Many grown middle children report experiencing a lack of attention or falling into the role of peacemaker between arguing older and younger siblings. But luckily, research conducted by Dr. Catherine Salmon, author of The Secret Power Of Middle Children has shown that although middle children may tend to get less attention than their older and younger siblings, this doesn't always have a detrimental effect.
Middle children are more likely to turn to siblings or friends for support, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. They often grow up to have very successful friendships and marriages, which Salmon thinks is due to their unique position as the middle child.
Still, with so many middle children reporting feeling left out, it's important to make a conscious effort to give them some focused attention and ensure they don't feel ignored when you get swept up in the busyness of life.
Here are a few methods to help build a deeper connection with your middle child:
1. Create special time
Set a timer for anywhere between 5-30 minutes, and tell your child it's special time, one-on-one quality time without the distraction of siblings. Make sure you have a quiet space away from the rest of the family and turn off your phone.
As you spend time together, shower your child with your warm attention and simply delight in being together. This is a great way to dole out equal amounts of attention regularly, and a useful tool to reconnect after busy times. Having time together with your middle child will help remind them that they are loved and that you are there for them.
(Be prepared for older and younger siblings to demand their fair share of special time too!)
2. Reflect + listen
Listening time is a time when partners spend time taking turns talking and listening together about how parenting is going. It's a time to clear your head of stress and day to day worries so that you can think more consciously and reflect on your parenting.
Having this space to reflect may prompt you to notice the times when your middle child has been left out and might need an extra dose of attention. If there's a pattern in your family of the middle child being left out, then it's a good idea to spend some focused time talking about what's going on for them, and how you can help.
Spending time talking with the warmth of a compassionate listener can help new solutions pop into your head. You might feel overwhelmed with the demands of three or more children, but listening can help you start afresh with renewed energy and ideas for the complex task of balancing your attention.
3. Try love bombing
The term love bombing was coined by Oliver James, a UK psychologist and author of Love Bombing: Reset Your Child's Emotional Thermostat. Love bombing is the idea of spending 24-48 hours of saying yes to whatever your child wants, and showering them with love.
James describes this as a way to reset your child's "emotional thermostat" by taking time away from everyday life so they can soak up your love. Saying "yes" helps them feel accepted and in control. It's a powerful antidote if family time has been taken up with the needs of older and younger siblings.
Love bombing is an especially good practice to try as your child gets older and spends more time away from the family. If you notice your middle child's behavior going off-track—they've become more grumpy, whiny, or non-co-operative—then these are all signs that you might want to consider love bombing.
4. Be mindful during times of change
Whenever there's stress or upheaval, even if it's of the positive kind, it's always good to check in with yourself and think about how your middle child is doing. A bit of special time and love bombing before a change, or while in the midst of it, can help your emotional ties to stay strong. Having time to talk over how everything's going for you whether it's with a listening partner, friend or therapist can also save your sanity.
Weekly family meetings are a great way to ensure every member of the family is heard. It can be a time to discuss what's going well as a family, and what's more challenging.
If you only have a limited amount of time, or if one child likes to communicate more than others, use a timer to ensure each child has equal time to speak. Treating each child as a respected member of the family whose opinion is valid can help if a middle child is feeling neglected.
Giving middle children attention is so important, and with these tools, it is possible to have a happy, harmonious family where everyone feels included. So take some time to hang out with your middle child, and trust that you are bringing up a human being whose position in the family is not detrimental, but is in fact, a gift.