Tips on expecting a sibling – Robyn Leigh Smith

It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours.

~Joyce Maynard


Helpful Tips


1)    Being a parent and getting used to have another baby/child is a process. There are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes parents can get overwhelmed by too much advice and information – they can forget how to just be with their children and to trust their instincts. Take things moment by moment. Accept that mistakes will get made. It is a PROCESS and there is no such thing as a PERFECT PARENT. Rather it is important that parents/caregivers are GOOD ENOUGH. “‘Good enough’ parents protect and comfort their babies, play with, praise and enjoy them. They also sometimes ‘get it wrong’” (Joyce, 2005:5). What is most important is the ability to repair and try again as opposed to getting it right all the time.


2)    Involve the older child in the pregnancy and after the birth of the baby – encouraging them to be a part of the new baby’s world. For example, helping them choose clothes and toys, letting them go to the hospital after baby is born, help push the pram, bath and feed the baby. In terms of giving the older child their own baby toy parents need to:

a)     Check if this is their need or the need of their child. For example if the older child does not want a baby to pretend with then it should not be forced.

b)    The toy should not be used as a way of minimizing or pushing away the older child’s difficult feelings


3) In term’s of giving a gift from the baby – I am not sure if that is necessary as the baby cannot really give the gift. Maybe something from parents themselves may be more appropriate? Importantly, feelings should not be sugar coated and the older child having negative feelings is normal and appropriate – the baby too will have to manage at a later stage the experience of having an older brother or sister. Dorman and Dorman (2002) suggest that setting up a daily routine – children thrive on consistency as it creates a sense of safety and order – in which the older child will has special time with parents without any distraction. This will provide time in which the parent(s) can talk to and listen to the brother or sister about how they are etc.







2 year old (Miller, 2004):


  • May not exactly know how the new baby was conceived but will have a sense that something has happened to produce/new their sibling ‘rival’
  • This is a common time for people to have another baby – the 2 year old is no longer a baby, but is still young enough to connect with the new sibling. However, developmentally speaking there is still much that needs to take place for the pair to be able to play together in the true sense
  • High levels of interest in pregnancy for both girls and boys
  • Intense mixed feelings (conflict between love and hate) – especially cos they don’t have the capacity to manage them as they are still babies themselves in so many ways.
  • Role of parents – to empathise with the 2 year old feelings not to ignore the mixed quality trying to sugar coat and keep positive. BALANCE – not to neglect either child – e.g. now focusing too much on the toddler and in turn depriving the new baby.
  • Importantly, the 2 year old with the help of parents needs to feel and learn that there is enough space in the parents’ minds for both children – in turn will decrease the rivalry – that is “the toddler is still loved but the baby isn’t deprived either – then the toddler’s confidence in their parents is vastly increased and their horizons expand correspondingly” (Miller, 2004:33).


3 year old (Emanuel, 2005):


  • It has been argued that the birth of a baby sibling for the three year old intensifies the developmental conflicts all three year olds go through/experience – feeling at times like a needy, dependent baby and then at others like a grown-up.
  • WHEN TO TELL ABOUT THE NEW BABY? – Often parents are unsure – a balance in terms of leaving it too late risking the child hearing from someone else vs too early may feel like too long a wait for the 3 year old. Telling the child about the gender of the baby can also be filled with much uncertainty for parents. Children will often have their own fantasy about the baby and possibly which g

gender they would prefer – a 3 year old may find the wait hard to manage. HOWEVER whatever decision made a child’s imagination will be stimulated on hearing the news that they will having a baby brother or sister.

  • Children at this age are very attentive and therefore parents/adults need to be sensitive when their child is around and to not discuss inappropriate or intimate information in front of the child – the 3 year old may pick up on bits of the conversation and not completely understand leaving them feeling very anxious.
  • Knowledge and understanding regarding how babies are made – at this age children do not have the ability to understand the sexual act. During this developmental stage children tend to focus on the mouth – biting, chewing, talking – as well as their waste products – faeces and urine. The 3 year old will tend to understand how a baby got in mommy’s tummy in a similar way of understanding the world – through eating and then the baby coming out the same way as they understand how things leave their body.


SIBLING RIVALRY – Between the age of three and four Caplan and Caplan (1983) argue that sibling rivalry can be the most physical and open – such as breaking or hiding the siblings toys, as well as tattling, fighting or teasing.

4-5 year old (Maroni, 2007):


  • This stage of development is around understanding how relationships work – between mom and dad, then to outside social relationships for example with peers. There is therefore a greater capacity to understand that mom has a relationship with dad that does not involve them – that is the birth of the sibling can result in a big shock that he/she is no longer the only person in their mother’s life – resulting in the need to learn to share.
  • A very important step is for the child to learn that they do not have an exclusive relationship with their mom but rather she has other relationships with dad, siblings and friends etc. Importantly, if he/she feels loved enough – that is can feel that he/she is held in mind despite other relationships. This will help him/her to realize he/she can make relationships outside the family. At times of stress the child may however regress back to an earlier stage wanting to be the only one in mom’s life again.



Recommended Books


  • The Tavistock books are great and very understandable
  • Biddulph, S., & Biddulph, S. (2007). Raising a happy child: in the precious years from

birth to six. Dorling Kindersley Limited, London.

  • · Any book that provides a balanced view of parenting specifically looking at the birth of the second child – a book that looks at the challenges, conflicts and positives

Robyn-Leigh Smith

BSocSc (Psych) (UKZN); MSSC (Industrial Psych) (UKZN)

MA (Counselling Psychology) (Wits)

                             Counselling Psychologist

Pr No:  0372633

HPCSA No:  PS 0110825

My World Orchards, 52 Oaklands Road, Orchards, 2192

Tel: 0829327083

Email: robynleigh.smith@gmail.com

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