Being a middle child isn’t always easy, but you can help them navigate their status through how you parent them. Listen in on today’s episode where Dr. Leman breaks down what it means to be the middle child and gives some pointers on how to help them through life.
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Doug: So you got three kids. You think you got the first one. Definitely understand the babe, but what about that middle child? How do you understand it? They seem so placid. They seem so wonderful. Well, they are quite wonderful. Since Andrea and I are middle child, we think they’re wonderful, but how do you parent a middle child? That’s the question we get to ask Dr. Leman today. Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.
Andrea: And I’m Andrea.
Doug: And we are so glad that you are with us today. It is great to be with you. We hope that you’re having a fabulous morning or afternoon or evening, wherever you’re listening to this at, and we want to let you know, welcome. This is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or a child, please go seek a local professional for help. So, Dr. Leman, I’ve got a middle child and I’m coming to you as the birth order expert and saying, help me figure out how to parent my middle child. What do I need to know as a parent?
Dr. Leman: Well, the very first thing we have to discover, Dr. Terpening, is this child really a middle child? Just because you’re child two with siblings on each end doesn’t automatically make you a middle child. When we describe a middle child a little later you’ll say, “That’s not me. Well, there’s a little bit of that in me, but not much. I think I’m more like a firstborn child.” Well, that’s because the child above you in the birth order is of the opposite sex. You always have to look at sex as a variable when you look at the three, four, five, six little cubs that meander out of the proverbial den, so that’s number one. Your true middle child is the one that’s sandwiched between same-sex kids within five years of each other, so if there’s a three year gap, two year gap, four year gap, 18 month gap, whatever, if they’re close the more competitive those cubs are going to be, and the more pronounced that middle child syndrome, so to speak, will be apparent in that kid’s life. Does that make sense so far?
Andrea: So was that within three years you said? Five years?
Dr. Leman: Five years you sort of draw another family. So I would say four years, three years, two years.
Andrea: Between each child, or from the top one to the third one?
Dr. Leman: No, just between the births of the kids. For example, if the first one is right now you have a 13-year-old, and an 11-year-old, and then a five-year-old, okay? The five-year-old is so far removed from the others that they’re going to function as an only child who has four parents. So then the family becomes just a firstborn and a secondborn, and on top of that if one is a male, and one is a female you could have two firstborn personalities. You could have a firstborn and a baby. So, again, when people look at birth order, and they just look at the rank, ordinal position of the child, you missed the whole point of how we’re trying to help you understand your kids, yourself, and your family. You really have to look at the big picture, and the year spread, and the sex of the kids is certainly two very important variables.
Doug: Another question since we’re on this, if we have two children and they’re only two years apart, is the second one a middle child, or is it a baby, and it’s a boy and a girl?
Dr. Leman: In all probability a youngest, yeah. So, again, there’s an art form to some of this quite frankly to figure it out, but it’s fun figuring out, and once you figure it out it makes some sense. And that’s where I think we can help parents today get behind the eyes of that middle child and see how they see life.
Doug: So what are the struggles that a middle child is having as they’re stuck in the middle?
Dr. Leman: Well, that they never had anything to themselves. They had hand-me-down clothes from their older brother and sister, okay? And they feel squeezed. They’re in a position where if they look up there is the king or queen, the junior monarch of the family, the one who calls the shots, the boss, the jefe. And then they look below them and they got this little pipsqueak who seems to get away with murder, and is great at setting the middle child up as the brunt of whatever. What’s the middle child to do? Throw up their hands and move next door. I mean, it’s tough being a middle child.
Dr. Leman: The good news is I always say the middle child is the peanut butter and jelly of the sandwich because they learn that life is certainly not about them. Now at Leman Academy of Excellence, our schools, we try to teach kids they’re not the center of the universe. Most middle children need no teaching on that. They understand that because they’re surrounded by stars and celebrities in their own little world, in their own family. Even the dog takes priority over the middle child, but the good news is they negotiated for everything they ever had. They never had mom and dad to themself. The family photo album is always interesting because most of their best pictures have their older sister or brother’s armpit around their head. That’s how they grow up.
Dr. Leman: They’re sort of smothered in many ways so they become fiercely loyal to their friends, and they are more likely to identify outside of the family than inside of the family. What does that speak to about where’s the rebel in the family? Lots of times you’ll find the rebel in the number one position because the parents were too authoritarian and the kids had dug in and said, “Hey, I want no part of this,” but more likely than not that middle child who felt like he didn’t quite belong, and I think that’s a message for parents today how do you make your middle child feel important? How do you make them feel like they belong? How do you keep them in the ballgame? Because they are most likely to go outside of the family for friendships and whatever values that you hold dearest, family, they might just run from those so you might have a good protocol position in that middle child of the family.
Dr. Leman: On top of that there’s things in families called alliances where child number one and number three bond together, and child two and number four bond together. Just as an example, what do you do when there’s just three of them? It’s one and three versus who? The middle child, so it’s fun. It’s fun to take a look at this. It explains a lot of our kids’ behavior, but, again, we want to help parents today know, okay, how do I approach this middle child? What are the things that I do that make that kid feel important? Number one is ask for your child’s opinion. So many times the loud mouth firstborn, or the loud mouth baby just sort of drowns out everybody else and there’s the middle child who just sort of rolls with the punches, and that’s a skill they have that will pay off in life that they roll with the punches, but just simple asking them, Honey, what do you think we should do? Where would you like to go? I’d love to know how you feel about this or that. Those are things that draws the middle child into the family.
Andrea: So asking for their opinion because they often don’t get heard.
Dr. Leman: No, they don’t. They get lost.
Andrea: And you said in the last podcast, the middle child gets forgotten, and that’s why we’re doing this one.
Doug: Did you ever feel forgotten, Andrea, growing up? You know, because you had a perfect older sister.
Andrea: Right. Well, I’m trying to figure out my younger sister is a little over five years younger than me.
Doug: Were you a baby?
Andrea: So I don’t know, but Dr. Lehman has told me that for some reason Emily and I reversed roles even though I was second, so I’m listening carefully trying to figure out that.
Dr. Leman: Yeah, Andrea is so cautious and precise. She’s more of a firstborn personality for whatever variables. Now, again, we haven’t talked about the critical-eyed parent, which is another huge variable in birth order, but let’s take three girls in a family. The firstborn has always been expected to really just shine in everything. The problem is that no matter how hard she tried, she never quite got there because her mother or her father would always say, “You could do better.” They were a flaw-picker. Lots of times that will spawn a situation that defeats the firstborn daughter in this family, and then the secondborn daughter, especially, if she’s just a couple of years behind the firstborn will bloom. She’ll leapfrog over her, so to speak. And she wasn’t bombarded with the critical nature of the parents because she was protected by the ice cutter in life, which is the firstborn.
Dr. Leman: So the firstborn took all the bumps and bruises of what went on in the family. Whenever there’s dysfunction in the family, the one that’s closest to it that would be the firstborn pays for it. If there’s a child right behind them within just a couple of years, they tend to profit from that, believe it or not. And they again, leapfrog them and become more like a firstborn personality, more like a leader in the family, if that makes sense.
Doug: That’s great. So the first one was ask for their opinion. What would be another parenting tip when dealing with middle children?
Dr. Leman: Yeah. I think you have to come alongside of your middle child, and you have to verbally identify with where they are in life. Simple things like just observations. You know, Honey, I was driving to the grocery store today. I was thinking about you. There you are. You’re sort of stuck in the middle, aren’t you? You got your big sister who just between you and me acts like she knows everything, and you got your little sister who just between you and me we should get a big can of Raid that would help keep her down in her position. I mean, use some humor if you want, but in other words, you’re getting behind the kid’s eyes, and you’re empathizing with the fact that it’s not easy to be a middle child. Just that recognition that that’s a tough place to be in the family goes a long way.
Dr. Leman: And then you’ve heard me say this before, this is the grand slam of them all when you pull that middle child aside and you say, Honey, can I ask your opinion about something? Now notice you’re asking opinion, which always helps. Is your older sister a little over the top or is it me? She’s a little too much, isn’t she? And right there that middle child is going to light up like a firefly in the early evening. Oh, my goodness, somebody understands what I’m up against. So anything that goes in that direction where you’re empathizing with your son, or your daughter about how tough it is to be in that position goes an awful long way.
Doug: There’s a couple of things that you say every now and then, and then I think, “Wow, this guy is out to lunch.” So this was one of them that you said a long time ago to us. I thought, “Okay, well, he’s been right on a couple of things. I might as well try this one.” So I took my middle child aside and I did exactly what you just said. I followed you almost verbatim and I was shocked at the response of my child because I thought “Am I dissing the other children? Am I slandering them?” But you do say it in such a way that you’re not. They’re like literally at the end of it, you’re not kidding this child said, “Dad, thank you. I thought that nobody knew how hard it was,” or I think he said more like “I didn’t think anybody understood what that older brother is like.” And I was like, “Wow, it works.” So it sounds crazy, but it really does help the children.
Dr. Leman: Yeah, you know, as a youngest child I can tell you that we had an old Chevy. There were three kids in our family and nobody ever wanted to sit in the middle. Now it was just a position of whose bigger. And, of course, the middle child of my family was my brother who was the quarterback of the football team so they both had the outside seats in the backseat of the sedan we had, and I had to sit in the middle. With kids it’s sort of like the associated press power rankings. Number one child has some power. Number two, depending upon their sex and their physical size has some power. The least visible power is the baby of the family, but as we’ve talked about on our podcast, watch out for those babies because they can be manipulative. They find ways to get around the older ones.
Dr. Leman: Again, it’s a challenge I think for parents to sit down and realistically see what games the kids play of one-upsmanship in your family. Again, the birth order theory was not created by Kevin Leman. A lot of people give me credit for that. It was a guy by the name of Alfred Adler who back in Austria he was actually a compadre of Sigmund Freud talked about the striving for superiority in families where these kids strive to be on top, to be the boss, to be the jefe, and that’s really the seedlings of where birth order started, but it’s fun as a parent to try to figure it out because it will help you in giving your kids the vitamin E, the encouragement that they need, and the vitamin N that they sometimes need, which is simply, no, we’re going to not do that. We’re going to go in a different direction.
Doug: I’m going to make sure that I get the eBook promotion in here because it’s totally relevant to what we’re talking about, but when we are done with it, I want to come back to what you just said, like what are the traits that kids have as middle children that we need to give them ease and ends to? But before we go to that, it’s a perfect eBook for what we’re discussing is that you can get The Birth Order Book between now and the end of the year, December 31st of 2019 for $2.99.
Dr. Leman: Oh, wow.
Doug: This is wherever eBooks are sold between now and the end of the year. How, Dr. Lehman, will reading that book help me be a better parent?
Dr. Leman: Wow. It will help you in every possible way. There’s a whole section on how to raise your firstborn, your secondborn, your thirdborn, your only child. If you’re a business person, oh, my goodness, read the book. People always ask me. It’s a tough question because books are like kids, but they say, “Hey, I’ve never read one of your books, but I want to. Where do I start?” And lots of times I just say, “Well, read The Birth Order Book.” Because it’s a marriage book. A lot of good stuff on marriage, good stuff on parenthood in there. The book was revised. The book actually came out way back in the Phil Donahue days. He was way before Oprah Winfrey to show you how long that book has been around. It was first released in 1985, but the book that you buy today has about 70% more material than that original book.
Dr. Leman: So many of you who’ve read The Birth Order Book years ago, I think, The Birth Order Book was totally revised, I’m guessing four to five years ago. So that is the most up-to-date version. It’s well worth to read. 2.99, I mean, just even if you have the book. I would download that sucker and have it so it’s at your fingertips when you’re out for lunch with somebody and you’re talking about something relevant and you can pull out the old Birth Order Book, and share some of the little jewels that are in there. That’s a book for everybody, but if you’re a business person and you manage people, wow, read The Birth Order Book. It will give you great insight. Moms, dads, kids love The Birth Order Book. I can’t tell you how many times I get emails from kids who are doing research papers on birth order and they always come back to me and tell me they got an A because the teacher loved the topic so much. It plays out, but we really haven’t described the stereotypical middle child.
Doug: Well, let me just finish and then that’s what we’ll do in just a moment because I got to wrap up. I got to do one more thing and then let’s do that.
Dr. Leman: All right.
Doug: So I just want to highlight something Dr. Leman said that if you’re not a person who reads whole books this is the book to get because then you just find the section, like if you’re struggling with your middle child, go read the middle child section. You don’t have to read the whole book to understand it, it will help you, but Birth Order Book now to the end of the year $2.99 of 2019 between now and the end of 2019 wherever eBooks are sold. And now a no-nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.
Dr. Leman: Listen carefully. The man who is saying what he is about to say is really not off his rocker. Just stay with me for a little bit would you? Outside activities for kids are not good. Yes, you heard that right. Outside activities for kids. Now, Leman, Leman, Leman, there you go again. What do you mean outside activities aren’t good for kids? My kid is in Little League. We love Little League. Okay, you got me. I give up. Both hands are skyward. So let’s go with limit outside activities for kids, and here’s the problem, folks. If you have three children and each of them just has one outside activity you’re going to go bonkers trying to keep up with them. You’re going to be shuttling kids from one activity to another and at whose expense? At your expense. And check this out, I think at their expense as well because the more activity and the more people engaged in your kids’ lives when they’re young dilutes the indelible imprint that you get a chance to give to your own kids.
Dr. Leman: I think quite frankly, some of us are addicted to our own adrenaline that our own body produces from rushing from event to event. I marvel at how young families make it today when both of them are working and they have children and you want to put activities on top of that. So again, for you parents who have a little older kids it’s time for discussion around the dinner table to say, hey, you know what? I think we all have a little bit too much on our plate. What can we do this next year, this next semester? Any way you want to say it, this next month to limit things so that we have more time for ourselves, more time for each other, and more time for our family.
Doug: Alrighty, Dr. Leman. So now let’s get to the characteristics of a middle child and what I need to be looking out for to give them vitamin E and vitamin N?
Dr. Leman: Okay. Well, again, keep in mind that your true middle child is sandwiched with the same-sex kids on each side of them. So here’s your stereotypical description of a middle child. Fiercely loyal to their friends, competitive, able to roll with the punches. They hit the curve balls of life pretty good. They’re always getting curve balls thrown their way from either on top from the older sibling, or from the younger sibling. They’re natural mediators and negotiators. They’ve had to negotiate, provide everything they had in life, okay? They tend to be secretive. This is the kid that’s most likely when they’re troubled to go to their bedroom and whimper, or just suffer in silence, so to speak. So sometimes parents you got to find a way of coming around this kid.
Dr. Leman: Sometimes it’s just the physical touch. Sometimes it’s putting your arm around that son or that daughter and say, Honey, you seem a little distant. You seem like something’s bothering you and I don’t want to pry. Oh, that’s a good sentence. I don’t want to pry, but if there’s something that you want to talk about I’m all ears. So in other words, you want to try to keep those communication lanes open for that middle child. When that child speaks their mind, okay? Again, sometimes it might be laced with a little anger. I think it’s important that as a parent you’re talking about vitamin E now that you come around that kid and say, Honey, it’s really good to know that you’re brave enough to share how you really feel. So you want to look for ways as a parent to reinforce anytime that kid is not being secretive, he is being communicative, she is showing a real sense of transparency. You want to jump on that because that’s the kind of stuff you want to encourage.
Dr. Leman: The other stuff that’s negative that the middle child can certainly get into is nobody likes me. They can get the victim mentality. Again, that’s where some vitamin N comes into play because you don’t want to pay that off. Again, kids will use drama. If you have middle aged kids you know the word drama. Middle school kids I should say, sorry. There’s always drama in those years, and as a parent sometimes you have to let that kid just pour out all the drama and then sift through the drama to figure out what really happened and work toward holding kids accountable for the things they say and do in life. That’s very generic, but important for the middle child, too.
Doug: Great. So, Andrea, do you want to go through that list for us again?
Andrea: Okay, so they’re fiercely loyal to their friends. They’re highly competitive. They’re able to roll with the punches, and they can hit the curve ball. They are natural negotiators, but they are secretive and they suffer in silence. Then you gave us two tips. One for vitamin E, one for vitamin N. Whenever they do communicate or begin to be transparent to actually give them lots of vitamin E. Don’t criticize what they have to say. And don’t let them fall into the victim mentality that nobody likes me. That’s a good time for vitamin N.
Dr. Leman: Yeah, and see they can work you with nobody likes you. I think if you pursue that with a son or a daughter, you’re going to hear about how big brother or big sister did this or did that. I think as a parent, you come around and say, well, Honey, let me ask you something. Did you talk to your brother Daniel about that? Well, no. So you tell me what’s the best thing to do here? I guess I should talk to Daniel. Well, are you afraid to talk to Daniel? No, I’m not afraid. Well, go talk with him and tell him that he hurt your feelings. Just tell him the truth. If you need some help with it come by, I’ll be glad to listen in, but, again, I think you sort of point those victims on the road to success by whatever is going on in your life that’s causing you grief right now. It’s not going to get solved unless you talk to the source of the grief.
Andrea: What kind of roles do the middle children end up in generally in life?
Dr. Leman: Well, take the teaching profession. Nurses are firstborn and middleborn in huge numbers. They tend to use their skills of getting along with people. Again, they’ve negotiated for about everything they ever had in life, so they’re middle management people. You’re not going to find your typical middle child in high tech, in precision. Engineering, for example, very few middle children compared to firstborn.
Dr. Leman: I was at a banquet the other night at just one of those chicken dinner fundraisers and just meeting some people and this guy volunteered he was an electrical engineer. I just looked at him and said, “Oh, you’re firstborn son, aren’t you?” He looked at me like I was from the moon, and he said, “Yes,” but he had that look on his face like what does that have to do with anything? Well, I wasn’t going to go into birth order 101 with him, but if you meet an engineer in all probability they’re not the middle child. You meet a pilot, they’re not a middle child, an astronaut, not a middle child, I mean, so middle children tend to go in those avenues where their personality, their friendships pay off. So anything that’s relational you’re going to find a good number of middle children in it that’s their thing.
Doug: Well, we could keep going on middle children and this is why you wrote a book about it so that people can get total details. I want to remind you, Birth Order Book, between now and the end of 2019 for $2.99 wherever you get eBooks, and I’m just telling you get that book and then Have a New Kid by Friday, right? Pair those two together and you’re just going to be like, oh, light bulbs, light bulbs. I get it, I get it, I get it. So for your sake, please do that. Well, it’s great to talk to you and help you add to your parenting toolbox that you could love those kids more and more and more. And we look forward to the next time we get to be with you.
Andrea: And go ask that middle child what they’re thinking about this week.
Doug: Yeah, and see what they say.
Doug: Alrighty. Have a great one. Take care.
Andrea: Have a good week.