Tips for Raising a Successful Middle Child

Since reading The Birth Order Connection by Dr. Kevin Leman in my twenties, I have found birth order, and the powerful role it plays in sculpting personality, absolutely fascinating. It amazes me that the simple order we come into the world determines such strong tendencies. The traits associated with each role are generalizations, of course. If the oldest has a chronic illness, for example, the second born may acquire the responsible nature of a firstborn. A second-born female with an older brother is also the oldest girl in the family, which influences her tendencies as well. For the most part, however, the patterns of birth order are overwhelmingly evident. But while we easily recognize the cautious nature of the first born and care-free nature of the baby… what is it that defines the nature of the middles? The most difficult to pin down, middle children have much more variance in their tendencies. They are not the oldest nor the youngest and, not quite knowing their place, may feel a bit lost. Having a middle child, and being one myself, I was curious to explore further into what specific traits define middles, and how we, as parents, can encourage them through their identity challenges. I was, once again, fascinated by what I found.

  • In their search for a sense of self, middle children may turn to peers to establish their identity. Middle children are known to be good friends, thrive on connectedness, and may have a large social circle.
    • The recommendation to parents: view the middle children’s friends as an extended family. Welcoming friends into your home will hold much meaning to your middle child and will further keep him more connected to the family.
  • Middle children may be somewhat rebellious, or become people pleasers. Either way, these behaviors are in response to their strong desire to be recognized.
    • Parents may need to make a stronger effort to comment on the efforts and achievements of middle children versus the older or younger. If the need for discipline arises, be sure to explain the reasons behind it, reinforcing that they are unconditionally loved.
  • While some middle children are shy and some are outgoing, most are skilled compromisers and peacemakers who tend to get along with others.
    • Parents should step in when needed, so the middle child isn’t consistently depended on to referee disputes. Take extra care to see that they are listened to, or they may easily get trampled. Attempt to stop the older and younger from taking over when the middle child is speaking, advocating on behalf of their value and respectability.
  • Middle children are competitive, and likely develop skills and talents that are different (and sometimes completely opposite) from their older sibling(s).
    • Don’t expect middle children to follow in the first-born’s footsteps. Instead, encourage them in their own niche – to develop their own passions – and take notice of their efforts. Bring the older and younger children to watch and support the middle child in their concerts, games or events.
  • Middle children are adaptable, understanding and cooperative, but may be easily hurt when wronged.
    • Be sure your middle child is equally represented in the family photos, and has his fair share of her own. Although she may be agreeable to hand-me-downs, make the effort to provide her with some new items as well. Also, coach middle children to stick up for themselves, underlining their worth when they are being wronged.
  • Due to a confused identity, middle children may have a difficult time articulating, or otherwise be secretive about their feelings.
    • Encourage them to communicate, be patient, and once again, make the time to listen. One- on-one dates with mom or dad, or set-aside time to interact are meaningful to the middle child. Take an active interest in their thoughts, empathize with complaints and enjoy their presence.

Whew… apparently being the middle child isn’t easy. Furthermore, according to Birth Order Blues by Meri Wallace, an anxious middle who feels less loved or left out will grow into an attention hungry, or possibly withdrawn, adult. To thrive, middle children need to be enjoyed, noticed, and part of the familial team throughout their years. Then, as they mature, it is the middle children, with their advanced people skills and drive, who are the most likely to end up in powerful entrepreneurial careers. They are most likely to keep in touch with friends, and most likely to empathize with others outside of their circumstances. Sure, it may take more time for middle children to find their self-assurance and blossom into their true selves, but with some added nurturing, encouragement, and a stable foundation, – they most certainly will.

“Direct communication is the key. The middle child will feel less alone and act out less if he knows his parents will listen, accept his feelings, and provide him with support and love. They will, in essence, be acting as his allies.”

Meri Wallace in Birth Order Blues


References for more info on Birth Order:

The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman

The Birth Order Effect by Cliff Isaacson and Kris Radish

Birth Order Blues by Meri Wallace

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