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When to Tell Your Preschooler You're Pregnant

When to Tell Your Preschooler You’re Pregnant

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’m a longtime listener, first time caller… I think I first found you (and Alpha Mom) in a haze of cloth diapers about four years ago. You’ve been there for me through thick and thin…Ellyn Satter. Potty Training. Secondary infertility and clomid. Now I’m hoping you can help me with my next big dilemma.

When do we tell my four-year-old that he’s going to be a big brother? The baby is due a few months before his 5th birthday. We plan on telling family/work/friends around 13 weeks, if all continues to go well. (6 more weeks of winter, I mean morning sickness.)

So the question is: should we tell the kid first?

On the one hand, he tends to ruminate on things if he has too much advanced warning, so my husband wants to hold off on telling him as long as possible. But I’m concerned that he might find out accidentally from someone else, and that would stink.

To further complicate matters (at least in my mind), I’m also suffering from so much more morning sickness this time around. He knows that something is off, he just doesn’t know what. I’m talking about how my body is just doing a lot of work right now, and that we need to take care of our bodies by getting lots of rest, drinking water, eating healthy foods and getting exercise. He’s been super sweet and snugly and reassuring me that I’ll feel better soon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I VERY VIVIDLY remember Googling this exact question and getting advice that basically ran smack dab into your exact dilemma: Don’t tell a young child too soon, wait at least until you’re showing, etc. etc…

…but oh yeah, also tell them as soon as you announce it to other people, because you DEFINITELY don’t want them finding out from anyone else but you.

(Oh look, here it is, still sitting unhelpfully at the top of Google.)

I suppose the compromise is to delay telling anyone else right at 13 weeks. That’s not always feasible for every situation (plus at a minimum you’re super excited to make the super exciting announcement by then), but it’s probably worth considering? How far along were you last time before you started to show? You’ll likely show earlier this time, so if you were visibly pregnant by say, 16-18 weeks, that’s not TOO crazy of a delay in announcing to the world. Plus if anyone gets snippy about not being told ASAP!!!!!OMG!!!! you have a very hard-to-argue-with excuse: You needed to tell your son first, and chose to wait until you were showing or had the 20-week ultrasound or whatever.

I cannot for the life of me remember (or track down via blog post archives) when exactly we told our oldest about my second pregnancy. He was only 2.5 or so, at most, and I do remember that it wasn’t so much of a Single Big Announcement as a long series of smaller conversations about something way too abstract for him to fully understand. We read a lot of books and watched a lot of Special Episodes of cartoons about becoming a big sibling and new babies. He had an ultrasound printout from the 20-week scan on the wall in his room. He heard us talking about it with other people.  He understood that “baby brother” was making my tummy big and that baby brother would come out and live with us. Or at least…he could mimic understanding, but in reality he was far too young to really “get it” until his brother actually WAS born and came home to live with us. (And lord, was he not happy about it, but that’s a whole other topic.)

With baby number three, we told our oldest, Noah (then five), around the four-month mark. That was a VERY different conversation, because he was 1) older, and 2) had been to this particular rodeo before. I was showing a little already, plus we were going to see a lot of family over the next few weeks (holidays and such). Again, we had already announced the pregnancy online and to our families, but there was little-to-no-risk of Noah hearing it from anybody else. I didn’t tell our neighbors or anyone at his school, for example, until I was UNDENIABLY visibly pregnant (although I believe Noah announced the news himself to his teachers and such, which was fine).

(My middle child, Ezra, was barely 2 at this point, and once again with him, it was a long, slow process to understanding. Lots of books and cartoons and letting him “help” with going through baby clothes and “talk” to my stomach, while deep down I knew he was going to remain completely baffled and then get thoroughly blindsided. Luckily, he has always just loved loved loved babies, even as a toddler, so he wasn’t totally mad about it.)

So if there’s any way you can restrict your announcement to people who AREN’T going to blab in front of your son (out-of-town/long-distance relatives, your work, friends you trust to be mindful around him), and avoid telling random neighbors or people at his school or daycare, that can buy you some time until you have something a little more “concrete” to offer him. An ultrasound that actually looks like a baby, a visibly pregnant belly, clothes and furniture in the nursery, etc.  In the meantime, keep going with the vague explanations you’re giving him right now (your wording is perfect, btw).

If that sort of staggered announcement simply isn’t going to work (i.e. your family all lives close by and/or everybody you know is a hopeless blabbermouth), it’s not the end of the world if you tell him sooner rather than later. Just be prepared to not have One Big Conversation about it, but a series of matter-of-fact talks that gradually increase the level of information he needs to process. Encourage him to talk about his feelings and ask questions rather than silently ruminate.

And no matter: Read lots of nice bedtime books about babies and siblings (although never at the expense of a familiar favorite) and see if any of his favorite preschool cartoons or characters have a sibling-specific episode or book. Most do, and most of them are really great. Our favorite go-to was Blue’s Clues where Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper give birth to Paprika and need to tell Cinnamon the news and WOWOWOWOW I feel like it’s just hitting me how damn weird that was. So hey, if learning about a new baby via condiments didn’t scar my kids for life, you won’t either, no matter how or when you end up telling him.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Polopoly

    I ran into the same dilemma with my 4y daughter. 4y kids are observant and have both imagination and questions. Good luck hiding things from them for any extended period of time. My hubby also has 0 discretion so I figured it would build trust to tell her directly.

    We started out in the first trimester just talking about siblinghood in general – people she knew (kids and adults) who had younger sibs, and how special that relationship is. Many many conversations. Over and over.

    Then later when I was further along, we broke the news that she would join the big sister club – and we were up front about how difficult (sharing mom is hard) and special and important the job is. Not everyone gets to be a big sister after all. Again ad museum. I combined that with the concept of baby growing in tummy (she spent hours talking to the baby).

    The only thing I wish I had waited was on telling her about me going to hospital for the birth. That freaked her out (naw duh in hindsight). Also, anytime anyone congratulated me, I made it a bit about her.

    Me being in hospital and recovering from csection was hard on her. And 6mo In, she still gets frustrated with me. But she LOVES “her baby”.

    Congrats, and Good luck !

  • Timba

    I just told my kids. (5.5 and 3.5, I’m due right around their birthdays and man I have GOT to stop having babies in January….) Nothing overly built up or anything. Just announced to them right around the time we told everyone else. I said that Mama and Baba were gonna have a baby and isn’t it exciting that they would have a new brother or a sister? And which did they think was neater?

    Now, I don’t know how much they GOT it until I REALLY popped and the ultrasound looked more like a person. I do go through my Week-by-week book with them, and tell them how big Baby Prof is this week, and show them the little pictures of what they look like, but that’s really all the reading we did.

    I just talk a lot (“Oh! Baby Prof is kicking, would you like to feel? I need to eat now, guys, for the baby. Man, baby is making Mama kind of tired today, can we play inside?”) Just so they don’t, I don’t know, forget that baby is a real person?

    I assume they are way more excited about it in theory than when Prof gets here, but. At least they are aware someone is coming.

  • Ros

    In terms of meet-the-baby media, I highly, HIGHLY recommend Daniel Tiger meeting Baby Margaret. It’s a CBC production and available on YouTube, and was priceless for my then-2.5 year old.

  • SarahB

    We told our then three year old almost right away–once we had the second beta, I think. He’d been asking for a baby sister for awhile, and I was noticeably ill from the start, so we figured let’s just share the good news and then we can explain why Mommy is so tired.

    He got his wish for a sister–and is an incredible big brother and loved her right away (acted up for us, of course, but not for her).

    I second the Daniel Tiger recommendation about Margaret’s birth, plus the next few episodes after that that address how the baby changes things. It was very helpful for me as a mom to see how Daniel saw the baby interfering with seemingly *everything*–a great reality check.

  • Gabrielle Seeber

    I got my boys (who would be 3 and 4.5 when baby was born) semi-realistic baby dolls to tell them and it went really really well. We told them pretty much right away- around 7-8 weeks. They had “their babies” which could be whatever name and gender they chose and an immediate “baby” to love on and learn with before the real one came along. They are awesome big brothers and 2.5 years later still love “their” babies- my 5 year old is probably a better parent to his than some parents are to their real children (he asks about the weather and picks out appropriate clothes for her to change her into – carries her in a back carrier all over- it’s adorable). This also helps when the baby comes along because you can suggest things like “why don’t you feed your baby while I feed your brother” so they feel included and aren’t bugging you about why you’re always feeding the baby.