Being the middle child in a family often comes with feelings of being overlooked or forgotten. While the oldest child may be seen as responsible and the youngest as the “baby” of the family, middle children can feel like they fall through the cracks.
However, there are several reasons why middle children may feel this way and things families can do to make sure all children feel valued.
Reasons for Feeling Overlooked
Less “Firsts” and “Lasts”
The first child in a family experiences many firsts – first steps, first day of school, first driver’s license, etc. The youngest child is often the “last” to experience major milestones.
The middle child doesn’t have these same unique experiences. They feel like their older sibling already did it and the younger one gets more attention for reaching the same milestones.
Comparisons to Siblings
Middle children often feel compared to their siblings, which can make them feel inadequate. Parents may compare their behavior, grades, interests, or abilities to the older or younger sibling. This can make the middle child feel like they don’t measure up.
Spread Out Ages
If there is a big age gap between the middle child and oldest/youngest siblings, the middle child may feel isolated. They may be too young to participate in older sibling activities but too old to be included with the younger sibling. A closer age gap can help the middle child feel more connected.
Parental Attention Focused on Others
Parental attention is often focused on the oldest child who needs more responsibility and teaching as well as the youngest who requires more hands-on care. The middle child can feel neglected without this same attention.
Younger middle children often get hand-me-down clothing and toys from the older sibling. While practical for families, this can make the middle child feel like they don’t get anything new or unique.
Expectations to be More Independent
Many parents expect their middle children to be more independent and self-sufficient at an earlier age compared to oldest and youngest siblings. While this instills helpful skills, it can also make the middle child feel like they have to figure things out alone.
Why It Matters
When middle children feel like they don’t stand out, it can damage their self-confidence. They may underestimate their skills, abilities, and worth.
Some middle children seek attention by acting out, misbehaving, or underperforming academically. Even negative attention is better than none.
Strained Sibling Relationships
Resentment over unequal treatment can strain sibling bonds. Middle children may become jealous or competitive with older/younger siblings.
Social & Emotional Struggles
Feelings of loneliness, isolation, sadness, and anger are common for forgotten middle children. This takes a toll on their overall wellbeing.
Future Problems Forming Relationships
The lack of attention growing up makes it harder to develop social skills. Middle children may struggle relating to peers.
What Families Can Do
While it’s common for middle children to feel this way, there are things families can do to make sure these children feel valued:
Carve Out One-on-One Time
Make time to interact with each child individually. Do special activities the middle child enjoys to bond.
Validate Their Feelings
If they express feeling forgotten, don’t dismiss it. Acknowledge the emotion and talk through it.
Celebrate Their Achievements
Mark major milestones and praise accomplishments. Display their artwork, awards, etc.
Focus on each child’s strengths as an individual. Don’t compare them to siblings.
Take Interests in Their Interests
Engage in the activities and hobbies they enjoy – talk, ask questions, participate.
Entrust them with meaningful tasks that make them feel valued.
Share Family Stories
Reminisce about special memories, highlighting their role. Photo albums/videos can help.
Plan One-on-One Time
Schedule special outings or excursions doing an activity they like.
Find Shared Activities
Find hobbies the whole family enjoys together. Bond over board games, sports, crafts, etc.
Foster Their Talents
Provide opportunities related to their talents – art classes, sports camps, music lessons.
Capture moments big and small. Display photos prominently showing they are part of the family.
When possible, buy new items just for them. Even small new items feel special.
Give Gifts Uniquely Them
Give presents tailored just for them based on their personality and interests.
Being the middle child comes with distinct challenges, but families can take steps to make sure these children feel valued, loved, and remembered. Simple efforts to connect one-on-one, celebrate their achievements, take interest in their hobbies, and make them feel special can give needed attention. With thought and care, middle children can feel just as important in their families.