Why Does the Middle Child Always Get in Trouble?
It’s a common family dynamic – the middle child always seems to be the one getting in trouble while the oldest and youngest get away with everything.
As the parent of a spirited middle child, you may find yourself constantly doling out consequences and questioning why they act out more than their siblings.
The reasons behind the “troublesome middle child” are complicated and have roots in birth order theory.
While every child’s personality and experiences are unique, there are some common explanations for why middle borns – especially those between the fiery firstborn and the baby of the family – have a reputation for being rebellious troublemakers.
They Feel Lost in the Shuffle
The firstborn child gets tons of attention as the first baby in the family. The parents have time to dote on them, marvel at every milestone, and worry over their every move.
Then the second child comes along. The parents are now juggling two kids, and their time and focus gets divided. The older sibling still demands attention through their accomplishments or challenging behavior. And the baby of the family gets coddled.
This often leaves the middle feeling overlooked and like they have no special role. Their experience getting attention may feel “less than” which breeds resentment. When they act out and get in trouble, even if it’s negative attention, they finally feel seen.
Their Personality Develops as a Rebel
According to birth order theory, the firstborn child is like a mini parent – responsible, structured, and eager to please their actual parents. The youngest is the family baby – playful, charming, and infinitely cute.
So what does that leave for the middle? Their personality tends to develop in opposition to the obedient responsible firstborn. Middle children learn quickly that they won’t overtake their accomplished older sibling. So they stop trying to compete on those terms.
Instead, they learn to stand out through resistance. They become the child who pushes boundaries, breaks rules, and stirs up trouble in the name of individuality. Rather than directly competing with their older brother or sister, they find their own path – even if it means ruffling feathers.
They Feel Overshadowed
Parental bragging rights inherently go to the oldest child who achieves every milestone first – rolling over, walking, talking, reading, etc. The baby of the family also gets lots of adulation for hitting milestones since they are the last one to do so.
This leaves the middle child in no man’s land. They have already been lapped by their older sibling who got there first. And they are overshadowed by the baby who is doing it for the first time.
Acting out and getting in trouble becomes a way to gain that attention their achievements no longer merit. Since their folks have seemingly “seen it all before” with older kids, bad behavior becomes the only way to grab the spotlight.
They Mimic Older Siblings
The firstborn gets away with a lot in those early years as an only child. Parents are usually more cautious and strict by the time the middle child comes along.
However, the middle borns still witness the perks their older sibling had. So they mimic behaviors in hopes of getting similar treatment.
For example, the older child may have been allowed to jump on the couch as a toddler with just a soft warning. When the middle tries it and immediately gets punished, they feel slighted. So they act out more boldly in attempts to do all the things they saw their older brother or sister get away with.
They Feel More Competition
As the middle child, your spot in the family isn’t as clearly defined. You aren’t the oldest or the baby. Plus, you likely experience competition on both sides – challenging your older sibling while fending off your younger sibling.
This can leave you feeling lost in the shuffle. Acting out is a way to demand attention when you feel overlooked. And when your folks get exasperated and punish you, at least you have proof that they notice your existence.
They Have Less Supervision
That firstborn child requires almost constant vigilance in those early years. Parents are often hyper-focused on their safety, well-being, and overall development.
By the time the middle child comes along, parents may feel more comfortable and confident. Thus, the middle child is likely to experience more unsupervised free time.
With fewer watchful eyes tracking their every move, the middle borns have more opportunities to get creative…and get in trouble.
Hand-Me-Downs Build Resentment
Fair or not, the firstborn child often gets brand new stuff – clothes, toys, furniture, etc. It’s only natural that parents go all out when preparing for their first baby.
When the middle child comes along, a lot of those great things get passed down. Being constantly outfitted in your older sibling’s hand-me-downs can breed resentment. What older brother doesn’t want his own prized possessions instead of lame leftovers?
Acting out can become a form of protest – a way to differentiate yourself when it feels like all your stuff has already been used.
Parents Loosen Up
First-time parents are usually extra rigid about things like rules, manners, safety protocols, bed times, diet, TV time, and discipline. But by the time your second kid comes along, you may relax those expectations a bit.
The middle child notices these discrepancies. It is frustrating when Dad insists her older brother use perfect table manners while allowing the younger sibling to play with his food.
She observes that the older kids got punished for climbing on furniture while it’s cute photo op when the baby does it.
This breeds resentment and leads to defiant behavior. The middle child pushes boundaries even further trying to figure out what they can get away with in this looser rule environment.
But they still get punished more harshly, causing confusion and troublemaker tendencies.
Their Eccentricities Aren’t Embraced
Every child has their own interests and eccentricities. But the middle child’s often get lost between an older sibling who takes after their parents and a younger sibling who is coddled and adored.
For example, if the oldest child is thoughtful and reserved like Dad while the youngest is cute and popular like Mom, any middle child with contrasting traits and views stands out.
Rather than embracing their uniqueness, the middle child gets questions like “why can’t you be more like your sister?” This breeds insecurity and defiance.
There Are Often Big Age Gaps
In the past, many middle children came from families with three or more kids spaced close together. But modern families often have big age gaps between the firstborn and middle child.
If your older sibling is 5, 8, or even 10+ years older, you experience a vastly different upbringing. You lose the comradery of having a close buddy to play with.
By the time you’re a toddler, your older sibling has little interest in entertaining you. This age gap can make the middle child feel isolated, overshadowed, and resentful of the older sibling’s greater freedoms and status. Acting out is a natural result.
They Have Different Interests Than Older Siblings
If the oldest child excels at academics or sports, the middle child may rebel against those traditional definitions of success in hopes of carving out their own identity.
A bookish older sibling breeds a wild middle child. A star athlete firstborn leads to a brooding artsy middle child.
Rather than competing directly, the middle finds ways to highlight their differences. Even if it means getting in trouble for things like skipping practice to sneak out with friends, the distinction feels worth it.
Parents Struggle with Fairness
Try as they might, parents will never treat their kids exactly equal in every scenario. The firstborn experiences full attention for years before siblings divide that focus. And the baby of the family certainly gets coddled.
Middle children are often at an inherent disadvantage when it comes to equal treatment. By birth order alone, they fall in the middle of major gaps in rules, styles, expectations and more. This innate lack of fairness breeds resentment and rebellion.
Expert Tips for Parenting the Middle Child
- Don’t punish them for normal developmental phases. Middle childhood comes with plenty of ups and downs. As they struggle to find independence and identity, rebellion is natural. Empathize rather than cracking down.
- Spend one-on-one time. Make sure they get special time with you away from siblings’ shadows. Show interest in their unique passions.
- Reframe comparisons. Avoid comments like “why can’t you be more like…” Instead say things like “I love how creative you are!”
- Loosen up a bit. Try to find balance between the cautious rules of the firstborn days and overindulgence of the baby. Meet their needs in the middle.
- Add responsibilities. Give them special roles like “team leader” for chores. This builds confidence and maturity.
- Get expert help if needed. If behavioral or emotional issues arise, seek counseling and other resources. They need support, not punishment.
The Rewards of Middle Child Personality
While middles get a bad rap, the same traits that make them troublemakers can also lead to many rewards like:
- Greater independence and ability to entertain themselves
- Strong conflict resolution skills from negotiating needs among siblings
- Increased empathy from being stuck between rival siblings
- An adventurous free spirit unburdened by firstborn pressure to achieve
- Ability to question authority and stand up for themselves
The middle child’s personality is complicated – but rich with great potential. With the right support, their challenging behaviors can transform into unique gifts ready to be shared with the world. The middle child ultimately brings vital balance, color and creativity to the family.
In many families, the middle child gets tagged as a troublemaker from early on. The scrutiny is often unfair, however, it points to some real family dynamics that breed resentment and rebellion.
The middles feel overshadowed by older high-achieving siblings and youngest cute siblings. They observe different rules from the past. And they have more freedom with less supervision – a perfect setup to act out.
But the traits bred from middle child frustration are assets too. With empathy and patience, rather than punishment from exasperated parents, the middle child can truly bloom and channel their independence in great ways.
Their rowdy play then becomes delightful improv. Rule breaking evolves into revolutionary thinking. Instead of troublemakers, we can raise middle children to be vibrant change makers.