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Feature Article


Two sisters huggingHow to help your child become a big brother or sister

Amanda Kowal, Ph.D., former Assistant Professor, Human Development & Family Studies, University of Missouri


Becoming a sibling

Imagine if your husband or wife brought another spouse home and said “Honey, I love you so much, you are so wonderful, that I want to have another spouse just like you to come live with us!” and then was surprised that you were upset. This is sort of how your firstborn child feels when you have a new child. He or she has been at the center of your love and attention, and then all of the sudden you bring another child home. The change can be difficult for children because:


  • Children worry that their parents are less available
  • It is hard for young children to share, particularly something as important as their parents’ attention
  • Children worry that they are losing their parents’ love


Things you can do

Although becoming a brother or sister can be a hard change for children, there are many things you can do to help them with this change before and after the birth of your new child.


When you’re pregnant

  • Prepare your child for the new baby in a way that he or she understands. Explain that the new brother or sister is coming and will be living in the house as a part of the family.
  • Talk about the new child as a person with his or her own needs and tastes (e.g., “Do you think the new baby will like the blue blanket or the yellow blanket?”).
  • Research has shown that children who view their new siblings as distinct people behave more positively toward them.
  • Check local hospitals for Big Brother or Sister programs. These can help children prepare for and get excited about having a new brother or sister.
  • Put aside some small presents for your child to open when you get shower gifts (this can also be useful after the birth when people give presents to the new baby).


After the birth

  • Point out the many things that the older child can do that the newborn can’t (e.g., “What a big boy you are – you can drink out of a sippy cup!”).
  • Be understanding about the child’s jealousy but be very clear that the child is never to hurt the baby. Encourage the child to express his or her anger toward a pillow or through drawing.
  • Encourage visitors who come to see the new baby to take time to talk to the older child.
  • Be sure to spend quality time alone with the older child each day.
  • Ask the older child for help with the baby. They may not be able to do much, but getting them involved in any aspect of caregiving promotes better sibling relationships.



Dunn, J. (1996) Siblings: The first society. In N. Vanzetti & S. Duck (Eds.), A Lifetime of Relationships. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole.

Dunn, J. (1995). From One Child to Two. New York: Ballantine Books.


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Last Updated 04/10/2017