Middle children tend to get lost in the sibling shuffle, so to get your attention, their behavior may range from one extreme (acting somewhat rebellious) to the other (being a people-pleaser). Here, how to use their birth order traits to your parenting advantage.
1. Reassure your child. To counteract the attention you lavish upon your overachiever firstborn and spotlight-hogging lastborn, the middle-born child needs to experience acceptance exactly for who he is -- mistakes included, write Cliff Isaacson and Kris Radish in The Birth Order Effect (Schwartz Books). If you child makes a mistake, you need to emphasize that his punishment is not related to his siblings, nor do they change the fact that you still care about him. Explaining the reason behind the punishment is especially crucial when dealing with a middle-born child, who's already feels lost in the mix.
2. "First the worst, second the best... third the one with the hairy chest" is how the children's playground taunt generally goes. And considering the fact that middle children can be somewhat rebellious (presumably to draw some of the attention away from their siblings), middle-children might be the ones likely to be reciting this taunt in the lunch room.
"Middle children often go to an extreme to get attention, which is why some dye their hair purple or become a fanatic about a particular singing group -- because they need an identity really bad," says Meri Wallace, a child and family therapist for over 20 years and author of Birth Order Blues (Owl Books). One way to avoid this type of behavior is to give your middle child enough attention in the first place so he doesn't feel the need to act out. By lavishing praise for his incredible easel paintings, your middle child will be less inclined to finger-paint Picassos all over the living room wall to get you to notice him.
4. Caught between a rock and a hard place. However, being the middle child may also make her more mild-mannered. Sandwiched between two siblings, the middle child may act as a peacemaker during feuds. The eldest declares herself the Queen of the Crayons and refuses to share? Middle child is there to smooth things over. "Because second-borns hate anger, they tend to use logic to solve conflict," Isaacson and Radish write. But while toting the peace-pipe may seem like a very noble thing to do, make sure your child doesn't get trampled: When fights get too heated over what to watch on TV -- "Dora the Explorer!" "No, SpongeBob!" --it's your job to play referee, not your middle child's.
5. Make special time. "Tune into the middle child," advises Wallace. "If you're having dinner, ask the middle child, 'How was your day?' Spend time alone with the middle child. Set up a date on the calendar so he knows it's coming.'" By focusing on the middle child, you are reassuring her that she is equally as important as her siblings, and keeping her from feeling lost in the shuffle.
6. Make his achievements a big deal. Chances are after going through the whole firstborn circus of achievements, it's not quite as exciting when you second-born (or third-, or fourth-, or fifth-born) gets a gold star for his book report on Babar. Reassure your child with phrases like "you are part of the family," Isaacson and Radish write, but also recognize his individual accomplishments as ones worth celebrating.
7. Encourage differences. Your eldest is the district-wide spelling bee champ? While it'd be nice for your middle-born child to follow in her footsteps, it's a breeding ground for potential feelings of animosity and inferiority. Instead, encourage your middle child to find his own niche, be it academic, athletic, or artistic endeavors. In fact, "Middle children often can become artistic because it'll give [them] a unique spot in the family, particularly if the oldest one is good in school," says Wallace.
8. Maintain open communication. In a perfect world, we'd all be mind-readers. However, it can be nearly impossible for a parent to tell an "I'm hungry" pout from an "I'm upset" pout (and if you can, please, do share!). Even if your middle child is feeling ignored, he may not say anything. To remedy this, "Talk to him about the experience of [being] the middle kid," suggests Wallace. "Say, 'It's hard because we have to take care of the baby and your older brother is looking for a high school. If you feel left out, talk to us. Tell us, 'I need attention.'"
9. No more hand-me-downs! Well, maybe just fewer. "An occasional hand-me-down is fine, but your middle child may be particularly appreciative of something new, especially a key item, like a coat or jacket," writes Dr. Kevin Leman, in The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are (Revell). In the same vein, special privileges, like choosing and watching a movie without interruption from her siblings, can help your middle child feel special.
10. Capture the memories. "Above all, be sure the family photo album has its share of pictures of your middle child," Leman writes. "Don't let him or her fall victim to the stereotyped fate of seeing thousands of pictures of the older brother or sister and only a few of him or her! And be sure you take some of your middle-born alone, not always with big brother or little sister." 'Nuff said.
Want to know more about what classically makes up the kid-in-the-middle mentality? Check out the following stories and quizzes on birth order.
Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, September 2006.
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