Is Middle Child Syndrome Real

At a park the other day, two mothers watched as their little ones jumped and ran. Then one gasped and pointed at a small boy who’d climbed to the top of the swing structure.

“How did he even do that?” she asked.

Just then, gripping the bar with his knees, he yelled, “Hey mom! Hey mom! Watch thiiiiis!” and did a perfect cherry drop to the ground.

“Must be a middle child,” the other sighed.

The little boy was mine and she wasn’t wrong — he’s my third child, out of four. And he’s been pulling stunts like that ever since he was 18 months old and I found him screeching with glee…on top of the refrigerator.

Because of their unique position in the family, middle children have to learn, perhaps more than any of their siblings, how to get along to go along while still making sure they don’t get lost in the shuffle. This means they are known for being charming, attention-seeking, creative-thinking risk takers and master negotiators — an impressive set of critical life skills, Katrin Schumann, co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children, said in an interview with Psychology Today. But in addition to their many positive traits, they’re also perceived as less bold, less talkative, and more envious than their older and younger siblings, according to a Stanford study cited in Schumann’s book.

These character traits, along with a pervasive feeling of being neglected or left out of the family, make up what many think of as “Middle Child Syndrome.” But is this all true or is this simply a funny stereotype with no basis in reality? Is my son the way he is because he’s the third kid or because that’s just his personality? Is Middle Child Syndrome a real thing?

Yes, it is real, but not in the way most people think of it, says John Mayer, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, author, and consultant at Doctor On Demand. Middle Child Syndrome isn’t a pre-determined biological condition stemming from being born in the middle of the family but rather a societal expectation, he says. “Many years ago, there was a movement in child care that ‘birth order’ was deterministic, but research has debunked that birth order is causal of behavior or personality,” he explains.

MCS persists partly because society keeps insisting it’s true and thereby reinforcing the stereotype — but it also stems from the totally natural arc of learning to be a parent, he says. “The first child is the ‘learning child.’ All the books are bought, friends, and relatives consulted,…

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