Thursday, May 29th, 2008
How we Prepared Our Daughter for a Sibling
Alternate title… Nine Weeks Later: Big Sister vs. Little Brother
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."
"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:
- I’m a Big Sister by Joanna Cole â€” a good, simple story.
- What to Expect When the New Baby Comes Home by Heidi Murkoff â€” 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.
Dad: "Do you remember life before you were a sister?"
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."
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 â€” 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]