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Common reactions to becoming a big brother or sister

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


By the time you have a second child you already see yourself as a parent. For your firstborn child, however, it is a big change because all of the sudden he or she becomes a big brother or sister!

This change can be very difficult for children and many become angry and upset. However, most children also have very positive, warm, and loving feelings about their new brothers and sisters. In fact, children can have many different emotions about their new sibling at the same time - love, jealousy, anger, interest, protectiveness, etc., are all common firstborn reactions.

Common Reactions

Negative Reactions
There are a variety of negative reactions older children may have as they try regain your attention. They may try to get positive or even negative attention from you.


  • Some children act younger than they are. For example, children who are potty trained may have accidents and children who can dress themselves may ask for help (this usually lasts less than six months).
  • Children may become more clingy and needy because they are worried about losing your attention and want to be near you.
  • Children may become more aggressive either toward parents or the newborn because they are angry and confused about the change.
  • Children may become more disobedient so they can have more of your attention – even if it’s negative attention.

Positive Reactions
Older siblings often feel very protective of, and loving toward, their new brothers and sisters, and are proud of being a big brother or sister.


  • Over time children can become more independent in self-care tasks such as dressing themselves and eating.
  • Children can feel a lot of pride in the things they can do better then the new baby (“Look Daddy, I can dance and the new baby can’t!”).
  • Children can be very excited about helping with the new baby. Asking them to bring you things such as diapers and toys for the new baby can make them feel proud and happy about their contribution.
  • Older siblings are often very worried and upset when their new brother or sister cries and will work very hard to make him or her stop crying.
  • Children want to make their younger sibling smile and will try to entertain them with funny faces and sounds and movements – they often do a good job of making babies laugh and giggle.


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.



Last Updated 05/13/2009









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