You are going to have another baby – but when and how do you break the news to your older child?
It seems that both experts and moms have different opinions about the best time to share your pregnancy news with older children. Gina Bangert, of Martinez, California, chose to tell her two-year-old daughter about their new baby as Bangert entered her second trimester, once her chances of having a spontaneous miscarriage decreased. But Nancy O’Reilly, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Springfield, Missouri, says, “When you begin planning for a baby, that’s when you should tell your other children. That puts the idea in their minds.”
When it comes time to make your decision, your own judgment is your best bet: Take into account the age of your oldest child and go with your gut about what her maturity level can handle. Also take into account whether or not the news is public knowledge: “If you’re telling anyone, tell your older child first,” says Charles Shubin, M.D., Director of pediatrics at Mercy Family Care in Baltimore. Don’t let them overhear the news. But on the flip side, if you want keep your pregnancy private from the general public, don’t burden your oldest child with keeping the secret about your second baby.
How you tell your older child may be even more critical than when you break the news. “Don’t mislead them into thinking they have a choice by asking if they want a new brother or sister,” Shubin warns. They might say no! Instead, use simple, age-appropriate words your child understands. For example, Monica Bhide of Dunn Loring, Virginia, told her eight-year-old,” Jai, Mamma and Daddy have something special to tell you. God has blessed us and soon we are going to have a little baby.” For a younger child, you might say, “A baby is growing in my tummy.”
“Be sure you’re calm and have time for additional discussion when you tell your child,” cautions Rona Renner, a nurse practitioner and host of the radio show Childhood Matters. And be willing to hear his or her response. If there’s any sign of disappointment, be accepting, realizing your child’s feelings will fluctuate over time. This might be a good time to take out baby photos and talk about how wonderful it is that he or she will always be your first child.
Don’t promise your child that the new baby will be fun to play with, because initially this just isn’t true. Babies only sleep, cry, and eat for the first few months, and Shubin says you will have a very disappointed sibling when your child discovers you didn’t deliver the instant playmate you promised.
If possible, expose your child to other newborns. Show them how tiny they are and explain that they need lots of help, O’Reilly says. Tell your child about the care he or she required as a baby and how excited you are to have your older child’s help in caring for a newborn. “You need to create pictures of what is going to happen,” O’Reilly says. Children younger than four might act favorably to carrying around a doll and mimicking the care a new baby needs. Find out if your hospital has a siblings class that’s designed to help them with the transition. Consider bringing your older child to a doctors appointment (if possible) so he or she can see the baby on the ultrasound.
Bhide’s son created paintings to decorate the room he will share with his sibling. “Ask if the child wants to help choose items for the baby like a crib or car seat,” Renner says. “A very active child may not be interested, so don’t push it.”
Remember that the older child needs treats periodically, so they don’t resent the attention and gifts being showered on the new sibling. Bangert gave her daughter new bedding when she bought the baby’s crib set and let her pick out an outfit and a toy for her new baby brother. Don’t worry. Even if your older child initially asked when the baby will be sent back, eventually he or she will grow to love his new sibling, and you’ll be one big happy family.
Bright idea: When the older sibling sees the new baby for the first time, someone besides mom should consider holding baby. Let mom’s arm be open so she can hug the older sibling.
— Heather Larson