Child psychology – will my middle child have psychological problems

Q: I have two children, one eight months old, one two years eight months, and we are considering baby number 3 next year. Someone said that often with three children the middle child has psychological problems because their role is not clearly defined. Is this true? And, if so, what is the best way of ensuring that they grow up to be a well adjusted child? 

Answer from Ann Herreboudt:

It’s all about understanding and consideration. As you have two children, the first child is already secure in her/his position as the eldest child but it is important to understand the changes that the second child will feel as he/she moves from being the “baby” of the family to the middle child. When the new baby comes along, the middle child might feel quite lost and insecure in her position in the family (the eldest might get special treatment – later bedtime, etc and the baby demands a lot of attention, which can make the second child feel a bit excluded).

Despite, possibly still being only a “baby” herself, parents tend to suddenly expect a level of maturity above her years just because she is no longer the youngest of the children. So parents need to keep an eye on the situation and ensure that the middle child is made to feel important and that she still has a strong place within the family.

No matter the age of the second child, she will still suffer a certain amount of sibling rivalry (as will the eldest but who is likely to be more vocal about it) and this is likely to manifest itself in regression – for example the second child might want to be carried more, be babied more, make a fuss at sleep time, etc (which in itself contradicts a parent’s tendency to expect more maturity than before just because a new baby has come along). As there are more children that parents, the second child (understandably) often ends up being lumped together with her older sibling, doing what she does/going where she does, but it’s important to remember that she is still an individual and needs to engage with age-appropriate activities with her own friends and hobbies.

As hard as this might be, each parent needs to make sure that all 3 children has their own time with their parents and that if help is at hand then it shouldn’t always be the same child who is looked after by the  grandparents/nannies etc.

If the middle child is of a different sex to his/her siblings then the “middle child” issue should be less prevalent as he/she already has his/own identity well established.

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