How we Prepared Our Daughter for a Sibling

Alternate title… Nine Weeks Later: Big Sister vs. Little Brother

Photo of my daughter holding her newborn baby brother. She's smiling. He's sleeping.

Our almost 4-year-old daughter is handling the introduction of a sibling, a competitor for Mom and Dad’s attention, pretty well. She not only loves him, she feels a responsibility to care for him, although everything isn’t quite peachy if you scratch beneath the surface.

What follows are a few conversations we’ve had with her at the dinner table, and how we helped prepare her for her little brother.

Mom: "I love you."

Daughter: "No, I love you."

"Who else do you love?"

"I love Grandma."

"And who else?"

"I love Brown." (our cat)

"And who else?"

"I love Brother."

"Oh, you love your little brother?"

"Yes, I love him more than I love you."

"Why?"

"Because he’s little and he needs more love than you do."

Before the Baby

We began talking about the new baby with our Little Miss before he was even conceived. Some folks thought we were setting ourselves up for trouble because toddlers don’t have a concept of time, and waiting a year or more for the baby would be an eternity.

To the contrary, it helped her prepare, for there to be fewer surprises.

After we conceived, we began reading her two books:

  1. I’m a Big Sister by Joanna Cole — a good, simple story.
  2. What to Expect When the New Baby Comes Home by Heidi Murkoff — fairly detailed, but set up so that you don’t have to read the full text each time. Each page begins with a question followed by many responses. We asked our daughter the questions as a way to explore the topics.

Over the first few months of pregnancy, the grown-ups read pertinent sections of Touchpoints by T. Berry Brazelton, the Dr. Spock of our time, and quizzed friends who have multiple kids.

Three months before the birth, we moved Little Miss into a larger room to make way for the baby. Our goal was to distance the move from our due date to avoid our daughter feeling displaced by the baby. This way, her move was a source of excitement and adventure, rather than a result of there being a second child in our home. She also had a say in how her furniture was arranged.

Choosing the baby’s name was as big an issue at home as it was on Thingamababy. We discussed and joked about many names and asked her opinion.

At our baby shower, Little Miss got to open her unborn brother’s presents, and received quite a few gifts herself. Her favorite was a big sister T-shirt that is still the first thing she wants to wear after we launder her clothes.

A month before our due date, she attended a sibling class hosted by our hospital. It consisted of a hospital tour, baby goody bag, and discussion about being a big brother or sister. A 1980s video was shown detailing three kids’ stories. Our daughter was the only child who watched the whole thing. She studied it intently.

When packing our hospital bag, Little Miss picked the baby’s going home outfit. See a trend? We seek out reasonable ways to include her in a portion of the decisions we make.

Photo of my dauther holding her 2-month-old brother. She is smiling. He is crying.

After Baby

Dad: "Do you remember life before you were a sister?"

Daughter: "Yes."

Dad: "I don’t remember what it was like before Little Brother."

Daughter: "Well, I do."

Mom: "Do you like being a sister better, the same or less than before you were a sister?"

Daughter: [pause] "I like it less."

Mom: "Why?"

Daughter: "Because before I got more time with you."

Mom: "Well, that’s an honest response."

Little Miss is often excited to hug and hold her brother. She tries to be loving and helpful, and thinks she’s strong enough to hoist him up on her lap. Thinks is the operative word.

Her roleplaying with stuffed animals has taken on a stronger mother-daughter role, with her OskKosh B’Gosh teddy bear becoming her daughter "Oshley." I swear she came up with that on her own.

To a degree, the boy is perceived as also her responsibility. She’ll ask if he’s eaten yet, and rush to help with diaper changes (by letting brother grasp her fingers — a great way to quiet him down). She also picks his clothes out in the morning. Being a sister is an awesome responsibility and she really sees it as that.

At the same time, I also say she "tolerates" the situation well. Last week we noticed sores, akin to paper cuts, on both index fingers that are the precise size and shape of her thumbnails. We assume it’s an anxiety-driven situation with her driving her nails into herself. When we’ve seen her do it, it’s been during normal happy moments.

We have her wearing Band-Aids and have stepped up efforts to give her solo time with Mom or Dad. Curiously, we’re almost forcing it upon her. For example, when I put the baby to sleep in the afternoon and dozed off myself, my wife had to talk Little Miss into walking to the grocery store with her. "But brother is asleep," was her immediate response.

Now, she’s not actually directly involved much in baby care, but perhaps mentally she is in over her head. I wouldn’t think so, except for the finger sores. So we’ll be looking for ways to have her distance herself from issues that concern Mom and Dad. A fun diversion has been discussing ideas for her upcoming birthday party.

Maybe we’ll revisit this topic in another nine weeks to see how she’s doing with Little Brother. Please do weigh in with your suggestions, or own experiences.

And now, one more quote…

Imagine the baby swaddled in the middle of our bed and our daughter sitting next to him while Mom is preoccupied… in the bathroom.

The baby starts crying.

Mom in a raised voice: "Try and sooth him!"

Daughter in a raised voice: "I am!"

"What are you doing?"

"I’m trying to put him to sleep!"

"What do you mean?"

"I closed his eyes!"

"What did you do?"

"I’m holding his eyes shut!"

"Stop it!" [Not angry, mind you, but Mom rushed as quick as she could]

Comments

13 Responses to “How we Prepared Our Daughter for a Sibling”

  1. Darby says:

    This all sounds very familiar to me. My daughter is 2 1/2 and my son is 3 months old. We prepared our daughter for the new baby just like you: having her involved in everything; reading “I’m a Big Sister” by Joanna Cole; talking about her role as a big sister; opening his presents; etc. Now that little brother is here, she has taken to it all quite well.

    The first 3 weeks were the most difficult so far. She had a potty-training set-back for about a week or two and she was more difficult and whiny than usual. Since then, she’s adapted very well and adores her little brother.

    Like you, we have made a concerted effort to spend special time with our daughter, to make sure she still gets our undivided attention at least for a little while every day. It is overtly evident that she needs this time with us, and not only does she enjoy it immensely, but so do her father and I.

    To my dear baby son’s credit, he is wonderfully content 90% of the time, which allows us to balance our attention pretty evenly. I rarely spend time soothing him or trying to keep him quiet. He is either happily ‘hanging out’ with us, sleeping or nursing. Only the nursing really takes me away from participating and doing things with our daughter, so little brother deserves major kudos for being such an adaptable, non-demanding little guy. I have thanked the gods for that many times, believe me, for my own sanity and that of my dear daughter too.

    Good boy.

    May 29th, 2008 at 6:12 am

  2. Nichole says:

    My daughter is almost 3, and my son is 6 months old. She denied his existence altogether until he was about a month old. Now that he can sit up and interact with her a bit, she likes him. Most of the time.

    May 29th, 2008 at 7:50 am

  3. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    Thanks for the update!

    And you are right, it does sound like she is taking on more responsibility for him than you guys meant for her too! I loved that “I’m holding his eyelids shut”!

    May 29th, 2008 at 8:40 am

  4. RobMonroe says:

    No older/younger sibling advice, just wanted to say that I laughed out loud at the visual of big sister holding baby brothers eyes closed so that he could sleep…..

    May 29th, 2008 at 12:09 pm

  5. gertie says:

    Thanks for the article.

    My second is due in December, when my daughter will be 26 months. As an only child I’m in uncharted territory here, so I like reading how other parents handle the transition.

    May 29th, 2008 at 8:54 pm

  6. Rebecca says:

    I am pregnant with baby #4 and I think introducing #2 is harder than adding others to the mix. I remember my first daughter being very jelous of the new baby. I tried to handle it by giving her ownership of the baby. I always refered to her as “your baby” and “your sister”. I also talked about how similar she was to the baby and looked at lots of baby pictures. When baby came, she was my helper, getting a diaper, a cup of water, a pillow. I praised what a good big sister she was.

    One thing that tickded me off was in trying to prepare for baby, I would rent baby sibling books from the library and all of them had big sibling freaking out about baby. Great, what a way to instill fear into my child. One book that I loved was “Baby Come Out” by Fran Manushkin. Everyone actually wanted baby and nobody was asking mom to send baby back to the hospital. I think it is important to prepare big brother or sister for the things baby will do (cry, take up time, make mom tired), but to really accentuate the positive.

    May 30th, 2008 at 5:25 pm

  7. Mama Peach says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. We are hoping to add number 2 into the sometime in the next year – my daughter will be 3 in August. I value your wisdom on the matter!

    Those pictures are phenomenal by the way. Beautiful babies!

    May 30th, 2008 at 6:06 pm

  8. Chief Family Officer says:

    I am a big fan of I’m a Big Brother/Sister. It really does help open up the “discussion” about the coming baby.

    It sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Even when you are all together, you can still focus on your daughter (or at least, one of you can). In the last few months, I have really tried to spend maybe 10-15 minutes twice a day really “in the moment” with each child. I think it really makes a difference with our three-year-old.

    The best thing I did for my relationship with my oldest was start having playdates again with my two closest friends who also have boys his age. I left my youngest with my husband and I’ve really come to enjoy those few hours each week with my oldest.

    May 30th, 2008 at 8:34 pm

  9. Jennifer says:

    I think your approach is MUCH better than my own parents. I am almost exactly 2 years older than my brother (my only sibling) and my parents approached the new baby as a playmate for me. They used to always tell me even from the time I was born that he was going to be my best friend and someone to play with. Of course he was about as interesting as a bologna loaf and never did catch up with me developmentally. I always resented him and we fought and I was always very punitive toward him even when we were in Middle and High school. I think if my parents had made me more involved in helping, rather than constantly promising a new best friend any day now my brother and I would have gotten along better well before I went away to college.
    I think you’re doing great.

    May 31st, 2008 at 9:30 pm

  10. kelli says:

    Our favorite big brother book is Let Me Tell You about My Baby by Roslyn Banish. The photos are a bit dated, but the big brother in the story is so cute — even when he’s throwing a tantrum.

    June 1st, 2008 at 6:16 pm

  11. Jill says:

    My daughters are exactly 3 years apart with the younger one now 8 months old. Granted, the 8 month old came 3 months early and there was a lot of drama around that. But in short, the trend I observed was this: initial anxiety and regression after I cam home from the hospital, then elation and wonderment once the baby came home (7 weeks later), then an “I’m over it” attitude towards the baby where she ceased to acknowledge her existence. And now, she is back to enjoying her as the baby is now becoming quite social and engaging. In fact, and I don’t want to get my hopes up here, but I sense a little friendship growing. They giggle together, and when big sister dances, little sister tries to wiggle. So cute!

    Thanks for your insights. I am enjoying your blog!

    June 2nd, 2008 at 1:43 pm

  12. Dawn says:

    Thanks for the advice.

    October 22nd, 2008 at 11:39 am

  13. Emma says:

    Hi my name is emma and im 28. I have 2 kids Jakob is 11 and Sofiais 10 days old.She is such a cutie.Jakob loves his little sister so much he help alot and he loves holding baby Sofia.Jakob loves snuggling with her and giving sofia kisses.Jakob wanted a sisiter named sofia really bad so we thought about it and his dream came true.

    October 9th, 2010 at 9:38 pm

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