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Is there Something Called the Middle Child Syndrome?


Nilima Mehta speaks about being the older sister. "I think it's a real pain being an older sister. My sister is five years younger than I am and she gets away with murder. My parents are always pulling me up saying that I should be setting an example to my younger sister. But there are some advantages. I have someone that I can bully and I am allowed to do many things that my sister can't only because I'm older."

Does the order of birth play any significant role in the development of children?  Read on and you will discover that it plays a significant role in the children's overall personality. It also makes a difference in the way they are treated by their parents and siblings and also influences their experience and perception of the world around them. 

The Perfect Older Sibling

Parents want their first child to be perfect, to be the best. Thus, older siblings tend to be more ambitious as they often bear the burden of their parent's expectations and dreams. Older siblings wield greater power over their siblings because they are bigger, stronger and more knowledgeable just by dint of being older. However, they are more likely to be blamed and reprimanded for getting into mischief as parents expect them to exercise more control and be more responsible. Older siblings tend to swing between being nasty to their siblings and feeling protective about them. Older brothers and sisters often view younger siblings as a source of embarrassment. 

Parents should realize that just because a child is older, it does not mean that he or she has ceased to be a child. They should continue to treat their children accordingly and not expect responsible adult behaviour from children who are just a few years older than their younger siblings. Parents should show their appreciation for anything that an older child does for his or her younger sibling and not treat it as a matter of course. They should let the older siblings know that they are aware that the younger children can also be tiresome and mischief-makers. Parents should instruct younger siblings to give the older ones some space, especially when they have friends over.

Younger Siblings get away with Murder!

Younger siblings can use the fact that they are younger to their advantage. For instance, they can enlist the help of their parents when quarreling with their older siblings. By the time the younger siblings are born parents are that much more experienced. They are more relaxed, less likely to be overprotective and more tolerant. 

However, younger siblings can get overawed by their older siblings' apparent prowess and achievement and may despair of ever achieving their level of excellence. They may also fall into the habit of being dependent and having things done for them, resulting in their being less independent and confident. Parents can help by involving younger children in decisions like which video to watch or what pizza to order. They should also be given responsibilities according to their capabilities. For instance, if the older child is setting the table, the younger one should be given the job of folding the napkins. This will allow the younger child to feel more responsible.

Younger children also often complain of being bullied. Rishi Gupta is the youngest of three siblings. He says, "When I was small I was fed up of hearing the words "you're too small to understand." My older brother and sister were always kicking me out of the room and leaving me out of their games."

But it is a different situation when it comes to his relationship with adults in the family. The younger child learns how to "steal" attention from others and make a place for himself in the family.  He endears himself to others by playing on the right buttons (often complaining against his siblings) and winning favours from his parents. Often, it is the younger child that gets more importance than the older one, and since he is younger, he soon becomes the pet of the family, and often gets away with murder! Parents, beware!

Is there such a thing called - "The Middle Child Syndrome"?

Middle children share the advantages of both the older siblings as well as the younger ones. They often become good mediators and negotiators. Gautam Sengupta is the middle child. He says, "I really enjoyed being the middle sibling. I wasn't the oldest, so I didn't have to live up to any expectations. I wasn't the youngest, so I wasn't bullied as much. I think I had the best of both worlds." 

Meenakshi has a different story to tell.  She is the middle child, with an older sister and a younger brother.  "My older sister gets all the attention because not only is she older but she is also more beautiful.  My brother gets a lot of attention, of course because he is the the heir apparent to my father's business.  I resent my parents for putting me in such a situation where I don't count in the family and where I am just taken for granted!" 

Sadhna echoes similar sentiments.  "Parents need to realize that they should treat me like an adult, and not keep babying me around.  They treat my older sister as a grown up for things they should not.  Although she is only 2 years older than me, she is given the importance and respect of being at least 5 years older than me."

Middle children often feel that they are neither here nor there. In their view, the roles of the older and younger siblings are more clearly defined. They may also feel cheated of parental attention that is given to the first-born achiever and the dependent youngest child. Some psychologists have given this condition a name - they call it "the middle-child syndrome".

Parents need to go out of their way to ensure that the middle child does not feel neglected. They should convey to the child that his thoughts and opinions are as important as those of his other siblings. They should also point out the advantages of being a middle child, telling him that he can understand his siblings best as he is both an older child and a younger one. 

Whenever parents are told about this, they are truly surprised that there is such a thing like the middle-child syndrome. Parents may think they have done the best for all their kids, but isn't it time they asked their middle child his/her views?

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