How to make daughter feel special and included when her brother is born?
February 14, 2021 8:28 AM   Subscribe

How can I make my 4-year old daughter feel special, important and included when her baby brother is born? Looking for ways to make the event feel positive and celebratory for her.

I tried finding older questions related to this but couldn't really find anything, so here goes: I'm 30 weeks pregnant with my second child, a baby boy due in late April, and my daughter will be 5 in May. I've read all I can about making the transition from daily life as an only child to big sister as easy for her as I can, but what I also want is to make the birth of her baby brother itself a positive event for her. I'm looking for ways to make her feel important, included, special. For example: I'm looking at party treats for her to give to the kids in her class on the first day she goes back to school after her brother is born (assuming the schools stay open - right now they are). What are some other ideas that will make her feel like the birth of her brother is also her time to shine a bit?

Things that may be relevant:
- If all goes to plan, baby will be born at a nearby hospital
- Daughter will stay with her grandma and grandpa while we are at the hospital
- If all goes well, we will go home with baby a few hours after the birth and daughter will meet us at home.
- If all does not go well and we have to stay longer, she will meet us at the hospital and continue to stay with grandma and grandpa.
posted by piranna to Human Relations (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Buying a toy and saying it was a present from her baby brother.
posted by saturdaymornings at 8:42 AM on February 14, 2021 [13 favorites]

Best answer: My kids are three years apart. One simple but effective thing we did is let Older Daughter tell her grandparents Younger Daughter had been born. In our case this meant she got to call them (with help from an adult, of course) since they were out of state. Might play out a bit different in your case, of course.
posted by Frayed Knot at 8:42 AM on February 14, 2021 [12 favorites]

So exciting! The right "you're going to be a big sister" book might be nice. You know her and can judge best whether something like this is going to seem fun, or more like a gift that's pushing you to act or feel a certain way when you're really going to feel all the ways. I like this book.

A gift of other books that are one level above what she has at home could also work. If she's going to stay at her grandparents' they could have the books ready. I'm thinking of books that are a step into reading, if that is where she is at. Mo Willems has a new series of squirrel books, if she's already got the Elephant and Piggie books. Or chapter books that are not too heavy on words, like Princess in Black or Mercy Watson. Fun and a little grown up-- being older has its perks. Let her binge on sticker and coloring books too.
posted by BibiRose at 8:49 AM on February 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you can give her tasks to do for "her" little brother, it might help her feel involved and have some agency.
Putting blankets in the crib, setting out diapers, helping parents set up a feed station.
posted by nickggully at 8:51 AM on February 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: How does she feel about Future-Sibling now? I was a bit younger than your daughter is now, when my brother was born, and I was SO EXCITED about being a big sister -- the baby was like a living doll! I don't remember much about the day he was born; my parents went to the hospital after I was asleep (grandparents were living with us then), and the next day, my dad brought me to the hospital, where I got a shiny pin that says "I'm a Big Sister!" There's a photo somewhere of me holding him where I have a giant grin on my face and he has the "wtf??" expression that all newborns have.

A week or so after he was born is a siblings festival in our culture, where traditionally the brother gives the sister gifts. So I guess I got some gifts then? I don't remember that; I do remember the "Big Sister" pin. I was also the Official Clean Diaper Getter, which was a nice way to make me feel grown-up and responsible.

It was the weeks and months afterwards, once the novelty had worn off, that I had some jealousy about the baby consuming all my mom's time. (Unbeknownst to me at the time, she had also been really sick ahead of the delivery and in retrospect had post-partum depression that was untreated because it was the 80s and no one talked about that stuff.) So my mom started doing "Special Time" with me, which was really just a time to snuggle 1:1. That really helped.

Also, just because of the times we live in -- before telling your daughter she can maybe come visit you in the hospital, please do check what the covid restrictions are. In my area, visitors under 10 are not allowed right now. It sounds like your Plan A is to come home fairly soon anyway, but I wouldn't bring up Plan B with her unless it becomes reality.
posted by basalganglia at 8:57 AM on February 14, 2021 [7 favorites]

I remember not being thrilled about my baby sister and even at age 3 I was deeply skeptical that a baby could bring me a toy (my parents tried the "sister brought you this!" trick too). LOL. So maybe skip that one, I was just mad about being tricked. Depends on your kid. The big sister pin is something I would have liked better I think. It is true and involves her as an important part of what's going on.
posted by clarinet at 9:05 AM on February 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

Our daughter really enjoyed Little Big Girl by Claire Keane (and has continued to enjoy it after her brother was born), but she was younger than your daughter.

Adding on to the gift from baby idea, we specifically got a teddy bear “from him” calling her the Big Sister. In retrospect, we were really big on playing up how cool it is to be a big sister - what an honor and a privilege that is.

We also spent a lot of time beforehand talking about the baby as if he was just traveling and he’d be stopping by to visit in a certain day. This worked for us because we have a lot of out-of-town family and our daughter would always really look forward to their visits. Conceptually, “your little brother is coming in August” isn’t that different than “Grandma is coming for Thanksgiving”.

If you can consult her on some of the decision-making, that can help her feel included and foster a sense of connection. Just asking things like “what do you think about the name Joey?” or “do you think the baby would like this onesie?” Maybe throw in some silly suggestions too. “Mommy and I are thing about making the baby Pizza, do you think that’s a good idea?” Make her a part of the process so that the baby isn’t something that you just foist on her.

After the baby is born, make sure to schedule time to still do things individually. For obvious reasons, Mom will spend more time with the baby, leaving Dad with your daughter. Make sure Dad does fun things, and also schedule Mom-daughter time.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:14 AM on February 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

My stepmother had the nursery ready ahead of time and let me keep my dolls in the crib to "practice" feeding them, changing their diapers, etc. Everyone told me I was All Ready To Babysit (remember, at 5 being a babysitter is a big deal!). I don't know how it works at your daughter's school, but my dad called the school office to let me know in the middle of the day, so I got to go to the office for special news and then come back and tell the whole class.
posted by 8603 at 9:16 AM on February 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: One idea I had years ago—and I’m sure others have so maybe check on Etsy—was to create an Official Big Sister Certificate. Like a combination diploma/birth certificate with the fancy filigree and gothic lettering with a photo of her and/or the new baby, dates, etc. Print on parchment, roll it up and tie with a ribbon.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:20 AM on February 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

I found it helpful to say things like "my hands are busy" instead of "*I*" am busy" when Big Sister needed to wait. Sometimes I would also tell the baby to wait when he was fussing. He didn't understand me, but Big Sister did, and it was good for her to not ALWAYS be the one being told to wait.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:40 AM on February 14, 2021 [46 favorites]

I have two with similar spacing. My suggestions:

1. Lower expectations to rock bottom. We bought every 'babies are terrible!' book to read during the pregnancy, emphasizing how newborns are loud and needy and smelly and can't play yet. I particularly liked Babies Don't Eat Pizza.

2. Include the older child in everything you can. Ultrasounds, planning, have them help pick out baby gear, where appropriate. My eldest picked out and named a stuffed animal for the baby, which we used as a transitional object. Continue to include the oldest the same way you include the other parent and grandparents. Call them to see new things the baby is doing, emphasize that this is a family of three becoming four, not just mom and dad's new baby. Tell family stories about being a sibling, especially if they're embarrassing or involve the older sibling making a mistake. Talk about how special the sibling relationship is. They will always be siblings, no matter what happens, et c.

3. Validate both positive and negative feelings. Talk about your own frustration, tiredness with newborn care. Talk about what they did when they were an infant and how happy/frustrated you were.

4. Praise them lavishly for appropriate big sibling behavior, calmly point out inappropriate sibling behavior but don't scold or guilt. Talk about how much the baby loves them. Give them a job, something age appropriate and FUN. My eldest was the tummy time coach.
posted by arrmatie at 10:25 AM on February 14, 2021 [12 favorites]

Big sisters were 2 1/2 and 5 1/2 when our twin boys were born. We got each of them a close to life-sized doll whom they could call their own and practice on, including small carriages etc. They seemed to enjoy that. The 2 1/2 yr old transitioned from getting lots of attention to very little during the next 18 mo. since the twins were consuming most hours. I observed her bopping one of them once or twice when she thought we were not watching, so she figured out ways to deal with her frustrations. They did all manage to survive into adulthood and now the middle sister and one of her brothers are best buds.
posted by tronec at 10:50 AM on February 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

Buying a toy and saying it was a present from her baby brother.

This. Make it something she's really wanted (obv nothing extravagant but not just a random teddy bear). You can also browse through some cuddly toys and let her pick one for the baby (we liked Jelly Cat toys which are really cute and mostly safe from birth IIRC).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:31 PM on February 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would give her little "wins" when her brother comes home. Things like she gets to pick what is for dinner (from 2 or 3 choices), she gets to pick what onesie baby wears that day, etc. It lets her know that she is part of the bigger family, she has agency (the baby is not going to take that away), and she gets involved in her brother's day to day.

We also asked big sister to baby sit a stuffed animal for her brothers until they were old enough to appreciate them. So, for the month before and after the birth, she was in charge of horsey. She had a big "ceremony" when she gave it to them. They in turn gave her a little toy/stuffed animal.
posted by AugustWest at 12:44 PM on February 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

My sister gave her first son (17 months at the time) a realistic baby doll toy when she had her second son (a little before the birth, when she was telling him about what was going to happen when mummy had her baby). He didn't "play" with it much but he did things like pretend to give it its bottle when his mum was feeding the baby. It seemed to give him some form of feeling of possession and interaction and ability to express his feelings towards his new brother without him actually handling the baby, which he was too little for. There was obviously less of an age gap than with the child you are talking about, though.
posted by Balthamos at 1:22 PM on February 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm a Big Sister by Joanna Cole. It is not about how great baby siblings are: it is about how great big siblings are, and how superior they are to little babies - exactly what a 4-year old needs to hear.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:54 PM on February 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

I've definitely heard the idea of the giving the older kid a doll so that they have their new baby too, and are sharing that experience with the parents in some way, multiple times.
posted by eviemath at 2:14 PM on February 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I made a custom "I'm a big sister" t-shirt with a warrior princess on it for a co-worker whose daughter was going through this.

Allow your older to play baby sometimes. If you are fixing a bottle for the baby and she is looking on and looking bereft fix her one too. Regression is normal - and it's not a bad thing if she identifies with being a baby because then she's identifying as being like the baby which makes the new sib like her too. Ideally after some baby role playing she's going to feel smug that the baby just gets formula, but she gets lots of different food, and the baby has to sleep all the time, but she gets to play. Include her in mother-baby-big sister nap times, and let her lie down with you while you try to grab some day time sleep, but because she's the big sister she gets the privilege of getting up again if she gets bored.

Talk to her about how you did all the same things for her. "I remember when you wouldn't sleep we would go out on the balcony at night with you on my shoulder... But I can't do that with the baby because it's winter right now." "Your pediatrician was Dr. Azikiwe. I used to hold an ice pack on your arm after you had your innoculations... You cried like you were furious." "Hah! Sure the baby shot poo all down my arm - when you were a baby you once did it just as I was lifting you out of the bath and you covered the towel. If you talk to Grandma she'll remember some time I did it too..."

Let her play baby with a baby doll, if she is interested in that, so she has a baby of her own, and the two of you both get to change your babies and give them baths. My sister's baby doll was named Nicer, because she was nicer than the baby. A baby doll is the old traditional way of indulging the older sibling. Matching front carries for you and her so you can both take your babies out for some air can make her happy. I'd gift the kind of realistic plastic baby doll that can get bathed, not one with cloth, but be prepared for her to favour a stuffie of some sort that can't actually have contact with diaper goo and water and lotion. Bert and Ernie were not salvageable after they were coated with petroleum jelly so make sure that loved stuffies do not have a mishap.

If you are going to display pictures of the new baby, also display some pictures of her as a baby. Teach her some new skills, like writing notes and include letters from her too if you send mailed out announcements. They can be as primitive as a piece of paper with some crayon scribbles. If you do them electronically she can either hit a few keys, or you can type what she dictates.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:25 PM on February 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My sister would not tell anyone (literally, anyone in the OR or the hospital) the new baby's name until Big Sister found out first.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 3:10 PM on February 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

Buying a toy and saying it was a present from her baby brother.

Another vote in favor of this. One of my very earliest memories is of being carried piggyback into my new baby brother's room at our house to meet him for the first time; I remember being held up so I could peer into the crib, as my parents said "this is your new baby brother," and then they put me down on the ground and pointed out the Viewmaster Viewer reels tucked between some of the crib slats and Mom told me "and these are a present for you from your new brother."

Clarinet makes a good point above that if you're pretty sure your child won't buy this, then maybe avoid it, but otherwise I'd give it a whirl. (Hell, maybe years from now your daughter will do like me and begin her speech at her brother's wedding rehearsal dinner by telling the story about how "I was more interested in the Polly Pocket they said he gave me than I was in him....")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:46 PM on February 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Buying a toy and saying it was a present from her baby brother.

Don't lie to her. She will need to know at that moment that she can count on you more than ever. A special big sister present for sure! Just tell her it's from you. If you want to go in that direction, she can choose a present to give to her new brother.
And if she voices strong feelings... let her do it without correcting her. If she says she hates the baby, validate how hard it must be or acknowledge how much has changed, but don't tell her she loves the baby. You'll be in a much better position to then offer reassurance and encouragement.
posted by Viola Swamp at 4:59 PM on February 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Depends on your budget, of course, but we got our oldest a little preschool digital camera when her baby brother was born. It was a great gift because three-year-olds take strange and interesting photos, it turns out! And we are a big picture-taking family so I think it made her feel like one of the grown-ups to be there taking pics of the new arrival.
posted by potrzebie at 6:38 PM on February 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

When our second son was born, his big brother (with about the same separation in age as your's) got to choose his middle name. It's never been something that big brother has held over little brother ("I got to name you, so there!"), but it helped a lot at the time.
posted by lhauser at 6:44 PM on February 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Like what Jane the Brown said, it’s nice to start talking about when she was a baby and how exciting that was for you. Place baby photos of her out now, sort of as a reminder of what a baby looks like and that she was once that small. I remember a Mr. Rogers book for big brother or sister that we thought was nice, I think it even had that advice about the baby photos in it. I personally would never want a child to give a first name to a sibling (I know some families do this and it’s sweet, but just not for me!) BUT if the sister comes up with a nickname for the baby, I think that can be a nice way to include them. Plus, kids come up with great nicknames! She could also start drawing some artwork or a nice card to hang in the baby’s room.
posted by areaperson at 6:51 PM on February 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

I was given a special “big sister” shirt and my parents took a picture of me and my baby brother with me wearing the shirt. They also gave me a “newborn” doll so I could practice wrapping it in a blanket to “bring it home from the hospital.” I don’t remember feeling jealous of my brother at birth - the jealousy came later. :)
posted by mai at 7:23 PM on February 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The hospital where my sister was born had a sibling class—I was the same age as your daughter and remember feeling very smart and important because they explained to us what newborns can see and then let us pick out a high-contrast black and white picture our new siblings might like. That's the main thing I remember but I don't remember that much from 36 years ago so it seems significant! These classes are probably on hiatus now and if so, probably still will be in April, but the same principle could work at home: give your daughter the trust and responsibility of thinking about what the baby needs and picking out something like a picture (explain how infant eyesight works), a swaddling cloth (explain what swaddling is for), a stuffed toy (explain why they can't have detachable eyes) etc. from a list of options. It's great to give her that sense of investment and responsibility early, since you'll be asking her to do things like set a good example!
posted by babelfish at 8:25 PM on February 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have a now 4 month old boy and 2.5 year old girl. The transition has been pleasant so far! Things that I think “worked” for us.

I am grouping them Pre-Birth, Birth and Post Birth (cannot underestimate that this is an ongoing process to have them bond, in the grand scheme of things don’t stress out too much about pre birth and birth.

- Read I Am A Big Sister (mentioned above) many times together.
- depends on the child but mine loves her baby dolls. I encouraged her to play with them, help them take naps, change their diaper, feed them, etc.
- this is out of your control maybe but my kid was at a nursery whose main carer actually had a baby before me and brought the baby in starting at 4 months! So my daughter was exposed to a baby a while before ours arrived. I definitely think this helped her get used to them and their noises and how needy they are. This was very lucky for us I know.

- on the recommendation of things I read, I tried to make the intro between the two of them with minimal involvement from me. What this meant practically:

She was at nursery the day I came home from hospital (we kept her routine as stable as possible). When she arrived home, her brother was in a Moses basket. I greeted her at the door without the baby and told her how excited I was to see her and how much I missed her and tried to hug her.

She shoved me out of the way shouting “baby? Baby?? Baby??” Lol...

She ran to the Moses basket and peered in and I introduced them to each other (ie I also introduced my daughter to the baby).

That’s it. Pretty chill. No present exchanges.

Post Birth: like I mentioned above I think this is way more important

- I definitely use the “Mama’s hands are busy” excuse as often as I can instead of saying the baby needs me.
- When I am then done changing the baby’s diaper, feeding him, whatever and I can turn my attention to my daughter I tell the baby “I’m going to play with your big sister now, is that ok?” I think this helps her understand that they both have needs and taking turns for our attention.
- I encourage her to take care of her baby dolls in sync with me. So if I’m feeding the baby, she feeds her baby.
- my husband and I make it a priority to give her our undivided attention for at least 10 mins a day. Super focused, no babies no phones.
- I tell her she will always be my baby. When she gets a bit needy and whiny I indulge her and cuddle and rock her. She’s clearly just feeling a bit insecure and it’s not ever for very long before she’s satisfied and squirms away.
- we’ve taught her “gentle hands” for touching her baby brother. Also just as important, he has started getting a bit grabby too so we tell him “gentle hands for your sister please” and move his hands. We try to avoid ever using “he’s just a baby” as an excuse for his behaviour, especially towards her.
- if we must, we say something like “he’s a bit too little right now but maybe later when he is bigger like you we can try that”.
- I tried encouraging her to help with taking care of her baby brother (getting diapers, throwing them away, fetching muslins) and that worked for a while but I think she’s over it now. Except washing the bottles. She looooves to help wash the bottles. She’s not very good, but she can rinse them okay and it makes her happy.
- we are very protective of her sleep so we made sure to do what we could to make nighttime disruptions minimal such as getting a white noise machine for her. Also, during one of the early nights she heard her brother crying which distressed her. Based on some advice I was given we told her “that is your baby brother crying. You don’t have to worry, daddy is with him right now and will help him. If you hear him at night, remember that. Someone is helping him so it’s okay and go back to sleep.”

I also highly recommend reading “Siblings Without Rivalry”! I’m an only child so I have no clue what’s happening and I found the book so helpful and modelled a lot of these tips from the book.

Good luck and congratulations! Your heart will both burst and melt the first time your two kids really connect with each other.
posted by like_neon at 1:54 AM on February 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

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