In a family with three children, the middle child is neither the responsible, overachieving firstborn who typically enjoys more privileges, nor the spoiled baby who gets away with everything.

At least, that’s the idea behind what’s known as “middle child syndrome.”

It’s why middle children may have a tough time finding where they fit into the family. It can be the reason behind certain behavior and characteristics that middle children seem to share. Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon, and some tips for preventing it from happening in your family.

Whether or not the middle is really the worst place to be in the sibling hierarchy, people seem to have many reasons for believing that it is.

In addition to the leader baby scenario, some argue that the middle child is more or less forgotten. This idea is supported when you consider that if the middle child is also the only boy or only girl, they seem to be spared from experiencing middle child syndrome. That may be because being the only gender makes them unique among the children, so that becomes their role in the family.

Middle children may also feel that they aren’t as close to their parents. Maybe they didn’t have the same time with them that the oldest child did, and they stopped being the baby when their younger sibling came along.

Logistically, middle children may get less attention from their parents. This could impact their relationship. It’s this combination of less parental attention and the lack of a specific role in the family that can make middle children feel underappreciated, which may lead to certain behavior and traits. These may include:

  • feeling neglected or resentful
  • lack of ambition
  • feeling envious
  • lower self-esteem

Fortunately, while birth order alone may have a small impact on the people we become, there are other factors that have a much greater influence. Things like parental education and interest, family dynamic and size, spacing between siblings, and choice of friends and partners all play a role in developing personalities.

Children’s personalities will vary. But there are a few things you can do to ensure that your middle child feels as loved and valued as the older and younger siblings.

Make your relationship with your middle child as important as your relationship with the oldest and youngest children.

Take time to connect with your middle child.

Pay attention to what makes them who they are and let them know that you love them just for that. It’s also important to acknowledge your middle child’s feelings. Even if you don’t believe your oldest child gets more special privileges, for instance, you should recognize that your middle child feels this way when they’re telling you so.

Make them feel heard.

Give your middle child responsibilities just like your other children.

It’s important for all children to feel like they have a role in the family. Sharing responsibilities can help. This can help your middle child fulfill the role that they may feel is missing because they aren’t the youngest or the oldest.

Be empathetic when your middle child complains about their role in the family.

While you want to show your middle child that you hear them when they share their feelings, you can also point out the advantages that come from being the middle. Unlike the firstborn, who may have to deal with stricter parents and more rules, the middle child may enjoy parents who have loosened up a bit.

Plus, the middle sibling gets to help out with the baby and be the big brother or big sister. That can mean getting to do big kid stuff.

Help your middle child find a passion, especially one that the other siblings don’t also pursue.

It’s a good feeling for every child to have a hobby in which they really shine, no matter where they fall in the family lineup.

By helping your middle child find something special and different, you can remove the element of competition. After all, it can be hard to compete with an older brother and sister!

Encourage social interactions outside the family to expose middle children to different dynamics.

Middle children may become used to giving in, so it’s a good idea to encourage connections with friends outside the family. This may give them an opportunity to experiment with leadership roles.

Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting different children. What you find to be effective with one may not be the right strategy with the next. But all children will benefit from feeling loved and appreciated.

Involve yourself in your children’s lives, and try to do so as equally as you can.