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What Are the Effects of Middle Child Syndrome?

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands

Some of the effects of middle child syndrome may include an increase in sibling rivalries and low self-esteem. It is not uncommon for middle children to also feel an amplified longing for adult attention. Children affected by this syndrome sometimes even exhibit disruptive behavior in an attempt to attract the attention of parents, teachers and others as a result of feeling overshadowed by older and younger siblings.

Children who are neither the oldest nor the youngest child in a family often experience what is described as middle child syndrome. Many describe feeling less significant than older or younger siblings and report feeling overlooked. It is also not unusual for middle children to be more socially introverted than older and younger siblings.

Children may long for attention from parents and other adults as part of middle child syndrome.
Children may long for attention from parents and other adults as part of middle child syndrome.

Middle child syndrome can increase the amount of sibling rivalries within a family. With children vying for attention and a unique place in the family, a middle child may feel an increased need to compete with older siblings who are often allowed more freedoms and responsibilities, as well as feeling ignored, compared with younger siblings who commonly receive more attention because they are the youngest. Middle children may feel a sense of resentment for the unique types of attention and communication offered to other siblings, and may even exhibit attention-seeking behavior.

Youngsters suffering from middle child syndrome tend to be social introverts and prefer playing alone.
Youngsters suffering from middle child syndrome tend to be social introverts and prefer playing alone.

Studies of self-esteem in children have also found this syndrome may impact a child’s sense of self-worth. Because of their birth position, middle children sometimes feel invisible to the rest of the family as older siblings and younger siblings often appear to receive more attention from parents and other adults. Despite being a middle child, however, some studies have shown that children who are the only girl or the only boy in the family often do not experience middle child syndrome. It is believed their unique position as being the only child of a specific gender attracts a level of attention and a feeling of uniqueness that other middle children with siblings of the same sex do not experience.

Middle children might report problems from sibling rivalries.
Middle children might report problems from sibling rivalries.

While birth order is not the only factor involved in shaping personality, this syndrome is often attributed to feelings of low self-esteem in adulthood. Researchers disagree, however, with the commonly held notion that the order of one’s birth determines a person’s level of success in life. As people mature and begin individual lives as adults, many are able to shed any negative effects associated with birth order.

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Discussion Comments


I don’t know if I have MCS, but I do know that being the middle child has caused me to change my whole personality. I mean, like my personality did a whole 180 degree flip! Before I purposely changed my attitude, I was sort of an awkward kid. I was fat, I didn't really talk with many people outside my closest friends; I only had like 2 or 3.

But then, I realized how much more attention my older sister got, and how much more love was shown to my younger brother and I realized that in order for me to be seen or at least recognized and noticed by my parents and friends and family, I would have to completely change. So I lost a lot of the weight and I made sure to have an overly flamboyant and flashy attitude. I made sure to project myself as super confident and smart and stuff even though on the inside I don't feel like that at all.

I am still super shy and have low self esteem, and feel awkward but I never show it. I asked my best friend if she thought I was shy, and she said "No! You are like the farthest thing from it!" I then proceeded to tell her that this was all a facade and that I am like so shy. But the point is, I have been acting like someone I'm not for so long that I don't even know who I am anymore. I don't know if I have become this super confident person or whether it is just a crutch I use to stand up against the world.


As a 70 year old, I have always known about mcs, and have always been challenged as an adult by it. It molded me into a much more

mature, energetic successful person. Maybe the first years were tough, but I wouldn't change the outcome for my older or younger siblings' outcomes.


As a middle child, you get blamed for almost everything. Oh, don't get me wrong, my parents weren't abusive. But they (especially my mother) were quick to lay the blame -- and the punishments -- on me.

Somebody broke a dish? How dare I do that? Somebody left the toilet clogged? Go to my room without dinner! Never mind that I was nowhere near the dishes or that someone else used the toilet after me.

Criticism against me were also quite harsher than those against my siblings. My faults were pointed out swiftly and in front of my siblings, while theirs at least warranted private conversation out of earshot.

And, since kids can often be extremely cruel to each other, my siblings quickly learned to take advantage of the unfair treatment I would get, and went out of their way to get me blamed for stuff they did. Heck, as we got older, they would actually sometimes plant evidence against me, and it would end up my testimony against theirs. Two against one. And of course, my parents would side with their little angels against the black sheep, so more often it was me against my entire family.

The worst thing about this? Siblings eventually forget about all those times they were cruel to you, because they're kids and they didn't see how much or how often they hurt you. Parents repress all those times they punished you unfairly, because they can't or won't believe that they could ever be so cruel to their child.

To you, it's so many incidents of unfair treatment that permanently scar your psyche. But to your siblings, it was a random number of Tuesdays when they were young and naughty, and to your parents, it's that they "love" you too much to have ever possibly shown favoritism against you, let alone repeatedly. There is no way to get justice for all those times without looking like a petty child.

The best things about growing up as a middle child? You learn the cruelties of life early. By the time you're twelve, it's been pounded into your head that justice and unconditional love don't exist and that you can never truly rely on your family. You come to accept your family for what they are, not what they should be. You stop fighting a futile fight. You learn never to expect an apology. You learn to roll with the emotional punches. You learn to work with people you resent for the sake of familial coexistence. And after a while, I guess you either come to forgive them for hurting you so badly, or lose contact with toxic people like them.


I think I have MCS, due to what I read. I have encountered all these symptoms. I hate myself and have no self esteem. I was always shy and felt awkward in social settings. I could never keep a job. I battle depression all the time.

How can I fight this MCS? Can you please help me to overcome MCS?


I totally have middle child syndrome! I am the middle of three girls. The oldest is four years and youngest is a year from me.

I am 38 and still feel like the black sheep of my family. I am always being criticized by my mother and youngest sister. She and my mother talk about me and laugh at me and my four kids. I feel horrible about myself and wish I was never born sometimes. I hate myself and have no self esteem.

I was always shy and felt awkward in social settings. I could never keep a job. I battle depression all the time. I always feel so unimportant and ignored. I am always left out and if I try to express my feelings my mother mocks me and says, “Boohoo. Poor pitiful you” or “Woe is me!” She gets angry at me if I try and talk to her about my feelings.

My therapist told me I have a severe case of MCS! It is real and it has affected my whole life and continues to.


Strange that this is something I have felt all my life, but I am an only child, in the middle of nothing.


I am 31 years old, and I still suffer from this MCS. Sometimes I just want to fade away. I don't have any emotions left. I cry to myself, nothing more. I love enjoying the time with me and don't care about love, being loved or anything. Thanks to the mother (I think she has compared me her whole life, still does) and to the so-called father (who just left), I will never, ever be a normal person who wants to be just loved. I just hope to fade away quickly and end the pain. I am so tired sometimes.

Whenever I mention my death, the mother says, “Don't say that” or similar, but you know I just want to shout, "Stop your gibberish! You always hated me from the start and now you say you will be miss me.” But I just can't say that aloud. I just cry and cry myself to sleep or just daydream, still.

It's bad, I know. I want to get over this syndrome. But I can't leave her, even though I know she hates me. I guess I will die as if I never existed in the first place.


Middle Child Syndrome is definitely valid but is never admitted by the parents or siblings.

Growing up as a middle child, l was always ignored and even now as an adult, it still happens. l am 44 years old and have lived happily in another state for over 20 years. Besides birthdays and Christmas, I have no contact with my sisters or mum. If l tried, it was always a bad time. They would say they will call me back, but never, ever did.

l found out my grandma had a heart attack on facebook and the same thing happened when my uncle died. It on my sister's facebook page. l was never given the courtesy of a call.

Seven months ago, l decided to move to be closer to family. l came on my birthday. l admit, l was hoping for attention. l had not celebrated a birthday with my family in over 20 years. l did not even get a cake or any attention. They yelled at me for the plane being 15 minutes late. I have not been invited to family functions. l had two five-minute visits from one sister and all she has done is criticize me all those feelings as a child have come back.

As middle children, we crave that attention and we never speak up and allow it to happen and just cry silently. l never had or wanted kids because of the way l felt growing up. l was not abused -- just ignored. I never felt special.


I just want to say thank you for all the articles on Middle Child Syndrome. It just makes me feel that at least someone cares and understands that being a middle child is not a problem, but is made to be one by the adults and surrounding people who are supposed to protect them.

I suffered for years and even chose not to have a child of my own because I don't want anyone else to endure my pain. I am grateful to God that I found happiness that helped me heal every day from this pain and blame.

I hope every adult man or woman who is planning to have a child will be educated on parenting and the ramifications of bad parenting on a poor defenseless child. I am glad people are writing such articles and reading these articles. We are already making a difference to the naive world around us -- well done folks!


@jellies- Did you know August 12 is middle child day? Not that many people seem to be familiar with this holiday. I am also a parent of multiple children and we make a point to observe middle child day each year.

Of course, we have days for our oldest and youngest, too. The recognition really does make a difference. I think the best thing we can do as parents is love our children and help them to love themselves.


@oopart28- I agree with you in part. I think that middle child syndrome is valid, but you are right that acknowledging each child as precious and loved goes a long way. I am a proud parent of three children. My middle child has definitely bridled against his standing at times.

He has seen his older sister get privileges he cannot have yet. And at the same time, his younger brother requires a lot of attention from his father and me because he is learning so much about being his own person.

We make sure our middle son gets time with us where he doesn’t have to compete with his siblings. I have read a lot of books and articles on parenting. There are cases of middle child syndrome in adults. We don’t want our middle son to go into adulthood with any lingering feelings of inadequacy.

I try my best to love and nurture each of my children to help them be well rounded, stable adults as they each go out in to the world in turn.


I can’t say as I put a great deal of stock in middle child syndrome. I think we have a name for any kind of disorder that could possibly affect a person. I could get in to the nurture versus nature argument here. Wouldn’t it be a fairly easy fix to negate middle child syndrome by paying loving attention to all of your children?

What about focusing on the positive middle child characteristics? If you are a parent of multiple children, would it be hard to make sure your middle child is acknowledged as an appreciated member of the family?

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