How Birth Order Shapes Personality

Middle Children

Cathy Swan, of Lexington, Massachusetts, says her middle child, 4-year-old Hobie, is the complete opposite of his older sister, Cate, 6. "I can count on Cate to get herself ready for kindergarten -- not Hobie. He's always asking me to help him with things he already can do, like putting on his jacket or carrying his preschool bag out to the car." And even though Hobie loves playing with his 1-year-old twin brothers, "he doesn't try and take care of them, like his sister does," Swan says.

Leman sees this frequently with middle-born children. "Once a role is filled by the firstborn, the second-born will seek out a role that's completely the opposite," he says. Because of this, middle children are the hardest to label, since their personalities emerge in response to how they perceive the next-oldest sibling in the family. If the older sibling is a parent-pleaser, the middle child might rebel to get attention. The middle child is the hardest birth order to categorize, but whatever traits he develops play off the first born, says Leman.

In the eyes of the middle child, oldest siblings reap all the privileges and the babies get away with everything, so middles learn to negotiate to get what they want. "Middle-borns are the most willing to wheel and deal," Sulloway says. They are agreeable, diplomatic, and compromising, and they handle disappointment well. They have realistic expectations, are the least likely to be spoiled, and they tend to be the most independent. Because they often feel left out, they tend to gravitate toward friends outside the family.

Famous middles: Donald Trump, Elijah Wood, Bill Gates, Princess Diana, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Out of the mouths of middle children: "No one understands me or listens to what I say." "My big brother gets to do all the fun stuff first, and everyone babies my little sister. I'm left out."

Parenting Your Middle Child

  • Thank her when she steps in to mediate a sibling squabble.
  • Respect his need for peers. Create opportunities for him to meet new friends at the park or on playdates.
  • Firstborns have their parents all to themselves initially, as do last-borns once their other siblings grow up and leave home. But the middle kids always have to share parental attention. Set aside extra time for your middle child to make her feel special, recommends Dr. Brazelton: "Do it for every child, individually, but especially for that middle child."

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