Other Child Syndrome

This was written by my wife Becky and I as a combined effort to bring our professions together

The other child syndrome is a very real problem for families with two or more children. Other Child Syndrome, (OCS), is something I (Becky) created because of traumatic events in my past that led to extreme life-changing family dynamics.  OCS can be a serious struggle with families of a special needs family member.  It is when that child takes up all the attention and the other child, or children, are pushed aside, often without parental knowledge.

          I (Becky) have experienced OCC firsthand.  My family went through a lot and one of the pivotal events, that shaped my family, was when one of my brothers was in a serious auto accident that left him head-injured and in a nursing home for 9 years.  Prior to that incident, the same brother abused my sister and I.  Sadly, after the car accident, he took all of my mom’s attention.  It was almost as if he was the only thing that mattered to her.  Those nine years were pivotal in my life, in that I had to grow up way too fast.  As a fifteen-year-old, that wasn’t easy, as I was not ready for that.  

          Other times, OCS occurs when children are victims of birth order.  This is where the other child or children feel ignored and often unimportant. Sometimes, no matter how hard a parent tries, it is difficult to be awed by all those little firsts when they have experienced it before. They have already seen a child burp for the first time, and walk for the first time, etc. so those little things well…… let’s face it they are just not the same.

          The OCS results from less attention from parents. They often require less attention because they are used to it. They may become reclusive, in a way, because they do not feel like it is important for them to have attention. If their family does not care to give them attention, why would anyone else?  Please know we are not pointing accusatory fingers at parents.  Most times, parents do not even realize it is happening.

          The OCS can also result in a faster disconnect from parents. Basically, the child does not get the attention from parents that the first child might get, and so they do not need them for as long. They become independent much quicker. They find ways to self-soothe and learn to rely on themselves rather than with a parent.

          There are times when a child suffering from OCS will need a lot of extra attention and love. The challenge may be that the child does not realize the need.  As a parent tries to correct the mistakes they have discovered, they often meet resistance and frustration from the child. The other child will often use phrases like, “I hate you.” Or “Leave me alone.” The important thing is for the parent to keep trying.

          The OCS often comes from being compared to the other child or children in the family. No parent wants their child to suffer self-confidence-shattering problems that come with OCS.  They need to be sure not to fuel sibling rivalry or resentment between siblings. While some healthy competition between siblings is a part of life, parents need to ensure that they are helping their second child feel just as important as their sibling.

          As a parent, you can give your second child no option other than to feel loved and secure. The way you do this is to show them more attention, and give them every reason to realize they are important. Don’t stop showing it, and they will eventually start believing it.

          OCS can lead to the child being less ambitious. They often see the older sibling being successful and doing well in life, and because of that, they think they can never live up to the same. Often, they view an older sibling as having a perfect life, and in feeling that, they never live up to their potential.  They are trying, with all their heart, to become the sibling. So, instead of trying to live their own lives, they never try, and as a result, can become the proverbial under-achiever.

          There are some doctors or psychologists that believe that birth order plays a part in the kind of personality each child has. The following are some of the second child characteristics or traits exhibited because of birth order.

          One of the important things to know is that often the second child has to seek out attention. Parents do not find it as easy to be excited about or show attention to the second child when they have already been through all of the stuff with their first child. This does not mean that the parent does not love their child, but often the child feels somewhat neglected. In addition, they may use this to their advantage to manipulate their parents, and get what they want. 

          This can also happen to a first child when a new sibling is born into the family.  Many times, as families add new children to the mix, the first child is pushed aside because of the new baby.  The more children added, the more the child may feel left out entirely.  It is important to involve the first child in the arrival of new siblings.  Let them help in whatever ways you can think of.  By helping, they are feeling important and worthy of love.

          When a child has OCS, they can tact out. It only gets worse if the parent reprimands them constantly. A child with OCS may also just succumb to being the other child and move away from trying to get affection.  They may feel that they aren’t important and would not be missed if they just stayed in their rooms by themselves.  Sometimes, though, there is a stronger bond with one parent.  In this case, the child may confide in and seek out that parent.

          Another aspect of the other child syndrome is intense sibling rivalry. Second children often find themselves being compared to their older siblings, which results in them always feeling somewhat inferior. This in turn tends to make them highly competitive, and a rivalry is typically born. If you want to avoid this part of the other child syndrome, as a parent, these words need to be omitted from your vocabulary:  “Why can’t you be like…” It does not help their personality, disposition, relationship with you, or self-esteem. Usually, it results in the opposite behavior, which is just to get a reaction from you.

          OCS is often accompanied by a negative attitude, anger, sarcasm, etc. from the child. These are usually defense mechanisms to help them protect themselves from insecurities about not feeling as loved as the other children. One of the best things you can do is be patient with these attitudes, and continually reassure them that they are loved.

          OCS may result in a child who does not feel motivated in life. A lot of this stems from the belief that their efforts will be wasted, or go unnoticed. The best thing a parent can do for their “other” child is simply making a real effort to give equal love and attention, and never make comparisons.  Leave your child with no doubts about your love for them.


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