Preparing Young Children for New Baby

Parent Q&A

  • We're having a girl in November, which is exciting but I'm struggling with how to deal with the fact that my 4.5 year old son really wants a brother. At back to school night at my son's Pre-K, the teacher asked me if we were having a boy because my son drew a family picture that included his baby brother (with no sign of baby sister). We've explained to my son that he's having a sister and he is really sweet about singing or kissing my belly. But he won't let go of the fact that he really wants a brother. He says the next baby will be a boy. Um, we're not really sure there will be a next baby! I know my son will be a good big brother and he has friends who have little sisters, but how I do address this so it's not a problem when baby sister actually arrives? We've done a sibling prep class, but that was focused more on mommy being in the hospital, how to hold a baby, etc. Appreciate any advice you may have. Thanks!

    Congratulations on your soon-to-be baby! I think this is one of those common parenting situations where your kid wants something that they just can't have. I couldn't tell from your post if you have told your son yet that he is going to have a sister. If not, I think you should break the news before the baby comes. I recommend using humor. For instance, say:  "Well, guess what, you're having a sister! I told the stork you wanted a brother but he told me they are fresh out of boys right now, so he's bringing a girl!  Wow! What do you think we should name her?" Then if he expresses dismay, you say "Yeah, I know what you mean!  But I've thought it over and I think it is going to be GREAT!"  Or words to that effect.

    In my experience, 4 year olds don't really know why they want X instead of Y.  They are still a little irrational. So you should NOT assume this is going to be devastating for your son. Don't spend too much time explaining it or worrying about how he'll take it. Just use the tried-and-true diversion techniques that work so well with toddlers, and give him a short, hopefully upbeat, explanation and move on to the next thing. He is getting to the age anyway where he will prefer the company of other kids his age to a baby sibling, regardless of whether the baby is a boy or a girl. For what it's worth, I have three boys and I have always envied the close relationship that boy-girl siblings so often seem to have. My boys were not pals until they were much older.  Best wishes! 

    You are spending far too much energy on this. 

    He is young- 

    just be clear and say the drs say the baby will be a girl and that you are all excited about the new baby. 

    It seems like he is hooking you somehow- remember our goal as parents is not to protect our children from disappointment but rather to help them deal with life as it comes. 

    Enjoy your girl!

    We give kids the idea they can select anything they want eg capers or arugula on your pizza ? Not realistic. He doesn't get I pick her gender and that's not a bad thing. Not worth fretting over and the bigger fuss you make of it, the more complicated the "issue" becomes. My father would have said "it's not up to you." There are many things in life that kids (and adults) can't control or select. It's a lesson learned slowly, takes time, but it's good to be clear, direct and then just drop topic. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


When to tell 2 and 4 year olds about new baby?

Oct 2006

Hi there,
So, I'm in a bit of a pickle. I have two children, aged 4 and 2.5. I just found out I'm pregnant again, barely, just 6 weeks. All great, faboo, wonderful. We planned to tell the kids when I was like 4 or 5 months along, something like that. However, it seems like maybe the 4 year old overheard me saying something on the phone, or simply put two and two together, because now she's become a little anxious and keeps telling my husband and I that we're keeping a secret from her. I am kicking myself because I knew she was observant and smart and I was just too over the moon to be super careful. Now I'm worried that I should tell her sooner, but then what happens if I miscarry? And 40 weeks is sooooo long (for everyone, let's face it). Should we a) just reassure her when she asks about secrets that if there's anything she wants to know she can just ask and that there are lots of things that grown ups know that kids don't, and it's no big deal, or b) tell her about the baby? And if we tell her, what about the 2.5 year old? I'm inclined to the former strategy, and so is my husband, but we thought we'd throw it out to the community to get some ideas. You guys always help so much, you rock. Thanks!
Stoked, but vexed at myself

I would wait and just do the latter - sometimes grown ups talk about things that aren't for children's ears, etc. I miscarried after having told our four year old and he was terrified about the baby dying when I finally did carry to term. (As was I, but that's another story - and I could handle it.)

When I found out I was pregnant with my third one by looking at a home test, I remember stepping into the kitchen where the 2 younger were eating (they were 4 and 2 at the time). I was beaming and my son asked me ''what's going on?'', I answered I had good news, he replied ''you're going to have a baby?'' I was stunned and aquiested. And we shared the whole long experience as a family. Sometimes, he wouldn't talk about it for weeks, then his younger sister started getting inpatient, it was just in the picture. Now what would have happened if I had had a miscarriage? I have no idea. But you can't hide the pain from your children anyway and it would have been a part of their life. I went recently to a very good parenting class by Elen Peterson and one of the concept we reflected on was ''Truth or Harmony''.

My son was 4 years and my daughter was 22 months when their baby brother was born. My son was the very first person we told, we didn't want him to overhear another conversation and start asking questions. We actually let him make the announcement to some of the family members, a great big brother job. On the other hand, we didn't start really trying to explain it to my daughter until about 1-2 months before the baby arrived. It wasn't a secret from her, we just didn't talk about it much.
Different ages need different approaches

I wanted to respond to something you said in your post about your daughter saying you are keeping secrets from her. I am scared to death of my kids being the victims of abuse and so I have told them that we don't keep secrets in our family. We don't keep secrets from each other, but we do keep surprises (like what I got you for your birthday, or that grandma is coming to visit) Surprises means you just have to wait a little while to find out whereas secrets you may never find out. I don't know if this will help with your dilemma but I hope it helps someone.
no secret policy

Everybody will have a different opinion about your question. I felt like it was okay to tell my kids(6 yrs and 3yrs) I was 3 weeks pregnant. Then I miscarried at 8 weeks. I was sad, they didn't really understand. I told them that sometimes all babies are not meant to be, that we lose some and it's part of life and nature in a very matter of fact way. I explained it like a science teacher! They were fine with it. No irreparable damage done.

Again, I got pregnant, and told them when I found out at 6 weeks. My eldest child said, do you think this one will make it? I said I hope so, lets all have good thoughts! So far so good! My 7 yr old asked me why this baby is okay and the other one wasn't recently. It was a perfect time to talk (again) about chromosomes, DNA, sperm and egg etc. He loved the discussion and we even found some library books on conception.

Being pregnant, losing a pregnancy etc. are all part of the natural process of life. Children are much more attracted to the truth of that than you think. This opportunity(being prenant) is a teaching moment for you children in so many ways.
okay to tell them

My oldest was 3 1/2 when I got pregnant and I too thought we would wait a while to tell her, but we ended up telling her when I was only 4 or 5 weeks! I was very sick and tired and it was hard to keep that from her. Also it is just hard to keep a secret like that from a smart and observant 3 or 4 year old. Anyway, she ended up being very into the pregnancy, and enjoyed looking at pictures of the fetus' development all along. 9 months is a long time, but in some ways it gave her time to get used to the idea and even bond with the baby. She even said one time, ''Mommy, you keep saying 'my baby' but it's OUR baby.'' And she was right. So I would tell your kids now. (I don't see how you can tell your 4 yr old and not the 2 yr old.)
--Good luck and congratulations!

Preparing 3 year-old for new baby sibling

March 2005

We have a 3 year-old and are about to have our second child in June. Of course, we want to prepare our daughter as much as possible for this huge change in our family, so we are seeking advice for how to best do that. We would like to hear any ideas/successful tricks that seemed to work well for those of you who have gone through this before. Our daughter loves reading, so any children's book titles you could recommend on this topic are also welcome. Thanks in advance!
soon-to-be mama-of-two

In order to prepare our 19 month old for the arrival of his new sister, we talked about her, pointed to my belly and told him her name and read a few books about new siblings. One that comes to mind is ''Frederick and his new sister''. When she was born we gave him some presents from her and when people came to meet the new baby, they showered my son with attention and a few brought big brother gifts for him. That was quite helpful. Even more helpful was having family here for the first twelve weeks. While they watched the baby, I was able to spend a lot of time with my son going to his playgroups, etc. The transition has gone really well and I'm sure it will for you also! It's really sweet to see the intereaction between them already. Good luck and congratulations on your new little one!

We're in the same boat! We have a 3.5 yr old daughter and are expecting our 2nd in May. We're actually going to a ''Sibling Celebration'' class today provided by the hospital (CPMC in SF). Feel free to email me and I can let you know how it goes. We've also been reading our daughter a lot of where-does- baby-come-from books -- and allowing her to participate in a lot of baby purchasing decisions.

My 4 y.o. loved a little gift (care bear) that her little sister ''gave'' her. (She was a little skeptical, but when I told her that the baby picked it out she accepted that.) She also wanted the baby to have a bib that said ''I love my big sister'' which fortunately we found, otherwise I would have made one. She always felt very good when we put it on the baby. Before the baby was born we also read lots of books (there is a good ''Arthur'' lift the flaps one, Mister Rogers has a good one, the pictures are dated and funny to me but the ideas are still good. She like one about ''Angelina.'' I'm sure you can find about a dozen ''big sister'' books in the bookstore or library.) She also liked the magazine that I had that showed how the baby was developing month by month. A couple weeks after the baby was born she suddenly got very angry when I tried to read her one of the big sister books. She said, ''That book thinks I don't know what it's like to have a baby sister, but I already know!''

We also tried to reinforce her ''expertise'' as much as possible (she knows how to make the baby laugh, she is very good at figuring out what the baby wants, she can be very helpful, she can do so many things that the baby can't even dream of doing yet, the baby thinks she is amazing!) They have a great relationship (she is now almost 6 and the baby is 20 months). I am sure yours will too!
--mom of 2 loving sisters

Talking to 2-year-old about impending birth

Oct 2004

I am looking for advice on how and when to begin talking to my 2 year-old about our second child, who will be born at the end of March. Most of the advice in the archive seems related to books, and I am more interested in hearing members' specific experiences - - what worked and what they would do differently. Thanks. Want to do it right

my recommendation is to keep the first child as involved as possible the entire time.

when my wife was pregnant with our second child, we just kept talking about it to our daughter. we kept it up for months, and also bought her books about becoming a big sister. we'd let her ask questions, and we'd ask her questions too. as mom started to show, we let her touch mom's belly and everything.

when we went to the hospital, we had my brother watch our daughter, and asked that he bring her over as soon as the baby was born, before anyone else. we made it a big point of introducing her to the new baby. I then spent the next 2 nights at home with my daughter while my wife and new baby were still in the hospital. each morning we'd get up together and I'd say 'time to go see mommy and your new brother'. and on the last day I made sure that she understood that now we were going to get them and bring them home with us.

it worked beautifully. now it's 1 year later, and the kids play together constantly. the girl can't even remember not having a brother. it's awesome. another dad of 2

My son was 25 months old when my daughter was born at the end of March.

I waited until January to address the topic so that the excitement of Christmas was over. It didn't really bother him that my tummy was big anyways.

We read a book called something like ''THere's a house in my Mommy's tummy'' from the library. When we finished the book, I asked if he thought it would be neat if there was a house in his Mommy's tummy with a baby in it. Luckily, he was pretty excited by the idea. After then, we read different books about the subject and talked about the baby in Mommy's tummy regularly. We would make a point of telling the baby ''Good morning'' each day. worked well for us

Congrats on your new baby. You didn't mention exactly how old your toddler is, but if s/he is in the young twos, I don't think there is very much you can do to prepare her before the new baby comes. Our son turned 2 a few months before our new baby was born, and when we asked the same question of a child psychologist friend, that was the answer we got. Talk to them a little about babies and maybe try to be around some babies where they can practice being gentle and only touching the babies toes. But really, they are not going to be that prepared before the event and the real work starts after the baby is born. (if your child is closer to 3, then maybe there is more you can do).

The most helpful thing to us was that because in my late pregnancy I had some problems and had to really slow down, our toddler ended up spending a lot of time with dad. he got used to dad taking him out to the park on weekends and putting him to bed at night and giving him dinner. Think of it as preparing BOTH your toddler and your husband! It worked out great because by the time the new baby was born, dad and toddler had a really strong bond, and dad had a high competency level. So when the new baby was born and I was inevitably nursing the baby at night, it was totally natural for my husband to put my toddler to bed.

With a young 2 year old, I really think the work starts after the baby is born. The most important thing you can do is make sure you still spend some time alone with your toddler after the baby is born...its more difficult than you think, so try to have someone come and watch the baby for even an hour and go outside and play with your toddler (its good for you too).

Another thing I think is important is to not hide your love for the baby. Instead of trying not to pay too much attention to the baby (I know some moms who actually hid when they were nursing so their older ones wouldn't see and be jealous...that is just a recipe for jealousy I think!) try to include your toddler in your attention to the baby. If the baby cries say, ''Oh no, the baby is crying! What should we do?'' My son would pull my hand, bringing me over to the baby saying, ''give him milk, give him milk.''

And remember, there are going to be bad days. Your toddler WILL be too rough with the baby...they can't help it. No matter how many ''prepare your child for the baby books'' you read, they just can't resist a quick eye poke here or there...maybe the occasional steam roll. This is normal. Just be vigilant...don't leave the baby alone in the room with the toddler.

so don't worry too much about preparation now (except transitioning bedtime to be dad's responsibility if its not already). If you talk about it too much I think it can make a child anxious...So don't worry, everything is going to be fine. congrats

When to tell 3-yo about upcoming sib

May 2003

After reading through the archives on all related topics, thought I would ask for advice...

I'm about 6 weeks pregnant with baby #2. I am wondering when I should start explaining my situation to my precocious 3 year- old daughter. I have not really shared the news with my entire family yet, as I thought I would wait until my first doctor's appt. and confirmation of heartbeat, etc. However, my daughter has heard me discussing the situation with my best friend, etc. Her favorite toys are babies and she has been saying for months that one of her dolls is a baby sister and another is a baby brother. Nearly all of her friends have baby siblings and she's also been around quite a few pregnant women the last few months and claims that there is a baby in her tummy, too. Since she has been doing all of this imaginary play, I'm not too worried about her blowing my secret because she's been talking like this for a while now and everyone just thinks it's cute or funny, not that it relates to me. My first doctor's appt. is scheduled for just a couple weeks from now. My husband and I are having trouble finding a sitter for her during that time. I'd like to bring her with us and let her share in the experience, however, I am apprehensive for two reasons:

1. If something goes wrong, I'd like to spend some time taking care of myself and not worrying that my emotions would scare her.

2. Even if everything is absolutely fine, is it too soon to involve a 3-yo in this process due to their inability to really understand time? It would be an awfully long wait for her sibling to arrive...

I'm planning on picking up the Meg Zwieback book on the topic of preparing for baby #2 recommended on the site, but wondered about other's experience with this scenario.

Thanks. anon

From my experience, I would recommend that you tell your daughter about your pregnancy. I believe that most children are so in tune with their parents that they know way more than we think they do. I understand that you have concerns. I had 2 miscarriages after I had told my daughter that I was pregnant, and I was glad that I had told her, as then, when I lost the babies, she was able to understand why I was sad. She was very sweet about it and I don't think she was harmed at all by having gone through the experience. Then later, when I was pregnant again and carried the baby full term, I was again glad I had told her. Yes, 8 months is a long time to wait. But we had fun looking in a pregnancy book together and seeing how the tiny baby was developing. I hope all goes well for you and your family, and I would just encourage you to be open with her about your joy (and even apprehension). Anon.

We waited until we had our first doctor's appt and could hear the heartbeat to make sure things were on track before we told our two kids. However, our oldest was 6 yrs. We got pregnant with #2 when our oldest was 2.5 yrs. That time, we waited until I started showing before we told her that she was going to have a little brother or sister. Both approaches worked well for us. Regarding the passage of time -- I just gave my little one (3 yrs when I was newly pregnant) major holidays to mark the pregnancy by. ''The baby won't come until after Christmas, your birthday and Easter have passed,'' we told her. The baby was due in June so by her birthday (end of April), the end was close. Towards the end, I also let her help me pick out the new baby's coming-home-from-the-hospital outfit. She had great fun doing that. Jennifer

From: Sherry (1/99)

Recently, a mother asked for recommendations for preparing an older child for the birth of a sibling. Meg Zweiback has written a book Keys to Preparing and Caring For Your Second Child.(1991 Barron's Educational Series). It is an excellent book which is filled with thought provoking discussions and strategies. Another of my favorite parenting books also discusses this issue at length: Helen Neville's No Fault Parenting (1984 Facts On File Publications) Both should be available at the local library.

Though many of you know about my first time mothers groups, I also offer Support Groups for Second/Third Time Mothers, an evening group for mothers with older children and individual sessions.

Warmly, Sherry Reinhardt