Being the middle child is harder than it seems. Whether a kid is the second of three siblings or somewhere in the center of a much larger family, it’s likely they’ve undergone experiences of neglect or being undervalued at some point. From their perspective, their older sibling(s) get all the praise, and their younger siblings are treated like royalty. They don’t have any of the responsibilities of their seniors, nor do they have any of the benefits of being the family baby. They’re in no-man’s-land, and it comes with a toll. Here’s a look at what it means to be a middle child, and why parents need to be especially wary of neglecting their middle children.

Middle Child Syndrome Explained

In 1964, Alfred Adler came up with a theory that assigned different personality traits to people based on their birth rank. The oldest were more authoritarian, the youngest were spoiled, and the middle—well, they got the short end of the stick. Middle children, Adler claimed, were prone to feeling overshadowed by their other siblings and felt like they never “fit in.”

While many studies have tested Adler’s theory, it appears birth rank is actually a poor indicator of a person’s personality. Still, Middle Child Syndrome is something many children (middle or not) can experience, especially if they’re part of a large family. Middle Child Syndrome is when a child feels overlooked by their parents, siblings, and other important figures in their lives. This can lead to trust issues, a sense of over-competitiveness, and feelings of alienation with the family. Kids with Middle Child Syndrome won’t want to open up to their parents or siblings, and may harbor some serious teen stress when they’re older. This is why it’s so important for parents to do everything they can to prevent Middle Child Syndrome in their own children.

What Causes Middle Child Syndrome

As a parent, you probably feel like you do a pretty good job attending to each one of your children an equal amount. After all, there’s only so much you can do in a day! But there might be things happening outside the home that make your child feel as if they’re nothing but the “middle child.”

For one, if they go to school with their other siblings, they might only be known in relation to their brothers and sisters. Teachers might greet them by the wrong name, and other kids might only know them as “Marty’s brother” or “Ciara’s sister.” These kinds of interactions will make them feel like their own presence isn’t valued, thus backing up their preconceived notions of being the middle child. They also might assume that their younger siblings have it “easier” than they did at school, and so while they don’t have the benefit of being the oldest, they don’t have the benefit of being the youngest either. To beat these challenges, one-on-one tutoring with teachers, coaches, or peers can help the middle child feel appreciated as they develop skills that give them an edge in the family.

There are lots of other things that can make your child feel like they don’t have a special space in the family. Picking them up late from rehearsal, missing an important match to attend another sibling’s event, and even giving them unsavory chores might make them assume they’re nothing but a filler child. If you can, make sure you carve out time from your schedule to spend with your middle child specifically, and do everything you can to support their interests and hobbies. Never compare them to their other siblings, and focus on their strengths! Simple things like this will go a long way in making your child feel valued in your family.

The Downsides of Middle Child Syndrome

You might not think Middle Child Syndrome is a big deal, but it can actually do significant damage to parents, siblings, and families at-large. For one, a child dealing with Middle Child Syndrome are likely to develop trust issues. The feeling of not being able to rely on their parents and siblings for support will carry into their other relationships, too, which will lead to seriously unhealthy partnerships and friendships. They might become jealous and overbearing, or they might be unable to accept much-needed help and support. Either way, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Likewise, Middle Child Syndrome can foster jealousy between siblings and animosity between children and parents. If a child feels like they’re constantly being compared to their siblings, they’ll resent their brothers and sisters. They’ll be quicker to hold grudges and start unnecessary family conflicts, and they won’t feel like they can turn to their parents for help. Eventually, someone with Middle Child Syndrome might even come to distrust their family entirely and alienate themselves. With such dire consequences, it’s crucial for parents to prevent Middle Child Syndrome from taking form as much as they can.

The Bright Side

It’s crucial to note that even though it’s called “Middle Child Syndrome,” not all middle children are doomed to its fate. In fact, these trends are steeped in more stereotype than reality. Still, the symptoms of Middle Child Syndrome—feeling neglected, undervalued, and out of place in the family—are very real and can happen to any child who doesn’t feel supported—not just the middle ones! With this in mind, it’s important for all parents to do everything they can to support their children equally and avoid playing favorites.