Sharing the News with Siblings

If you have other children, deciding how and when to tell them a new family member is on the way can be a challenge. A good rule of thumb is to tailor the news according to the child's age. Although children older than five usually can comprehend the events of pregnancy, the concept of "months from now" is too vague for many under age seven to fully understand.

Try to tie the coming birth to something other than a specific date; "about the time of your birthday" or "when the leaves on the trees are getting green." For a child under age two, use only the briefest and simplest of terms.

Many couples do not think it is necessary to tell very young children about a pregnancy, because they don't believe the children will understand. But even young children will be able to see that mommy's body is changing because a new baby is growing. Children of all ages, from infants to adolescents, have a great need for educational and emotional support during their mothers pregnancy. Changes in the parent-child relationship can be stressful for the child and parent. The ages and emotional maturity of the child will determine, in part, his or her behavior toward a new family member.

Many parents find the midpoint of pregnancy a good time to announce the news. This is usually the time when the mother is physically showing that she is pregnant and many of the early risks and concerns of a healthy pregnancy are resolved. Just don't tell a child of any age until you`re ready for the whole world to know. That kind of secret is impossible to keep.

The ages of your children will also determine how you answer questions about reproduction, pregnancy, and what the baby will be like that will no doubt follow your announcement. The most important thing to remember is to give a child only the amount of information he or she actually ask for and can handle. A toddler, for example, probably wants to know that "the baby is growing in a special place inside Mommy and will come out when it's big enough." With children of any age, use the correct terminology for body parts and function. Any shyness or embarrassment you may feel about speaking frankly will wear off with repetition, and you will be doing your child a favor, because he or she won`t have to relearn words.

There are now a large number of books available for parents and children on the subject of reproduction and what it`s like to have a baby brother or sister. Many of these are designed to be read together and can be a valuable teaching tool. Remember to be open and honest and willing to answer questions whenever they`re asked. With young children, don`t be surprised if you must repeat your answers several times.

Your children`s questions won't all be about where babies come from. Children are naturally self-centered, and yours will want to know how this baby will affect their lives. Once a child understands that a real baby will join the family as another child for Mommy and Daddy to love, he or she will begin to worry about being "replaced" in your affections and perhaps even in your home. The more imaginative the child, the more horrible the fears may be. Talking about the baby in terms of the child, saying, "you will be a big sister/brother," instead of "the baby will love you" and speaking of the baby as "ours" not "mine;" will help. If a baby coming means that the child will move to a big bed or another bedroom, make the change well ahead of time, so that it will be interpreted as growing up, not being pushed out.

Don't try to break your child of the pacifier or start to potty train just before the new baby is due, and don't send him/her off to nursery school just then, all for the same reason. Try to be more generous than ever with your hugs and kisses and the special time you spend with your child each day. Bedtime is a wonderful time for a leisurely, loving cuddle that will reassure your child of your love.

Here are some "pointers from parents" you may find helpful:

  • Take even young children with you to a prenatal visit. Hearing the fetal heartbeat can make the coming baby more real and make them feel involved in the pregnancy.
  • Answer the questions your child asks clearly and in terms he/she can understand. Don't over inform nor ignore their curiosity.
  • When your baby's activity becomes strong enough to be felt through your abdomen, let your child feel the movement. Talk about how your baby is growing.
  • If your delivery hospital or birthing center offers sibling preparation classes, encourage your child to take part. These sessions are generally age-based discussions of both the birth process and what it feels like to become a big brother/sister.
  • If fatigue keeps you from usual activities, plan special times with your children. Changes from normal patterns can be confusing; spending time together can bring back the balance.
  • Be aware that your growing bond with the child you're carrying can, even without your noticing it, cause you to be distracted when you are with your other children. They can feel this. Let each child know how special he/she is and that your love is a constant to be counted on. All children need attention and support from both parents during pregnancy.
  • As you prepare the baby's room, let brother/sister help. Being part of the process helps them deal with the mixed feelings that come with being a sibling and will reassure them that they are not in danger of losing their parent's love and attention. Another way of keeping the older child involved is letting them feel that this is "their" baby, too. Let them know they will be able to help with the baby by doing things like picking out the baby's clothes for the day, etc.

Reprinted with permission from Her HealthCare.