Get Ready, Big Bro: Preparing Preschoolers for New Siblings
April 11, 2013
© Taylor Hengen Newman
Kaspar isn’t old enough to really ‘get’ what having a baby brother is going to mean for our family – i.e. we’re adding another, very small and needy person to the mix, which basically spells a new world order for little big man. But, at 3, he’s definitely picked up on the fact that something significant is about to happen along those lines.
One of the reasons we decided to find out the baby’s gender (I mean, aside from my not being able to handle a surprise on that scale even at all) was so that we can come up with a name and talk about the new guy in advance of his arrival; the new-baby concept is a little abstract, even for adults, so we’re hoping to make the transition somewhat less shocking by having a few concrete concepts in place. Gender and names are pretty concrete. (We’re still deciding on the latter… And no, we’re not letting Kaspar choose his brother’s moniker, as his first choice is “Kaspar,” which obviously isn’t going to work.)
As much as I know his brother’s arrival will mark an enormous and unprecedented change in his life, I also want it to feel natural and, if at all possible, exciting to Kaspar; we’re bearing these goals in mind as we discuss babies and brotherhood with him. We’re keeping it casual while keeping it real. My belly is an obvious talking point; it’s no longer comfortable for Kaspar to sit squarely on my lap, leaning back onto my belly and chest, so I now say, “Oops, let’s make some room for little brother,” and shift Kas onto one thigh or the other, with one of my arms wrapped snugly around him, so he’s nestled into my side. (This position will ultimately accommodate a breastfeeding sibling, too.)
We’ve been pointing out the characters in his favorite books who are big brothers – “Brother Bear is a big brother, Kaspar, just like you will be soon!” – as well as those of his real-life friends who occupy the role – “I see Milo making Baby D laugh; Milo and Baby D are brothers, aren’t they Kaspar?” We’ve also strategically placed a few books specifically addressing these topics on Kaspar’s bookshelf, to help familiarize him with the whole baby scene. (I like There's Going to Be A Baby and Everywhere Babies and On Mother's Lap.) He chooses them, along with his regular favorites, before bed, and listens intently as I read them aloud.
We’re preparing Kaspar for his brother’s arrival in less direct ways, too, by reinforcing the idea that he can do all kinds of cool things by himself now that he’s so ‘big’, and by designating certain areas in the house as his – and his alone – so he has a place to retreat to when the baby fuss gets to be too much. When we play together (quality one-on-one time; maximizing that now) in the afternoons, I often suggest we play in Kaspar’s room, rather than the living room, for example; it’s his space, filled with his things, and he’ll play happily there – in my close proximity but often quite independently – for hours.
When our house feels like it’s been taken over by burp cloths, Boba carriers and bouncers, I don’t want Kas to feel kicked out of his own living space (especially since we actually did recently kick him out of our bedroom at night… and will soon be moving his brother in); Kaspar’s room will, at least, remain a baby-free zone, so I’m trying to reinforce his habit – and enjoyment – of spending time in there now.
We also gave Kaspar a teepee for his birthday, back in February. It’s in our living room, and he loves to bring books, crayons, and toys inside and hang out in a space where he feels snug and a little separate, but can keep an eye – and ear – on the family-style action taking place around him. I think it’s important for him to have spaces like this in our home, and will be all the more so in those first couple of months when it might feel like the rest of our home has morphed into Babyland.
Kas enjoys a little break from the busy world outside in his very own teepee.
Do you have any tips (success stories, or you-live-and-you-learn stories) on easing the new-baby transition for the toddler set? How did you prepare your ‘big’ kids for the reality of new-baby siblings? (Is it even possible to do so?) Let me know. I look forward to reading about your experiences with this!
P.S. and a shoutout: Do you love Kaspar’s teepee? We do too! I got it from a wonderful, mom-run company, Catching Stars. Roz, its founder, wanted to create play spaces for her two daughters that inspired them, and that were colorful without being either too pink or too plastic (both common problems with mass-made toys for girls). Now she and her business partner Sarah – also a mom! – outfit other families’ homes with everything from play-mats to pillows that look amazing even in rooms grown-ups use. Go say hi and tell them I sent you!