Ask the Doctors by Eve Glazier, M.D. and Elizabeth Ko, M.D

Introducing the Concept of a Younger Sibling Can Be Fun

Dear Doctor: Our son will be 3 years old when his baby sister arrives this fall. What can my husband and I do to help him understand the changes that are on the way?

Dear Reader: Congratulations on your growing family, and also on planning ahead for a major change in your son’s life.

At this point, you’ve mastered the baby basics that were probably daunting when your son first came home, such as, well, just about everything. Now you and your husband, along with your toddler, face a new learning curve. You’ll be juggling the care of two young humans at different stages of development, and your son will be coming to terms with his new role as the older -- and no longer only -- child. The steps you take as your pregnancy progresses, as well as how you integrate your new daughter into family life, will go a long way to smoothing the transition.

Start by talking to your son about the coming baby. As a toddler, his ability to grasp either the scope or the details is limited, so use visual examples to help bridge the gap. If someone in your circle of friends and family has a baby, see if you can arrange for your son to meet and spend time with them. (You may have to do this virtually for the time being.) If possible, repeat these visits throughout your pregnancy.

Make a game out of spotting infants when you’re out and about in the world. Get one or two of the many excellent picture books available about the birth of a new sibling and read (and reread) them together. When your pregnancy has progressed enough, let your son feel the baby’s movements. Explain that his new sister can hear him, and encourage him to talk and sing to her. If you’ve decided on a name for your new arrival, use it when talking about her.

This is a great time to break out the family photo album and show your son pictures of you while you were pregnant with him, as well as of his first few months of life. Telling a simple but specific story about each photo will not only help the images become real, it will let your son know he has a solid place in your family’s history.

Pediatricians often recommend buying a life-sized baby doll and using it to practice contact, as well as caregiving activities. Include your son in the preparations for the baby. Toddlers love color and shape and texture, and letting him in on decisions for decor and toys for the new baby’s room will give him a sense of ownership and control. And -- very important -- your husband should be actively involved in each of these steps as well.

Don’t be surprised if your son becomes anxious and clingy as your due date approaches and once the new baby is home. It’s common for young siblings to regress a bit at this point. Just continue to give him love, reassurance and one-on-one private time, and be patient as everyone adjusts to their new roles.

(Send your questions to askthedoctors@mednet.ucla.edu, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1450, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)