The Middle Child

Child Traits: Middle versus Oldest and Youngest

Every person has unique character traits that make up who they are and how they respond to the environment around them. Some traits and characteristics we are born with. But, character is something that develops over a time as we grow. These traits begin to develop at home in our family environment and are often a result of our birth order. Dr. Kevin Lehman, author of the Birth Order Book, believes that the secret to sibling personality differences lies in their birth order. (https://www.parents.com/baby/development/social/birth-order-and-personality/) So the order one is born into their family will have an effect not only on behavior, but also can lead to their character development, beginning with the oldest, and down to the middle and youngest child in any family.

Dr. Lehman further states that these behavioral characteristics will have an effect on how parents treat each child. I have previously written about some of these behavioral traits but mostly from the middle child’s perspective, and some of the negatives and positives. Here I will examine specifically each child and their respective traits and how they develop, and the impact that they have on the other family members and perhaps why parents treat them the way that they do.

The Oldest Child, The Child With More Responsibility

When it comes to the oldest child we almost always think of them as being responsible, and having more responsibility when compared to the other siblings. I can remember my own kids asking, “why does Lizzie get to do certain things” and “why do people trust her more?” As the oldest child, Lizzie was with us for three years before Lyn came along, and five years total before Suzie was born. Before Lyn was born we gave all of our attention to Lizzie, and when Lyn came along we still gave her a lot of attention. But, by this time she was independent and could play by herself.

It just comes naturally that the oldest would assume a role with more responsibility. Sometimes that can spiral out of control and they assume roles not meant for them. At some point with our busy schedules, Lizzie was given duties to help with the younger siblings, but as they grew older she became like a second mother. Parents have to draw boundaries in what responsibility they give and how much and when.

Reliable, Trustworthy and Cautious

There are several other character traits that are common to the oldest. Parents magazine lists the following traits:

  • Reliable
  • Structured
  • Cautious
  • Conscientious
  • Controlling

It goes without saying that someone that is given more responsibility would be reliable and trustworthy. My Lizzie became very reliable and usually asked few, questions. If we told her to help with dinner or lunch she did, and would always go over above what we asked of her. Lizzie also became very structured over time as she would see something and just know what needed to be done. This was a process, and likewise, she became cautious, but, not to the point that she was unable to make a decision. Even when she made a decision and it was called into question she stuck to it. Lizzie was conscientious of things going on around her and also of how others would react to her.

These attributes helped Lizzie become an effective leader in the family and outside. However, as time progressed she took on another attribute of the oldest child, and that is controlling. While all children can be manipulative, the oldest seems to use their role and the responsibility given them to control situations and relationships, especially the younger children. If she didn’t want to do something she would ask, or even barter with the others to do it for her. It would be done and we thought she did it.

As parents we have to remember that we are not running a workplace where the oldest child is our foreman. Rather we are running a family and we are training all of our children. Because the oldest comes first they are in a position to be given responsibility, be found trustworthy, and cautious. If we are not cautious ourselves they can become controlling and can lead to major problems with the siblings.

The Middle Child: Working Things To Their Advantage

As I have stated earlier the middle child always feels left out and seeks to find their true place and role. Because of the sibling relations, and not knowing where they fit in, everything that occurs at home tends to eventually work to their advantage.Take friendships for example, middlers usually thrive in friendships or relations outside of the family. My own Lyn developed many relations outside of the home to help her fill the gaps of whatever was lacking in familial relationships.

Middle children are natural negotiators and peacemakers. This also comes from having to take a stand as the person in the middle, and often working out solutions between the other siblings, and sometimes the parents. However, before this process can come to fruition they often are compromisers. As I mentioned earlier in this article, Lizzie would be controlling and try to get Lyn or Suzie to do her chores, but Lyn could sense that something wasn’t fair. She in turn negotiated a compromise. Sometimes she was manipulated, but Lyn would not let it take root so she developed skills as a good negotiator. This has appeared with her parents in helping to find a plausible solution to a problem.

The Challenge: Finding Their Position

The middle child was not always the middle child, but was the baby at one time. When Suzie was born, Lyn was now the middle child, and everything changed. This is ultimately their biggest challenge and it becomes a lifelong process of not only understanding who they are but maintaining that position. We taught Lyn that she was the second child born into our family, but that did not mean that she was second place. Again, there are certain expectations placed on the oldest and not the others. However, we still taught them to be responsible and trustworthy. Part of Lyn finding her position also means that she was not to lord over the younger sibling, but treat her with the same respect that she wanted and should receive from the oldest sibling as well as her parents.

The Youngest Child: Attention Seeking

By the time the baby of the family is born they get hand-me-downs and are often overlooked. Middle children feel left out and youngest children feel overlooked because, by the time it is their turn, they have to take what is left. Common characteristics of youngest born children according to Parent magazine are;

  • Attention seeking
  • Manipulative
  • Outgoing
  • Fun-loving
  • Self-centered
  • Uncomplicated

Often the baby becomes spoiled as they are pampered, but they also can be forgotten. Usually when the parents are aware that this is their last child they tend to look at the youngest as special and not pay as much attention to the others. This is where the oldest picks up a lot of responsibility. Nevertheless, the youngest finds themselves as being the last in just about everything. Thus they cry for attention and become self-centered. Suzie cherished the time with her parents, away from her siblings, when they took her to ballet.

Other Traits Of The Youngest

The youngest child can be very fun-loving and outgoing. Because they are the baby and are often having to try to be heard or seen, it spills over into social relationships. They enjoy having fun and meeting new people. My Suzie has no filter when it comes to venturing out. She almost knows no limits, and is the one who will ‘just do it’ and realize later what she has done. To say that the youngest is a ‘daredevil’ or risk taker is probably putting it lightly. It flows out of having to be seen so that everyone will know that they are not just this weak, last born member of the family. This was compounded in my family by the fact that Suzie was so much smaller than the others.

The Effect On Other Family Members

There is no cookie cutter family, but these traits common to the various siblings can determine how parents treat them. For instance, Lizzie was given responsibility which later caused her to become controlling. This was countered by Lyn and Suzie being manipulative. But, because Lyn is in the middle she develops the peacemaker or negotiator skill. Suzie learned how to get her way so that when Lizzie and Lyn came into the situation they were quick to cry out ” she always gets her way.” This causes us as parents to in turn punish the children for manipulation and control, but also teach them the importance of not treating the others that way. Often when one was controlling or manipulative the other two would just avoid the topic or individual.

Because of the different traits we had a lot of fun outings and some that ended in a fuss or fight. The decision to go to a certain place for a holiday was often the result of the children giving us their ideas. Suzie, being outgoing and Lizzie, wanting to be around people often picked a place that was less desirable to Lyn. However, in an effort to be fair we always let Lyn pick a place she wanted but usually no one else did. It always turned out good but there were always issues. Before we got there the others were throwing out ideas for the next event.

While we want to be fair to our children we must remember that we are the parents and must not be controlled or manipulated, and that all things considered we are still the parents and must make wise decisions regarding familial relations.

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