Q&A: Prepping 3-year-old for a new sibling

Angie writes:

“With baby #2’s arrival just around the corner, I was wondering what your thoughts are regarding preparing my first for the baby and just how to prepare myself for parenting 2 boys. My first will be one month shy of 3 when the baby comes.”

First, I’d say to read Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (the authors of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen…). Not only is it helpful for understanding your relationships with your own siblings (both as kids and now), it will help you set your kids up for success at interacting with each other. There’s a lot in it about avoiding putting siblings into roles and helping kids support each other instead of competing.

I’d also check out the chapter about siblings in NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It looks at research studies and debunks some of the popular mythology about sibling relationships in some interesting ways. It eased my mind a lot about my kids’ relationships with each other, and lines up perfectly with what Faber and Mazlish say in Siblings Without Rivalry, so the two books are good reinforcement for the idea that you can raise siblings who get along. (NurtureShock also debunks some ideas about only children, so it’s definitely worth reading if you have an only, and not guilt-inducing.)

Then, I’d help your little guy (soon to be your big guy) by talking a lot about babies and practicing what it will be like with a baby. Get him a doll if he doesn’t already have one (you might want to find an anatomically correct boy doll if you can, since he’ll be having a brother), and talk about what babies do vs. what big boys like him do. Often a child’s fears of having a sibling are about being afraid the new baby will take his things, so emphasizing what a baby can and can’t do and setting expectations will help.

Know, also, that often kids around the age of 3 will be great with a new baby for the first month or two, then get annoyed that the baby is still there but not a good playmate, and then will be happy about the baby again once the baby starts moving. So it’s all a cycle, and your kids will go through phases of loving that the other one is there and wishing they were the only. It’s normal. Annoying and emotional, but normal.

My biggest piece of advice as a mom of two boys to you about mothering two boys is this: Hug them all the time. Boys need hugs. Which is not to say that girls don’t need hugs, because of course they do. But I think our culture pushes boys to resist hugs or deny that they need hugs, or even be in motion so much that they don’t stop for hugs. But they need them. A lot. Whenever something goes wrong, hug first and then start unraveling it.

Also, expect a lot from them. I spend a lot of time observing and talking to adult men who I admire. And what seems to stand out as the common thread in these deeply good men (who are not all “nice” men, but they are good) is that they were expected to be excellent, and given help being excellent, and helped to correct course when they got off path, and so they were excellent.

And hug them.

(Another thing I didn’t know before I had two boys: Some boy sibling pairs fight. All the time. For fun. Some don’t, but if you end up with one that does, like my guys, establish some protective ground rules about location and form–no sticks in the house, if one is actually hurt either physically or emotionally the other has to make it right, no crotch shots–and then try not to freak out about it too much.)

Who else has advice for Angie, about prepping her son for the new baby, or about being a parent of two boys?


0 thoughts on “Q&A: Prepping 3-year-old for a new sibling”

  1. I totally agree with a ~3yo being interested in the baby for a little while, then completely annoyed/bored by baby, then interested again once they are more interactive (around 6 months, when they can sit up and play with toys).

    As a mom of 3 boys I wholeheartedly endorse Moxie’s comment about fighting. It can be alarming, but so far mine (7, almost 4, and almost 2) are able to regulate that behavior pretty well around other kids. They are rough with each other, but very gentle with other kids. I was super concerned about the middle one starting preschool as he’s really only been around his brothers (home with nanny during the day), but he’s doing great.

    I also found a 3 year gap between my older 2 to be perfect for us.

  2. As usual, Moxie’s hit it right on the nail. The other thing I’d advise is to work on teaching the 3yo some things that will make it easier for you once the baby comes. Getting dressed on his own, grabbing some snacks for himself, fetching and carrying or putting away, even making you a cup of coffee or bringing you some water are all things he could do that would both make him feel like a "big boy" and also help you out. They love to be helpful at this age and it’s a chance to praise him for doing something good and also make your life a bit easier.

  3. I have 2 boys, and the older was 2.5 when the younger was born (they’re now 3.5 and 15 months). I regret not doing more ‘prepping’ before the baby arrived. We talked a lot, but I never did anything like have the older one pick out a toy or draw a picture for the younger one, or have a little ‘big brother’ gift or token, or anything to facilitate bonding when the baby was born. He seemed enamored at first when his brother came home, but there was (and still is, to some extent) jealousy, difficulty sharing attention and space, etc. We did get some books about being a big brother, which we all loved.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the hugging comments. I hug my boys all the time, and they definitely need it (as do I, honestly). It also took me a while to come to terms with the physicality of their play. I think I still get too worked up about the older brother pushing or swiping at his younger brother. I constantly have to remind myself that my boys are extremely physical, and neither is terribly good at controlling his own body or impulses yet. That’s not to say that I should sit by and do nothing if I see inappropriate hitting or fighting, but I should absolutely be calmer and accept that it’s not indicative of some larger issue…it’s just boys.

  4. My son turned 3 two weeks before my daughter was born, and the most helpful thing ended up being a Franklin book (Franklin and Harriet), because it talks about how Franklin loves his sister even though she can be annoying some times. I think teaching my son how to express those feelings about his sister and not punishing him for complaining about her has been invaluable.

  5. My boys love each other so much. It is a joy and delight every day. My eldest said thoughtfully the other day: "[Brother] is my favorite person in the whole world." They are 24 months apart. He basically ignored his brother (more or less) until the little one could walk. They’ve been partners in crime ever since. They fight sometimes, but a lot less than they play, love, and protect each other.

  6. Long time reader, finally de-lurking to comment!
    I have two boys, 25 months apart (now 4 and 2 yrs. old). The physicality of little boys, or little kids in general shouldn’t have suprised me (I’m the 3rd girl of 4 girls and 1 boy), but it did. My boys play best together when they’re running around chasing each other and wrestling. Which is cute, on the one hand, but causes Mama to suffer 27 heart attacks a week on the other when bodies bang onto the floor.
    The tips mentioned so far are excellent; here’s my one additional piece of advice: find time for one-on-one time/excursions between you and one child – even a walk around the block together or going for ‘Kinderkaffee’ (I live in Germany) is special. We started this with our older son when the baby was still very small and he loved it – he called them his special adventures. Now that the baby is no longer a baby, we try to do one-on-one excursions with each of them.

  7. Love Siblings Without Rivalry (and How To Talk …)

    My daughter was 18 months when her baby brother was born. She loved him the second he arrived and never got bored with him and wished he would go away (but she was little — I sometimes think maybe by the time it would have occurred to her to wish he weren’t there, she couldn’t really remember her life before him). But she actually got really angry and resentful when he started to move around and get into her toys and stuff. I bought Siblings Without Rivalry just after he turned 1, in desperation. Definitely worth reading.

    I have a book recommendation for your big boy, too: http://www.amazon.com/Im-Big-Brother-Joanna-Cole/dp/B003XO7H2E/ref=sr13?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1384442684&sr=1-3&keywords=joanna+cole+baby We had I’m a Big Sister and read it over and over. I think it hits just the right note.

    Good luck on your impending arrival!

  8. This is one of the best pieces of advice I ever received, and applies regardless of gender: whenever the baby demonstrates a new skill, like smiling, or grasping something, or whatever it may be, give credit to the older sibling. Say, "wow! Did YOU teach him that?" Then it is automatically not all about what the baby is doing.

    And as others said, give lots of praise for being a big helper!

  9. Mom to two boys here, and I agree with everything Moxie said. In addition, some things I found helpful in the early months: give the big brother a job, in our house it was putting vaseline on during diaper changes. We had some rough moments in the early months (which I naively hadn’t really expected, because my older kid is a really gentle person), put he always perked up when it was time to do his job. Also, getting to hold the baby helped him a lot too. And even letting him think he was "babysitting" for 10 seconds while I pretended to go get something and then come right back.

    I also made a photo book of my older son’s first year, and put large captions so it looked like a story book. I included pictures of him doing all the normal baby things – nursing, sucking a pacifier, banging pots, etc. He loved looking at it then and it’s still a special keepsake. Finally, the little brother gave the big brother an awesome present the day he was born – a gigantic airplane. It’s obviously a bribe but it also gave him something to show and talk about to guests to help him feel like he was getting some attention of his own.

  10. The Idea to ask the biger one whether he taught new skill x to the baby is brilliant! I wish I’d had heard this two years ago. I also have two boys, 25 months apart, which are also 2 and 4 now. (I also live in Germany, hi Court)
    What I found difficult was that my older son played baby a lot after his brother was born, he wanted to be carried everywhere and just wanted me all the time. He was always very nice to his brother though, he even really wanted to "help" me bringing him to bed. (This drove me nuts! He meant so well, so I couldn’t really be angry, but it really didn’t help). I’d suggest giving the older one a doll and let him take care of the doll, when you take care of the baby. Boys don’t get this opportunity often, but both of my sons really like taking care of dolls. Also let him help with the baby as much as possible if he wants to, e.g. he can give you the baby wipes when you change the baby.

  11. Sorry if this is a repeat, didn’t read the comments. I read a lot of books about getting a new sibling with my 2 year old daughter before we ever mentioned that she was going to be a big sister. I also made a big brother/big sister book for her with all of her friends and their little sibling. For me, I felt like she needed to understand the concept before letting her know that it was actually happening to her.

  12. I have 3 – girl, boy, boy. We have an interesting dynamic in that the youngest boy is very into roughhousing and physical play/mock fighting and his older brother IS NOT. So there is managing of this dynamic. Youngest needs to get his physical contact some other way (and he definitely needs it) and older needs to have his boundaries respected. I’ve also noticed now that my boys are older, both with respect to them and their friends that they are highly emotional. Much more than I remember their sister being at the same age. Seems with the second grader that he and the majority of his friends have a lot of very intense emotions just under the surface that spill over with surprising frequency.

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