The Dethroned Child: When a Firstborn Gains a Sibling

As you grow your family and introduce your firstborn child to a new sibling, you may notice a range of emotions in your firstborn including joy, confusion, jealousy, and curiosity. Your firstborn child has a unique role in the family unit because he/she was the sole receiver of your attention for several months or years prior to the arrival of baby brother or sister.

When a firstborn becomes a sibling, he/she becomes a dethroned child.

A firstborn child may feel kicked off his/her metaphorical “throne” when a sibling arrives because the firstborn is no longer the only child receiving attention. The firstborn is unfamiliar with the idea of competing for your attention, so he/she may feel concerned about losing the privileged standing in the family when a baby sister or brother comes along.

A dethroned child may fear losing the love and affection of his/her parents, so the firstborn child may act out and engage in attention seeking behavior such as throwing fits, feigning illness or injury, or acting as the victim in a situation.

Below are some tips for helping your firstborn child continue to feel loved and accepted despite the experience of being dethroned:

  1. Recognize that sibling rivalry is normal – When a firstborn is introduced to a new sibling, whether the new sibling is biological, adopted, or a foster child, it is normal to see signs of jealousy, anger, or frustration in your firstborn. These feelings typically diminish over time as your child becomes accustomed to the new family dynamic. 
  2. Help your firstborn identify his/her emotions and offer solutions to cope with that emotion – To help with emotion regulation, you can say to your firstborn, “It seems as though you are feeling upset right now. What can you do to manage this feeling? Perhaps you can take a deep breath and we can spend some time reading your favorite book together?”
  3. Set boundaries with your child – Boundaries help a child understand what is appropriate behavior and what is inappropriate behavior. You may say to your child, “I notice you are having a difficult time watching mommy give attention to your baby brother, and it’s not okay to hit baby brother when you feel angry. Instead, you may use your words to tell mommy what you need.”
  4. Spend one-on-one time with your firstborn child – Though it may feel challenging to find time in your day to devote solely to one child, this time is important as it helps your firstborn feel loved and valued and may result in a decrease in attention seeking behaviors.
  5. Allow your firstborn to serve as a helper – Giving your firstborn child responsibility helps them feel acknowledged and can boost their self-confidence because they recognize they are contributing to the family’s wellbeing. Perhaps you can ask your firstborn to help find his/her sibling’s pacifier or blanket when he/she is crying. Your firstborn will feel accomplished as they learn how to serve as a helpful big brother or sister.

To learn more about the idea of your firstborn being dethroned, check out this article

Written by: Mary Anne Sylvester