I am a mother of three. The oldest, our daughter, is bright, studious and always well-behaved. The youngest son is very similar to his sister and quite sensitive, but our middle son can be boisterous and badly behaved. We are at a loss to understand why he is so different.

Your son is clearly finding things difficult and this is manifesting itself in behaviours that are impacting the whole family. Being a middle child can be tough on some children who find it difficult to define a role for themselves within the family unit.

I wonder how your middle son perceives the fact that his older sister seems conscientious and mature. He may feel he falls short in comparison and could never be as ‘good’ as her. This internalised feeling can lead to attention seeking behaviour. In your longer email, you say your youngest was born just 18 months after your middle son. This can create issues for the middle child feeling ‘pushed out’ or an enforced separateness from the parent, leading to defiance and behaviours that disrupt the family unit. Of course, this is not deliberate on the part of the parents; it’s simply that the new baby must be cared for.

When parents are dealing with a child who exhibits challenging behaviour, it’s easy to feel worn down. This can lead to your responses to that behaviour becoming predictable and it creates a cycle of anger and resentment.

As a parent you need to step back and be more objective about why he behaves the way he does. Have the courage to look closely at yourselves – to understand if your interactions with him are contributing to some of this. Challenging behaviour can cause parents to view the child through a negative lens, not allowing them to see his good points and magnifying the bad to such an extent that the child predictably meets the parents’ negative expectations. A self-fulfilling prophecy, if you like.

There are three approaches that might bring about the long-term change:

First, have clear boundaries that are the same for all of your children. Transparency in this is key, so sit down with them and explain the rules and consequences. Make sure you follow this to the letter with all three children. It’s very easy to perceive the other two are ‘good’, but all children test those boundaries at times and it is important that your middle son sees that everyone is equal and gets treated the same.

Second, it might be wise to spend some quality time with your middle son. Perhaps on his own. Talk to him about how he feels and let him know that you ‘see’ him and value him as much as his brother and sister.

Finally, try and identify what he is good at and hone in on this. Catch him being good and tell him when he is, but also explore his talents. Every child has them and it is positive that they are recognised and valued. This positive reinforcement may take a great deal of time and effort, but if you are committed to the process and consistent in applying it, then you will see the improvements you desire.

Russell Hemmings is a Life Coach and Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist, author of The Mind Diet and Active Positive Parenting. Contact Russell on +971 55286 7275 or www.russellhemmings.co.uk.