I Have a Second Child and The Second Child Syndrome Struggle Is Real


Hi. I’m Mo. I don’t know what to do with my second child.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my second child more than life itself. I would lay my life down for her. She’s smart, funny, and strong. Her personality is so much bigger than her little 5-year-old body. She laughs easily and loves fiercely. Someday, she’s going to rule the world. Or at least the U.S. 

My second child and her second child syndrome.

If she (and I) can survive until she becomes an adult, that is.

See, there’s a phenomenon that occurs with second children. “Second Child Syndrome” (or even “Middle Child Syndrome” if by some miracle parents have more than two kids) is what it’s been coined. People who actually study this sort of thing think that Second Child Syndrome comes from a perceived lack of attention compared to the older sibling. Second children sometimes act out because even negative attention from their parents is better than no attention at all.

My baby is a true second child, regardless of the reason. Attention seeking? Check. Doesn’t take no for an answer? Heck yeah. Stubborn and strong-willed? Don’t get me started. She got her prenatal hands on some kind of second child checklist while she was still in the womb and made it her Bible.

There was a day, not too long ago, when my daughter asked her father to play house with her. He was tired and didn’t want to play at that moment. Her reaction was to act as though he hadn’t said anything at all and to tell him which role she wanted him to play.

That’s at the core of her personality — an abject refusal to understand that she can’t get her way all the time. She interprets the word “no” as an invitation to debate.

It doesn’t matter if she was told she couldn’t wear a dress in January without tights, or if we said she couldn’t ride her bike unsupervised. If she wants to do something and we refuse, here come the fireworks.

My second child often throws dramatic temper tantrums.
The scene at our house after we say “no”.

The flip side to all of this drama is that someday, she will find herself in a situation where someone will try to take advantage of her. To that person, I say: Good. Luck. If this kid isn’t calling the shots, she’s not interested. She knows what she wants and she will do everything in her power to get it. And she’s got a long memory: she hasn’t forgotten that her dad promised her a pony.

Two years ago.

I struggle with finding a balance as she grows up, though. How do I nurture that big, beautiful personality and also make sure she understands that there are family and social guidelines she has to live by? Even something as small as what to wear is tough with her. I love that she chooses her clothes with no regard for any fashion rules — polka dots with plaid? YES. But we fight almost daily over wearing clothes that are appropriate for school and for the weather. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve surreptitiously thrown leggings in her backpack this winter when she wears a dress or shorts to school.

My second child dressed for February in Vermont.
A typical second child outfit. In January.

I’ll be the first to admit it: sometimes (okay, a lot of times) I give in. It’s just easier to let her have one piece of Halloween candy after dinner than deal with the hour of whining that accompanies that particular “no”. But I try to stand strong on the big issues, like running with scissors. Or using her words to hurt people (including her sister).

I think we’re doing okay, for the most part. When we’re out in public, she is polite and listens most of the time. She plays well with her friends. She’s a model kindergartener and absorbs knowledge like a sponge. We certainly could have it worse.

We must be doing something right to see that smile!

How did you survive, those of you who have a second child older than mine? I’d love to hear more stories from parents who have successfully maneuvered the minefield of second child syndrome. Any advice is welcome!


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