer my older sister – the girl who can do nothing wrong and the one she constantly compares me too, just as my father preferred to spend time with my brother. Now, I know I’m not the same as my siblings and have accepted that my mother prefers to spend time with my siblings – but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me. I completely agree with the ‘Middle Child Syndrome.’ I just suggest, as a ‘middle child’ that parents out there do not go with their instincts and treat their children this way.

  7. The main cause of middle child syndrome is lack of emotional support, which is the responsibility of the parents. So logically, I would have to say that good and responsible parenting is the real and outright solution for middle child syndrome.
    >>> I want to commend you for addressing the parenting aspect of this, which many others either minimize or overlook altogether. I understand why many people wish to avoid “blaming” parents for the Middle Child issues and so invent all kinds of explanations to put the blame on the kids themselves leaving the parents innocent and free.
    In my family, our parent’s lack of emotional support included FAILING to mentally prepare my older brother for my arrival in the family and then, further FAILING to stop my angry brother from punishing me for wrecking his life.
    I have just remembered that our dad taught me to fight (as a toddler) when he saw that I did not defend myself or fight back when my 1 yr. older brother was beating me up. I did not fight back because I loved and revered my brother as a cherished hero and couldn’t understand why he was so mean to me. I didn’t know that he HATED me because nobody taught him to lovingly accept me and I was an easier target for his rage than our parents who had set it all up in the first place. My dad actually taught me to fight rather than figure out how to change my brother’s attitude! My dilemma was that, since I really loved my older brother and had no reason to hate him, I found it hard to hit him back! As a little kid, I didn’t know that he had every reason to hate and punish me! We had some extremely vicious fights but finally did become friends. All of the hateful and ugly things our little sister and us went through could have been avoided IF ONLY our inadequate parents had been more supportive and thoughtful. I can explain why my parents were NOT supportive but it would take several more pages. They were also the victims of inadequate parenting!

  8. I am a middle child and can say that BAD PARENTING is the bottom line cause of ALL sibling rivalries.
    My parents FAILED to teach and train my 1 yr older brother to lovingly, happily and enthusiastically WELCOME me into HIS family when I was born. Due to this inexcusable FAILURE of my parents, my poor brother had to view me as a menacing INVADER who was stealing his parents love, attention and time and (later on) invading his toys and personal space instead of as a WELCOME and respected family GUEST and set about to punish and reject me at every opportunity. He hated my guts because nobody let him know that I should be loved and welcomed as a FRIEND!
    For me, my brother was a beloved, interesting, exciting friend and my personal hero for the first few months UNTIL I realized that he was not going to treat me very well and that I would have to get tough, mean and fight back to survive in HIS world. Our dad thoroughly enjoyed our toddler skirmishes and even taught us to FIGHT as little kids! We were given boxing gloves early on!
    I can completely understand my older brothers feelings now based on our IGNORANT parent’s failures but at that time I never understood why we were such bitter, hateful enemies and our fights became very serious and dangerous by our early teens!
    Neither of us would have ever guessed that our hatred of each other, as little kids, was totally due to our parent’s failures BUT even if we could have figured that out, we still would not have confronted our own parents about their pathetic FAILURES because we both adored and DEPENDED on them for everything. They were our GODS and there was no way we would have ever found fault with them or turned on them for their MISTAKES. We saw them as perfect, which simply left us with HAVING TO hate and blame each other (and our sister) for the unhappiness in our lives. We were actually VICTIMS of bad parenting but saw each other as the villains!
    My brother hated me for invading his world and I hated him for abusing me. The sad thing is that our parents could have and should have seen that our hatred of each other was coming directly from THEM. It should have been glaringly obvious to our parents that my brother’s bad attitude towards me was caused by their FAILURE to teach him to love and accept me! They should have known, the first time my older brother ABUSED me, that they had somehow FAILED to teach and train him to be good to me. They should have asked them selves: “Where did we go wrong?” But they, like most of you, stuck their stupid heads in the sands of DENIAL and pretended that it was just an unavoidable “kid thing” and we’d soon out grow it but we just got worse while they just got STUPIDER and STUPIDER!
    Then, when our little sister was born 4 years later and our STUPID parents did not prepare us for her entry into OUR family, both of us resented and hated her too but didn’t dare treat her so bad cause dad & mom loved her more than either of us boys and protected her.
    Later on, our parents made the further STUPID mistake of making our older brother the BOSS over us kids when they were away from home! Since our older brother didn’t like either of us, he was the worst and most dangerous “boss” imaginable and he and I had our worst fist fights while he was in charge of us kids.
    Now that I am grown up, it just kills me to realize that us kids could have been best, most loving and respectful friends our whole life IF ONLY our inept parents had made it possible by training us to happily accept each other from day one. We are currently distant, uninvolved and “cool” friends all because our parents FAILED to teach us to get along and love each other from the beginning.

  9. Wow, I thought that my older brother and younger sister felt the same way that i have been feeling for a long time. I just looked up Middle child day and then i found myself reading this. Its a good feeling, knowing that people everywhere are feeling the same as you. It makes you feel more like you can relate to somebody, or be accepted. I am happy to know that I’m not alone. :)

  10. I didn’t know that there was a name for this. I have been feeling this way exactly as described in the text for a long time. I thought my older brother and younger sister felt the same way, and that this was normal. Apparently not. It makes me feel better knowing that lots of people feel like I do. I’m happier now. =)

  11. I am a middle child. Im 21 years old, and I have an older brother that is 23 and a younger sister that is 19. Ive been neglected my whole child hood life, and was always the “trouble maker” out of my siblings. It was hard, i remember when i was the youngest child, then this thing.. my sister came about. I still remember how everyone’s attention shifted towards her. I had family immigrate from the phillipines, and they treated my sister like a princess. I got punished if I even got close to her! I became jealous, and outspoken because no matter how good I did in school, my father and mother didnt encourage me.

    My parents got divorced, and I became the mother. I cooked and cleaned, washed clothes, all that from the age of 8. It was hard to adjust, but I was happy, now that I had a role, maybe I would get the appreciation I longed for. no. My father became abusive and hated me because I looked and acted like my mother. He already neglected me as a child and also! He would kick me out of the house at least once a week in high school. How insulting..

    My brother and sister both have families of their own, they started quite young. I am not married and I dont want to have kids. If I did have kids, I would always encourage them to do good and I will always pay attention to each of them, because I know how damaging it could be.

  12. I’m 43 and feel such an outsider from my two sisiters, they always exclude me from family meals and i’m made to feel like it’s all in my head nd think i’m paranoid. I have very low self esteam which really annoys every one as they say I have so much potential and should stop worrying and just go for it. All of the men I meet are normally from one night stands which get serious very quickly and then I finish it because I feel i’m just desperate for love and I deserve better. I feel so lonely………

  13. I am a middle child and also a mother of three. I am aware of middle child syndrome and endeavor to never let my middle child feel like i did growing up. Even as an adult i often feel like i am the least liked in my family and have often felt the least loved. I would do anything for my family but sometimes wonder if the same was asked of them, they would feel anything more than duty bound. My middle child is a happy, intelligent boy who knows that i love him completely for him and that i love his brother and sister completely for being them. Long may that last.

  14. I too am a middle child. I can totally relate to the article. I always feel like i should provide financially for my parents, but i don’t feel as close to them as my elder sister and younger brother. They are really considerate towards my parents. Even Iam, but i don’t feel their attention towards me. I would be talking to my mom and she’ll not listen to it. I don’t talk to her much therefore. I try to balance out fights in my family but thats all. I don’t feel close to any parent. I sympathise with them when they are sick or troubled, but i don’t feel a connection. My brother is exactly a year younger to me.

  15. I am a middle child of 5 kids and all my life I felt neglected and unloved by my family. We had problems in our family when we were kids and I don’t have an amazing relationship with my father but I love my mother, I know she loves me she always tells me but even-though she tells me, she never gives me the same time or the same treatment as she does with my siblings, I always think is me something wrong with my personality that she doesn’t like, I usually go out of my way to please her but she has no much time for me….. Since I remember I am the independent over achiever of my family, I was on my own at a young age but totally independent I have never asked for any financial help because I have always met my own needs, I have also pursued my dreams for my own career and have successfully achieved it. The only problem I have is that I always have this feeling of emptiness of being neglected by my family. I notice all the time the differences they have with me even today and if I ever complain about it, they get upset, so I don’t even show them how I feel. I am the only member of my siblings that is divorced so I am pretty much alone, I cant’ seem to find a good person to love me, I always end up with jerks that do not value my personality or my achievements, I need some help to help me treat the feelings of abandonment. Pls. let me know if you know any good reading material to treat this issues. Because I can’t count on my family to help.

    1. Pelusa,
      I know exactly what you mean, I relate to every word I am a middle child of nine, four sisters and four brothers; two older sisters, two younger sisters; two older brothers and two younger brothers. My mother married twice, I am the first child from her second marriage. My father was abusive to my mother and me. I look alot like my mother. My younger siblings don’t seem to remember the abuse. My older sisters also abused me, as a child home was not a happy place. I enjoyed school more. As a child, I was an over achiever in school, the first in the family to graduate college and the only sister to move away from home after graduating high school. My older sisters were and still are selfish, jealous and sinister. My younger sisters are clueless. Though the years, when tell them why I move away so soon, they just say, “you left home too soon.” I married my high school sweetheart seeking love and affection. Later, I divorced and realized it was a mistake, but did not know how to fix the problem. I tried talking to my father through the years before his death, but he seemed clueless of my feelings, I feel he loved my younger sisters and brothers more. Also, he encouraged my to leave town my new military husband and have children rather than pursue college. I still feel empty, alone and unloved. I cannot count on my family for help, I do not believe they want to understand.

  16. I am the middle child of an Asian family, one elder brother and one younger brother. Our brothers are super close with each other with well defined responsibilities, which we mutually agree and are perfectly comfortable with .

    The parents would spend most of the time educating the older boy while the the 2 younger brothers will view our older brother as the guy/father who shields us from our parents while at the same educates us and takes us out, show us the parties while paying for everything. To compensate for this, the elder brother is always compensated with the most fortune, but we are very happy with this. As the middle boy, i am usually more diplomatic and acts as the coordinator at all times, i tend to soothe tension within our family, organizes family activities and plan the family trips. The most difficult part for me is to strike the balance between acting as a son, younger brother and also at the same time an older brother to my younger brother, however i tend to find my way out through trial and error and i am very confident and proud of my ability. The younger brother basically is well protected, however given how the asian culture works, although he is the all time favourite with most outsiders and he doesn’t need to pay for most of the expenses. He will have the obligation to donate his time, effort and money when called upon. This system works perfectly well with my family, and each of us are confident and proud of our defined skill sets and responsibilities.

    The only adverse thing as the middle child is that not a lot of modern asian families retains this sort of culture, and I have been hard to find a partner who is well aware of how the family system works.

  17. Yes I am a middle child and can relate to all the issues mentioned. I have an older sister and a younger sister, we are all two years apart.

    My father was very violent and abused my older sister. We all felt like walking on egg shells around him all the time.

    My mum really favoured my older sister mainly because she doesn’t have the same father as myself and my younger sister, mum married our father and he adopted my older sister, even though he didn’t want to.

    My father favoured the youngest, she was his daddy’s girl, one spoilt bitch and got everything she wanted. Here’s where the trouble begins, Father plays youngest daughter off against oldest daughter just to upset my mum, and I’m in the middle trying to stop the fights between the sisters (door and window smashing fights), and as a result my older sister bullied me because father was bullying her. (Pattern emerging).

    The atmosphere in our house was depressing to say the least. I left home at 18 and couldn’t wait.
    I am 44 now and looking back I can see where the damage stems from. I had anorexia for about 15 years and still have an eating disorder, I have been taking antidepressant since i was 20, I have slept with numerous men, just for a tiny piece of attention and to be liked. This was always a serious thing with me i wanted to be liked and fit in somewhere. I felt like i had no identity, was an outsider, non descript.

    I still feel like an outsider in groups, i keep things to myself, I get nervous when i hear a row going on or see a fight taking place.

    I have no contact with my father or sisters. I am there for my mum but she still favours the oldest sister and uses me for the decorating or shopping. I have no maternal bond with any of my family, hence the reason I have no children.

    So all you middle children out there, you have my sympathy. I’m trying to put the past behind me but it’s still very hard.

  18. The article is pretty much realistic and idealistic for a middle child like me. Being a middle child is indeed very difficult to handle, and the position no children would really desire. Aside from having fuss with your other siblings, it is really difficult for you to deal with other people. Take my case for example, my mother had a cousin live in our house, and I realize that it’s not only your other siblings you are expected to have fuss with; it’s like being a middle child means that you’re totally ignored and everybody is your enemy. You see, my mother tends to ally with my cousin instead of me.. and I find it very stupid enough for first of all, they haven’t paid you much attention while you’re growing up, and worse, they tend to make you the “public enemy” in every aspect. To sum it all up, middle children are deprived not only of the attention they need, but almost all of the opportunities they should be enjoying WITH THEIR PARENTS>

  19. what if there parents do not start being supportive, what can a middle child do to get that support or recover from this syndrome on his/her own?

  20. I am the mother of three sons. My middle son will tell you the middle child syndrom is horse hockey. If anything, he got more than his brothers because he asked. If a child was “overlooked” in our family it would have been the youngest because his brothers were so active and now he shines.

    I am the oldest of three girls. My middle sister is the neediest. The youngest and I were always told we had to make allowances for her because she wasn’t like us but she was prettier because she was blonde. If I HAD to pick who Mom loved most it would be her but I really think we were all loved and each received what we needed as individuals. I am very independent and a caretaker. I didn’t need as much so I didn’t get it.

    Assigning “syndromes” with a sweeping motion like this does no one any good. Every family has these dynamics. “Dad loves her most because she is a girl.” “He gets everything because he is a boy.” “She has no social skills because she is an only child.” It goes on and on. Someone STOP!!!

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