Understanding the Middle Child–Why They are Balanced

A middle child can be somewhat of an enigma. Learn common characteristics of middle children and why they are so amazing!

McKenna who is a middle child

There are lots of stereotypes out there on the middle child. Jan Brady ring a bell? “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”

In The Birth Order Book, Leman states,

“It is quite normal for middle children to feel left out, ignored, and even insulted”.

(page 149)

It seems that many parents feel really bad for the middle child–so much so for some that they consider “middle child syndrome” as a factor when deciding if they should have another child or not.

And some decide not because they don’t want to turn their current baby of the family into a middle child.

Trying to Understand Middle Children

Middle children are mysterious.

“…we psychologists don’t know that much about middle children”.

(page 150)

This is because middle children are highly influenced by the sibling just older, and often feel some pressure from siblings below.

A middle child is too young to have the rights of the oldest but too old to get away with the things a youngest child does. This can be frustrating all around!

For a middle child, his personality “…is determined by his perception of his older sibling” (page 152).

The middle child is also a paradox. Common characteristics found in middle children can be complete opposites. They are not as easy to predict as an oldest child or youngest child.

Understanding Birth Order Exceptions

Perhaps part of the difficulty lies in the birth order exceptions. Let’s look at my children, for example. This is our order of kids, as well as gender because that matters in birth order:

  • Brayden (male)
  • Kaitlyn (female)
  • McKenna (female)
  • Brinley (female)

We have Brayden, the oldest. We have Brinley, the youngest.

We have Kaitlyn, who is in some ways a middle child. But she is also a functional firstborn in that she is the oldest child in the family of her gender. So not only will she have middle child characteristics, but she will have oldest child characteristics as well.

Then we have McKenna, our true middle child. She is neither the oldest nor the youngest of her gender in our family.

Let’s travel hypothetically and say our fourth child had been a boy. If that fourth child were a boy, McKenna would have been a different middle child than she is. She would have stood a great chance at picking up some youngest child characteristics due to being the youngest girl and littlest princess.

So middle children are hard to peg in general because there are so many other variables that impact the middle child and how they tend to get treated. Parentes treat oldest like the oldest and youngest like the youngest, but middle children have many other variables that impact how they are treated.

understanding the middle child pinnable image

Middle Children Are Pretty Amazing

So they might feel left out as children. They are hard to figure out and are a paradox. We should all feel bad for them, right?

Not really.

“All the research shows that middle borns do not have as many hang-ups or problems as first borns and only children”

(page 163)

Later in the book, Leman says the world needs more middle borns. Because of the nature of their place in the family, middle borns are good mediators. They learn to negotiate and compromise.

Leman states that he sees fewer middle borns in his office seeking psychiatric help than any other birth order. Part of that, he claims, is because

“…middle children tend to be mentally tough and independent”.

(page 161)

When I think of my children, I can understand how this would happen. When Kaitlyn was our only “middle child”, Kaitlyn had Brayden who was adept at getting attention.

She also had McKenna who needed constant care.

So what did she do?

She learned to do it herself. She had literally met many milestones the same time as Brayden–not same age, same day. She just figured she will do it herself. No sense in waiting around for help.

Our true middle born child, McKenna, is super independent and super accommodating. She asks us for the least. She is always willing to bring peace to a situation.

More good news for middle children. They tend to be “…the most monogamous of all birth orders” (page 161).

They are very loyal, and again, used to compromise. The middle child is not in need of constant attention and praise like other birth orders.

Kathy Nessel, a middle child and psychologist, says middle children have lower expectations and are more accepting in a relationship. She says they are used to things being unfair in life.

While that sounds sad, it is such a gift! Life indeed is unfair. Being able to accept that and move on with your day is such an amazing life skill.

Leman states a good word for middle children is balanced.

Middle Child Characteristics

With all of that said, let’s look at some of the common characteristics of the middle child:

  • Loner, quiet, and shy, OR might be sociable, friendly, and outgoing
  • Impatient and easily frustrated OR takes life in stride and laid-back
  • Very competitive OR easygoing
  • Rebel OR peacemaker and mediator
  • Aggressive OR avoids conflict
  • Hang out with peer group
  • Leaves home as fast as possible
  • A free spirit
  • Great team players
  • Often moves far from family as an adult
  • Good at negotiation and compromise
  • More of a closed book than an open one; secretive
  • Do not confide in many people
  • Mentally tough and independent
  • Monogamous
  • Loyal
  • Rebellious as far as convention is concerned
  • Balanced
  • Typically not spoiled–but you could have rebelled because you felt left out
  • Reasonable expectations and realistic–but you could be suspicious, cynical, and bitter
  • Social, you make friends and keep them–but this can also put you in a position of bending over backward to not offend friends
  • Independent thinker, you are willing to take risks–but you can also appear to be bullheaded and stubborn
  • Compromising and know how to get along with others–but others might take advantage of you
  • Diplomatic–but you might hide your own feelings to avoid confrontations
  • Secretive and able to be trusted with secrets–but you might avoid seeking help because it is embarrassing

You can see that they kind of have this “either/or” with different characteristics.

Common middle child characteristics pinnable image


So there you have it–the middle child. It isn’t such a bad place to be after all. I am constantly impressed with my middle child. As an oldest child, I admire her ability to go with the flow. I love that she doesn’t need to be right–even if she knows she is right, she can let it go.

Don’t feel sorry for your middle child and don’t avoid having more than two kids for fear of having a middle child. Make an effort to spend special time with each child, and get to know each child, but don’t feel sorry for your sweet middle child. Feel grateful the world has middle children.

Like Leman said, the world could use more of them.


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This post originally appeared on this blog June 2010

4 thoughts on “Understanding the Middle Child–Why They are Balanced”

  1. Wow Valerie! I love this post! I am a middle child and it describes me to a "T"!! I moved far away from home, left the house as soon as possible and also experience most milestones at the same time as my sister who is five years older than me. I even got married 6 months before her. I have always been rebellious according to my parents because I didn't do things conventionally and I have always been just a bit more independent and in less need of help than my two siblings. My sister and I have always said it was like we were twins separated by five years (we look alike too) but really I was just a classic middle child! haha! As a middle child this was such a fun post to read. I hope it helps me know my children as I continue to have more than one (if that be God's will) 🙂 Keep up the great posts:)!!

  2. As an MFT (Marriage/Family Therapist) Birth order is so very interresting. I know you touched on it, but the middle child is considered the most "marriable." For the reasons you listed, used to compromise and things not always being "fair." They do tend to be the most autonomus, and for the only children out there, this is what you need to be looking for in a partner!! I'm the youngest of 3 and married the middle of 3 and it works pretty great!! So don't be afraid of having 3 kiddos!!

  3. I am a middle child, and am so thankful! This post is so true! I really need to get that book! My older brother and younger sister have both needed my parents numerous times in life for "bailouts", yet I remain fairly independent. I guess that is because I have always had to be!

  4. Thanks for all of your thoughts! It is great to hear from middle children. It is also great to hear from a MFT ABCDMomma! So thanks!


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