Help me tell my nearly 3-yr old about his new sibling.
December 14, 2005 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Help me tell my nearly 3-yr old about his new sibling. The baby is due in early August. Since we'll tell the grandparents over Christmas, should we tell our son first so he can take part in the excitement too? Or keep it secret because it's too far away for him to understand? I remember being quite jealous at age 5 when my own brother was born so I'm nervous about this whole transition. Parents of mefi, share your stories! What worked, what didn't?
posted by selfmedicating to Human Relations (14 answers total)
When my sister was pregnant with my neice they included my nephew in it. They had a lot of fun showing him the ultrasounds etc. and "cletus the fetus". He was 2 years old and was very much involved with the excitement. When my latest nephew was born both kids were involved and my neice was 2 years old, again they did the same thing (though the baby to be's name was grenis this time - and it turned out he had a penis).
posted by substrate at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2005

I was in a store the other day (in the baby section), and no kidding: this pregnant lady, her husband, and a little kid walked by and the kid said something like "...the baby! Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray!" I have never heard a kid say hip hip hooray before, but this kid was absolutely so excited about it. So, it is possible!

I was five when my sister was born, so I must have been five or younger when my parents told me one day that they were thinking of having another baby (I don't know whether my mom was already pregnant at the time), and I asked whether they were going to "get" a boy or a girl, and informed them that I wanted a girl. I was happy about it.

I don't remember much about when my mom was pregnant, but I remember that while my mom was in the hospital my dad had to stop at the store to get something for her, and he took me down the toy isle and got me some toy baby bottles. And when we went to the hospital and I looked through the window and saw my sister, I held the bottles up to the window so she could see them too. When we got home and everyone was coming to see the baby, my aunt also brought me a bag of small gifts including a care bears puzzle. I remember her saying that she didn't want me to feel left out because everyone was coming to see the baby. But I didn't feel left out. I was just excited that all the company was coming over, and I liked the baby too.

I've heard the key is to not make the first kid feel like the baby is stealing attention or other resources from him. My mom must have done that, because I just don't remember feeling like that at all. Also, my mom always asked me to "help" her with the baby, although it was usually just handing her something or whatnot because I was so small. I understand now that she just wanted me to feel involved by asking me to do these small, simple things.
posted by leapingsheep at 1:34 PM on December 14, 2005

I don't remember exactly how we told our just-barely four year old about the upcoming advent of his brother (we knew early-on it would be a boy), but one thing I know that helped cement what has become a close sibling relationship -- we let big brother choose his little brother's middle name. That gave big bro a definite sense of involvement in the whole process, and we've never let either brother forget the part he played.
posted by lhauser at 2:05 PM on December 14, 2005

I suggest telling him ahead of time. A good book for this is I'm a Big Brother. It will help prepare him.

Sharing your parents with a new child is a big adjustment, and especially for a first child. I've heard it compared to having your spouse bring home another partner and telling you that you need to share his/her time and attention with the new person.

I agree with the above advice to have him help in small tasks to have him feel involved. And to have a gift for him when the baby is born. We made a shirt with a picture of my daughter and the new baby for my older daughter. She was proud to show it off to friends and family.
posted by fhqwhgads at 2:28 PM on December 14, 2005

My sister is having a baby tomorrow. Hip hip hooray!
She's been talking to my neice (almost 3) about it for nine months. She didn't seem too thrilled about it at first, but now she's very anxious to meet her little sister. She tells us how she's going to read books to the baby and help her open her Christmas presents. Who knows if this is what will really happen, but I think they're off to a good start.
Talk to him about the importance of being a good big brother.
posted by clh at 2:43 PM on December 14, 2005

We got our daughter an "I'm the Big Sister" shirt and the Dora the Explorer video where Dora welcomes the birth of her new siblings. We actually told my parents by giving these gifts to our daughter, so we killed two birds with one stone. She was a few months out from her third birthday when we told her. She was very excited during the whole pregnancy. In fact, she decided that since she was going to get a baby brother or sister (we didn't find out), her stuffed rabbit needed one, too. Throughout the pregnancy, she would ask mommy how her baby brother or sister was, and then insist on having us ask about rabbit's baby brother or sister, who was in her tummy. It was all very cute.

The hospital where we had planned to give birth offered a sibling class that we took her to. It was kind of dumb, but I think it helped her a bit. (We had expected a lot of stuff like how to hold a baby and whatnot, but got instead a biology lesson. They actually showed the kids - the oldest of whom was five - one of those cut-away diagrams of what mom's internal organs look like. The, uh, "best" part was when the nurse leading the class felt that it was necessary for kids to understand that the baby wasn't in mom's tummy, but rather her uterus. She actually said, "Can you say, 'uterus'?") Still, it helped build the excitement for her.

When her brother was born, I made sure that she was the first person I called, and let her share the news with her grandparents. (I said, "Honey, you have a baby brother." She said, "Cool. When do I get a baby sister." Gotta love kids!)

We also made sure that her brother brought home some gifts for her, including a baby rabbit. We've only had him home for three days, but she's been wonderful, and really wants to help with him.

I had the same concerns about sibling rivalry, especially since I don't get along at all with my older sister, so we'll see what happens. I think, however, that while a three year old of course isn't old enough to really understand what's happening, he is old enough to get that things are changing, and the more involved he is, the better he'll handle that change. Also, make sure that you constantly reassure your son that you still love him, that he's still important to you, etc. Make some time each day for each parent to spend time with him, and just him. Don't make him fight for your attention with the baby.
posted by robhuddles at 2:55 PM on December 14, 2005

fhqwhgads: I've heard it compared to having your spouse bring home another partner and telling you that you need to share his/her time and attention with the new person.

That's (also?) from Siblings without Rivalry, which is highly recommended (I also recommended this book in another thread today. I am honestly not affiliated).

Someone described this exact situation in an e-mail to me as:

They tell you to imagine your husband came home with a beautiful young thing and introduced her joyfully as, "The New Wife!"

You are, of course, expected to love and adore The New Wife - afterall, everyone else does!

Everywhere you go, all your best friends dote on The New Wife, tell her how cute she is, how beautiful, how talented (even when she is just *sitting* there!) and even worse, if you try to talk to them they brush you off, "Not now, I'm talking to The New Wife! Isn't she special? Don't you just love your husband's new wife?"

posted by davar at 3:20 PM on December 14, 2005

We told Dubling the Elder, from the get-go, that he was going to have a brother or sister. He was barely two years old by the time that Dubling the Younger arrived, but by that time he was already used to being an elder brother. We all just shared the "listening to baby in mommy's tummy" too many times for any of us to be surprised when a real live human popped out.

The thing that amazes me to this day, is that, when my wife's waters broke we rushed to the hospital, taking our first-born with us. The labour wasn't long, but I spent it moving between holding my wife's hand, and holding my son's hand, who was outside the labour room being looked after by nurses. When my younger son was born, just after dawn, I was exhausted, (obviously not as exhausted as my wife), I went out got my elder son, walked him into the labour room. He stood on a stool beside the bed, I put his hand on the new baby that was lying on my wife's tummy, and told him that he had a baby brother. I can't describe the pride I felt when he simply said, "My brother." Since then, they've been inseperable. They bicker and fight, but if you take one of them on, you take both of them on. There has never been a single moment of resentment from the elder child.

I guess it comes down to the temperament of a child, but in a lot of ways, the arrival of a new sibling needn't be that big a deal. Kids aborb so much in their everyday life that the sudden arrival of somebody that never leaves needn't be that traumatic.
posted by veedubya at 3:36 PM on December 14, 2005

My son was 4 when I got pregnant with number 2. We had been talking about wanting to have another kid so he was expecting it. I honestly don't remember how I told him, but once he knew we did all the typical stuff: reading "the new baby at your house" by Mr. Rogers and watching "a baby story" on tv. I bought him a child's size sling for him to carry around his stuffed animals and we watched videos of his own infancy.

I was always one of those sticklers for accurate body part names, so I was tickled when my son announced that I had a baby growing in my universe.

He also got to help name the baby, but we ultimately vetoed "Pikachu." He helped pick out "William" as a middle name, since it was Piglet's grandfather's name.

The boys are 10 and 5 now, and are very close. Have fun!
posted by Biblio at 4:00 PM on December 14, 2005

She actually said, "Can you say, 'uterus'?"

I am sure that class felt dumb, but I wanted to chime in and say that there are developmental reasons for making sure the kids aren't thinking a baby was literally in mom's tummy, even if 'tummy' continues to be shorthand for uterus.

Kids 5 and under perceive the world really concretely, and all they know about tummies is that that's where the food goes when you eat something, maybe that sometimes it aches. So they'll often start to construct strange ideas about how the baby got into the mom's 'tummy' (What did she eat? Could that happen to me? What if she throws up?) , and what they imagine can be confusing or frightening. You'd be astounded at what's going on in their minds.

So as goofy as that probably sounded, props to the nurse for understanding Piaget's concrete operational stage, a.k.a., preschool brain.
posted by Miko at 4:10 PM on December 14, 2005

Response by poster: Fantastic advice everyone, thank you!

I especially like the idea of finding ways for him to help mommy. And I feel less anxious about the whole deal. And I think we'll probably, as a result of advice here, end up telling him earlier than we were originally planning, to get him involved right away.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:10 PM on December 14, 2005

I was three when my mom got pregnant with my first sister. Admittedly, I don't remember much about the pregnancy except that I was hoping for a brother.

I do remember that I threw her a birthday party as soon as my parents brought her home from the hospital. I invited all of my favorite stuffed animals and arranged them all around her, then sang Happy Birthday a whole bunch.

I was a bossy kid anyway, but it was fun for me to have something to be "in charge" of (even if it's planning a pretend party), and I think having new responsibilities makes it easier to adapt to having a sibling. It helps the older kid feel important instead of invisible, and it's something that could start during the pregnancy.
posted by katieinshoes at 6:38 PM on December 14, 2005

I was three when my sister was born. It was exciting. I think I might have been too young to be jealous - that kind of thing didn't even occur to me, though my mother tells me I was a real pain whenever she was trying to feed the baby, (and it sounds like she may have assumed some of it was jealousy, but there is a huge difference between "I want some too", and "I resent the baby for having something I don't".)

Is there an period of development before which jealousy usually isn't a problem, or is it just luck of the draw?
posted by -harlequin- at 6:57 PM on December 14, 2005

I was four when my brother was born, and remember absolutely zero about it. I think you are well within the boundaries the older kid of not even remembering the transition.

It is my understanding that regardless of how you are introduced, the older sibling will still be jealous in some capacity simply because of the attention a new baby requires as opposed to the nature of having to tend with the older one.
posted by vanoakenfold at 7:18 AM on December 15, 2005

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