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How to help your “middle child” not feel lost

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Caroline Moulinet - published on 07/01/23

As a family grows, sometimes middle children struggle to find their place.

The birth of a first child transforms a couple into parents. “The eldest child is the one who teaches us all about our role as parents,” says family consultant and Montessori educator Catherine Dumonteil-Kremer. When the first child arrives, moms and dads are figuring out how to raise kids, experiencing new anxieties as parents, and marveling at their child’s first achievements and successes.

As their family expands, the middle child may struggle to find his or her place. They’re sandwiched between the eldest, who carries the joys and fears of all those family beginnings, and the youngest, not yet independent, who tends to monopolize most of their parents’ available time.

Certain family configurations may help the second-born find his place; for example, if the second-born is a boy with older and younger sisters. But when the family has two girls and then a boy, the second daughter may find it difficult to stand out from her older sister.

To begin with, it’s important to verbally acknowledge the unique achievements of each child without comparing them. Saying, “It’s great how fast you can run,” is better than, “You’re a lot faster than your older brother was at your age,” for example.

A (physical) space dedicated to each child

Parenting educator Elisabeth Crary reminds us of the importance of boundaries for each child. “Some things are for them, and others are not. They can go some places and not others.” It’s a good idea for each child to have a dedicated space, even if it’s only a drawer that’s just for them in a shared bedroom dresser.

This allows each child to have their own special place. For the second child, it’s a place where the eldest can’t comment or give orders, and where the youngest can’t go to make a mess. It’s a place for things that the second child can have to himself without the youngest touching everything.

For Elisabeth Crary, there are several keys to avoiding sibling conflict:

  • Each child needs to feel loved.
  • They each need to be able to explore the world, while learning to manage their own emotions and those of others.
  • They have to learn to satisfy their needs and develop social strategies.

What place a child has in the family has an impact on all these points. Parents need to support all their children, especially the middle child. Older children will have different needs (such as needing help with homework) than the youngest children (who may need to be bathed, for instance). Middle children can feel lost in between if parents don’t ensure that time is set aside to give them particular attention.

Accepting your child’s emotions

“We would like [our children] to get along, to love each other, (…) to be supportive of each other throughout their lives,” Catherine Dumonteil-Kremer says. But it’s important for parents to accept their kids’ emotions. When a middle child says that an older sibling is being a bully, or that a baby brother or sister is making life impossible, we shouldn’t deny the emotion by replying, “But you love him anyway, right?”

Instead, try reaching out to the child, acknowledging his feelings without judging him. We can say things such as, “It hurts you when he makes fun of you, doesn’t it?” Or “Would you rather your little brother wasn’t playing with you right now?” In this way, the child feels that we recognize his feelings. He knows he can open up to his parents rather than locking his feelings away.

Whatever means parents choose to show their love for their child — special one-on-one activities on birthdays, for instance — they enable the child to believe the Lord’s words to Jeremiah: “I love you with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3).

Our children will feel known and recognized, and will know that they are is loved.

Tags:
ChildrenFamilyParenting
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