Does Arrival of New Baby Cause Sibling Opposition or Opportunity for Growth?

Sibling rivalry is a term that is casually used when describing the unharmonious relationship between siblings. When an only child is about to become a big brother or sister, parents are often concerned about sibling rivalry and, in particular, how their child will react when they are no longer the only child. Most children, nearly 80% in the United States, have at least one brother or sister. This transition to siblinghood (TTS) is seen by some experts as one of the most traumatic events a child experiences. Mothers and fathers of only children express concern about their child’s behavior prior to the arrival of a new baby and often worry about how their child will react and respond. Because most children who experience TTS do so at a critical time for emotional development, between the ages of 2 and 3, experts have suggested that this stage is a time of extreme stress for children and parents, with some even stating that many children experience a crisis during TTS. To determine if TTS poses a threat to the well-being of a child, Brenda L. Volling, of the Center for Human Grown and Development at the University of Michigan, recently analyzed 30 studies devoted to child development and behavior during TTS.

Her examination revealed that although some children exhibited changes in behavior after the arrival of a sibling, others did not. Overall, the results were mixed, providing evidence that the changes in attachment, emotion, and behavior were positive or negative depending on the child’s individual circumstances at the time of the TTS. For some children, becoming an older brother of sister did cause added aggression, anxiety, or sleep disturbances, while for others, the TTS caused them to become more affectionate and independent. Volling did not find evidence of generalized distress for children after the arrival of a new baby. Additionally, she discovered that parental expectations were often unfounded. Parents who thought their children’s behavior would significantly decline after the birth were usually pleasantly surprised at what little difference they saw in their firstborn. Volling noted that although overall behavior did not change, specific problems did emerge for some of the children.

When parents seek clinical help for their children, it is most often to address targeted behaviors. Volling believes future research should be aimed at finding solutions for isolated behaviors that manifest as a result of TTS. She added, “If the ultimate goal of TTS studies is to identify subgroups of children having more or less difficulty in an effort to provide assistance to families and recommendations for prevention, it will be far more beneficial if researchers focus on specific behaviors (e.g., sleep problems, noncompliance, aggression, withdrawal and anxiety, eating difficulties, somatic complaints) than to utilize broadband assessments of internalizing and externalizing symptoms.”

Volling, B. L. (2012, January 30). Family Transitions Following the Birth of a Sibling: An Empirical Review of Changes in the Firstborn’s Adjustment. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026921

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  • joshua k

    joshua k

    February 7th, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    “Does Arrival of New Baby Cause Sibling Opposition or Opportunity for Growth?”

    Well I guess it is a bit of both.First there is opposition and then the understanding that the new little one is their own sibling and then the good times roll.I think what an older sibling experiences has a lot to do with how the parents have prepared the child during the months preferring the arrival of he baby.

  • Cybil R

    Cybil R

    February 7th, 2012 at 4:36 PM

    You know, I have seen so many of these situations when a new baby arrives, and really I think that the child that was already here behaves exacty the way that the parents encourage them to act. It may be subtle or barely noticeable but I think that most parents have a preconceived notion of how their childredn are going to react when the new baby arrives and then they feed right into that behavior. Yes there will be some jealousy and adjustment but talk to them about what a huge help having them there will be and most kids are going to thrive on being needed like that.

  • Gabby


    February 8th, 2012 at 5:17 AM

    Plain and simple new parents need to do a better job at preparing the kids they already have about the many ways that life is going to change but then also be enhanced when the new baby gets here.

    They don’t have to tell them that everything is going to be all hunky dory because there will be changes; but you can let them know that no matter what it does not change how much you love them. I think that in essence that is all they want to know.

  • Nora


    February 8th, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    Plain and simple kids just want to know that they are going to still be loved once the new addition to the family gets here. That is all that they need.

    You don’t have to lie to them and tell tham that there won’t be any changes to their lives because there will be.

    But also let them know that no matter what you will always love them and that having a new addition to the family is only going to make all of you even closer.

    I think that when done right it can be a fun and exciting experience for the whole family.

  • Naomi:Fear-me


    February 8th, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    well I’d guess how a child perceives the arrival of a new sibling depends upon how the parents have prepared the child.yes,children do have their own personality types but are still fairly young at the time of arrival of a sibling and it would depend a lot on what they have heard from their parents.

  • Linda


    October 14th, 2014 at 8:18 PM

    My daughter and son-in law have done everything recommended by professional advice in books and on-line to prepare my 3 1/2 yr old grandson for the arrival of his sister who is 3 months old now (they’ve reassured him how much he is loved, gave him a gift from his sister when she was born, make alone time for him with them. Friends and family members also complied with equal attention for him, many people also brought a gift for him also when the came to visit the new baby. I, as his only grandparent adore him, being my only grandchild until now. We all still show him a great deal of affection. He’s a beautiful child (in and out)he’s extremely intelligent articulate
    for his age very sociable with children and adults, also very well behaved outside the home. Never had such problems before! He was always very attached to his mother (I read somewhere that children especially close to their mothers find this transition more difficult) It’s been 3 months and his defiant behavior is worse than ever. My poor daughter and son-in law are desperate for help. We’d appreciate advise if a professional can help.

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