The Psychology behind Birth Order
Navigating the Birth Order Theory
Does this mean that being born into our families in a specific order defines our personality and experiences? Not necessarily. Birth order cannot account for all the individual differences between siblings. Age differences, gender, and socio-economic status (Lemire, 2001) all influence personality development.
McGowen and Beck (2009) argued that psychological birth order has more influence over a child’s personality than biological birth order.
Psychological birth order refers to the experiences and interactions that shapes a child’s personality and mindset. For instance, a middle-born child who has older siblings can also develop stereotypical traits of an oldest child. Parents may give them more responsibilities and hold them to higher expectations when there is a large age gap between the middle-born child and the younger siblings. As a result, they could grow up to be independent and dominant.
Botzet, Rohrer and Arslan (2020) concurred that birth order had nonsignificant impact on children’s intelligence, personality traits and aversion to risk. Similarly, Rohrer, Egloff and Schmukle (2015) found that personality traits are not significantly associated with birth order. These show that birth order is not always an important predictor of a child’s development.
As much as we acknowledge the relevance of this theory in particular family situations, it is crucial that we apply it with consideration.
Is Middle Child Syndrome a real thing?
Middle child syndrome can be a real thing in family dynamics and environments that perpetuate it.
As discussed above, birth order is not the sole factor determining a child’s experiences and personality. An individual can be a middle-born child and have completely different relationships with their family members and encounters in their lives. Not all middle-born children feel neglected and overlooked, as middle child syndrome suggests. However, this applies when the family environment and dynamics facilitate the impression that middle-born children are less valued.
In some circumstances, oldest or youngest children may also undergo such experiences. Even though they stereotypically receive ample attention from parents, this may not always be true. These children may experience neglect and less meaningful relationships with their parents in certain situations. In some families, the middle-born child may require more care. This can be due to a medical or psychological condition. Parents may spend more time watching over this child and lavish them with more affection.
Furthermore, in some cultures, children of specific genders are more favoured. Parents of middle-born children of the favoured gender may prioritise their well-being and bond more with them. Hence, oldest and youngest children may still experience middle child syndrome despite having a “favourable” birth order. Overtime, they can become more detached from their parents and less reliant on them for support.
Characteristics of Middle Children
What are the Effects of 'Middle Child Syndrome'?
Middle Child Syndrome in Relationships
Overcoming Middle Child Syndrome
How do we overcome middle child syndrome? Feeling overlooked in the family context can lead to low self-esteem that implicates other aspects of life. However, every middle-born child’s experience with middle child syndrome can be vastly different. There is no one fixed method to manage it.
If you relate to the description of middle child syndrome, try reflecting on how it has influenced your life. Has it affected how you function in interpersonal relationships? How about how you show up at the workplace? Has this created favourable circumstances or difficulties in your life?
Through becoming aware of how middle child syndrome has impacted you, you can seek out the appropriate resources to address it. One example could be placing too much emphasis on achieving your goals. When you are aware of this, you may wish to look for resources to improve the situation. This can include reading self-help books and even going for counselling.
Middle child syndrome can be tricky to overcome. However, there are many avenues available for help-seeking and developing more adaptive behaviours.
Preventing Middle Child Syndrome
Warmth and Closeness
- These middle-born children felt that their families were warm and close. Family bonds are hence, important to them.
- Middle-born children and their parents mutually respect and trust each other.
- Middle-born child and their siblings have good relationships. Siblings are seen as dependable and good companions.
Positive Experiences With Having Both Younger and Older Siblings
- These middle-born children saw the benefits in having an oldest sibling as a role model.
- Also, they felt it was good to have a youngest sibling who depended on them for care.
- They were satisfied and contented with their birth order.
Less Attention Provided
- Even though middle-born children concurred that they received less attention than their siblings, they were neutral about it.
- They saw benefits in receiving a moderate amount of attention, and still had their needs met.
High Parental Expectations
- Middle-born children perceived their parents as having high expectations for them but were neutral about it.
- The expectations were manageable and not beyond their abilities.
Good Communication Between Family Members
- Forging healthy and good communication between siblings is vital to ensuring that they have good relationships.
Middle-born children need to have quality relationships with their family members to feel satisfied in their families. If their needs are met regardless of the amount of attention provided to them, middle-born children can still feel valued. This alleviates the possibility of developing middle child syndrome.
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