Family transitions following the birth of a sibling: an empirical review of changes in the firstborn's adjustment

Psychol Bull. 2012 May;138(3):497-528. doi: 10.1037/a0026921. Epub 2012 Jan 30.


Nearly 80% of children in the United States have at least 1 sibling, indicating that the birth of a baby sibling is a normative ecological transition for most children. Many clinicians and theoreticians believe the transition is stressful, constituting a developmental crisis for most children. Yet, a comprehensive review of the empirical literature on children's adjustment over the transition to siblinghood (TTS) has not been done for several decades. The current review summarizes research examining change in first borns' adjustment to determine whether there is evidence that the TTS is disruptive for most children. Thirty studies addressing the TTS were found, and of those studies, the evidence did not support a crisis model of developmental transitions, nor was there overwhelming evidence of consistent changes in firstborn adjustment. Although there were decreases in children's affection and responsiveness toward mothers, the results were more equivocal for many other behaviors (e.g., sleep problems, anxiety, aggression, regression). An inspection of the scientific literature indicated there are large individual differences in children's adjustment and that the TTS can be a time of disruption, an occasion for developmental advances, or a period of quiescence with no noticeable changes. The TTS may be a developmental turning point for some children that portends future psychopathology or growth depending on the transactions between children and the changes in the ecological context over time. A developmental ecological systems framework guided the discussion of how child, parent, and contextual factors may contribute to the prediction of firstborn children's successful adaptation to the birth of a sibling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Age Factors
  • Birth Order / psychology*
  • Child Behavior / psychology
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Family / psychology*
  • Family Relations
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Jealousy
  • Life Change Events*
  • Parents / psychology
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Research Design
  • Siblings / psychology
  • United States