by GALTime.com Parenting Pro Michele Borba, Ed. D.
Have more than two kids? Then chances are you've heard one of these comments lately….
"It's like I'm stuck in the middle."
"But I don't want to do things like my sister."
"I want my own stuff not these hand me downs."
"My coach always asks why I can't play like my brother."
Let's face it, middle kids get a bad rap. (I know... my middle kids keep reminding me.) But it seems these middle children also learn valuable skills and perspective because of their unique position in the family. In fact, those "advantages" (as I keep reminding my middle) appear to greatly help them in life. The trick is nurturing those advantages.
The renowned psychologist, Alfred Adler, was one of the first of scores of researchers to study the effects of birth order on siblings. He found that middle kids are generally more creative and flexible because they are trying to be different from their elder and younger siblings. They are also often more relaxed, independent, diplomatic and resourceful, as well as more balanced and generous than their other siblings. And they can make great negotiators because they have great people skills...if we let them forge their own way. There is also new research to support Adler's theory. Here are seven research-based tips from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions to help you raise middle kids to their advantage:
(Related: 5 Tips to Help Shy Kids)
- Watch out for favoritism. Though we may think we treat our kids equally, research shows otherwise. In fact, 65 percent of moms and 70 percent of dads exhibited a preference for their older child. So here's your test: Do your eyes light up with the same intensity for each of your kids? Beware: Middle kids do pick up on which sibling is your favorite. So tune into your interactions and how they might be perceived. Try hard not to express or leak out or even give a clue as to which of your offspring you favor even the tiniest bit more. Best yet, find a way to say what is special, loveable about each child, "You're my diplomat." Or "You'll always be my little cuddler."
- Make "first times" special. Every "first" (word, step, recital, etc.) is a momentous occasion with our eldest and big moments for our youngest are special because we know it will be our last time. So the middle children's "firsts" can get slighted. Be sure to make a big deal over your middle kid's first loose tooth, soccer trophy, Holiday Pageant, and slumber party... so he knows you're just as elated about his accomplishment. Katherine Conger's research at the University of California, Davis, found that second tier kids often tend to have more self-esteem questions and feel not quite as worthy as first-borns. Those little slights, those usually quite unintentional, can dig deep.
(Related: What Will Your Kids Remember Most? Take The 'Family Reunion' Test)
- Halt the comparisons. A big complaint of middle kids is being compared to their older sibling(s). "Your brother did that when he was three." "Your sister practiced diligently." Bite your tongue. Your cardinal rule is Never compare siblings.
- Encourage them to share their thoughts. The first born is notoriously more verbal simply because he or she had "alone time" with us before the second child's arrival. In fact, firstborns on average have an almost three point IQ edge over their other siblings and researchers say that is solely due to more parent one on one talking time with that child. As a result the middle kid often keeps things to himself and doesn't reveal feelings. So draw that child out. Ask how she's feeling. Deliberately take that extra minute at the dinner table to make sure she's not being overlooked, "How was your day, Honey?" "How did that project turn out?" Let him know you want to hear his thoughts. And make the older sib listen to his ideas.
P.S. By the way, as a mom of a middle kid let me assure you, they turn out not only fine, but just plain wonderful, thank you-especially if you let them march to their own drum.
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