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I babysit for two children that live next door. They're both girls ages 3 and 5. The children's mother is currently pregnant with another child and I was asked to break the news to the children. (They made it clear that I didn't have to!) But I accepted the job and broke the news to the girls by explaining that in a few months, they would be having another sister, and right now she is in mummy's tummy.

The Oldest was ecstatic and happy to get another sister, but the youngest was shocked. Despite plenty of consolation from the oldest, she immediately asked where babies come from, why she needed another sister, etc, before breaking down into tears and hugging her blanket.

The Oldest asked for some mac n cheese but the youngest still wouldn't speak to me throughout dinner. When her parents came home, she also gave the silent treatment to her mother, and the only one she'll currently speak to is her sister and father. I've baby-sat for that family twice since then and she hasn't spoken to me or her mother the whole time. I understand its normal for a child to have a rash reaction like this (I did!) but certainly not to this extent and this is pushing the boundaries of what I consider being normal.

I'm researching some books on the subject, and although I do expect her to come around when the baby arrives (3-4mo) I do miss the discussions we used to have.

Is this behavior normal? What can I do to ease her into the idea of being a middle child?

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    Related: be careful bringing home your first baby if you have cats or dogs in your house. While most animals will accept it, some are similarly jealous of the baby taking their(the animal's) spot as most favored child. Sep 30 at 13:03
  • The book I bought is Best Ever Big Sister, for reference! Sep 30 at 13:19
  • @CarlWitthoft I do have a senior dog and two American Staffordshire Mixes, I will keep this in mind Sep 30 at 13:20
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    I find it somewhat shocking that the parents weren't willing to tell their children themselves - even at a young age like this, hearing the news from a stranger instead of their own parent could be a big reason why it was taken so poorly.
    – Zibbobz
    Sep 30 at 13:23
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    @Zibbobz agreed! thats the reason that she isn't talking to her mother, from what I can gather from her sister Sep 30 at 14:44
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First - I'm very surprised to see the parents asked you to break the news to the children. It seems to me like this is the sort of thing they should be doing!

Second - what you're describing is normal. Children need time to process new information, and especially when it's something so totally new to them that they don't have any reference to compare it to, it will take time. Being a bit more withdrawn is normal - she's thinking about it and processing her emotions. It isn't a "grudge", it's just that she hasn't figured out how she feels yet, and doesn't have a good way to express those feelings.

What she's feeling right now is concern that she is no longer going to be the "baby", and that she'll get less attention. Children at that age often see their parents love and attention as zero-sum; they also don't see the possibility of getting love and attention from each other! She may not even fully understand that the new baby will not "replace" her... and she definitely doesn't know what things will be like when the new baby comes - how will it shift the social dynamics (which she's still barely learning anyway!)

What can help is talking about it, and not dismissing her feelings. Instead, give her tools to discuss those feelings, and names for the feelings. It's important to be able to describe, in words, a feeling - she is feeling worried [that things will change in a negative way], sad [that she won't be the baby anymore], angry [that her parents decided to have another baby]. Those are okay feelings! Tell her that. Then also point out the things that weren't possible before that will be now - she will get to be a "big sister" to the baby, get to help the baby learn and grow, get to teach the baby new things, get to protect the baby. She'll get someone she can play with who she won't be physically smaller than! No more automatically losing at games!

But she also will have a really important role: she's the only one who understands being a little sister AND being a big sister! So she can use that understanding to make sure little sister is taken care of properly. She can think of the things she wished her big sister did differently with her, and do those things. She can also explain what her new younger sibling is feeling to the older siblings and the parents!

Help her see what her new role will be, and how important and interesting it will be. Then she has positive feelings to go along with the negative ones - and also help her see all the other fun things there will be with three kids. But also give her space to learn what her feelings are, and give her names for those feelings, so she can understand them; and don't shame them.

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    I allowed the older sibling to share her experiences (she's been there once before) and talked to her about big feelings, its okay to be upset, you aren't being replaced and there is nothing wrong with your feelings. she still isn't speaking to me but she sat on the couch next to me and let me hold her blanket. Progress. She still isn't interacting with her mother but I shared this answer with her as well. I even purchased a book to read to her, which she listened to as I read to her but didn't speak to me. Thank you for these suggestions, they were truly helpful. :) Sep 30 at 13:11
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    and I was also surprised at their request1 Sep 30 at 13:12
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"Holding grudges" has a negative connotation, so I wouldn't quite phrase it that way. Can young children remember who, for example, they cannot trust any longer? Absolutely.

I agree with @Joe that informing the child was the job of the parents. And that their job now is to give her the emotional vocabulary to work out her feelings. In fact, all I can add in my answer is an experience similar to yours.

What can I do to ease her into the idea of being a middle child?

Let her know that her feelings were a surprise to you, and that you didn't mean to hurt her. Give her opportunities to talk about it if she wants to. Then continue to love her, and let her come around in her own good time.

When I was a first year resident (we are usually assigned the more unpleasant tasks), a four year old girl was in the hospital for cancer treatment. We had a good relationship (she was a sweet girl.) She needed a shot in her thigh every day, and I had to give it to her. It seemed agonizing to her; she would cry, wheedle, try to put it off, and finally allow the shot, which then wasn't so bad. It usually took 10-15 minutes for her to work up the courage to get the shot. Again, once done, it wasn't so bad.

One day, I walked into her room to give her the shot and found her sleeping. I debated waking her up, thinking I could just give her the shot and it would be done with, no painful agonizing. So that's what I did. By the time she woke up, it was finished. No tears. Just a look of shocked surprise. I explained why I did what I did.

She never spoke to me again. She never wheedled or cried. She would not make eye contact, and would get the shot in silence, looking away. Once I had moved on to a different service, I saw her on the elevator and said hello, but again, no eye contact and no response whatsoever. I had broken her trust in me completely. I had hurt her feelings, and she could not forget that.

She died a few weeks later. It was one of the most painful and valuable lessons I ever learned about treating patients, especially children.

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    I am sorry to hear that story. It is awfully sad. Thank you for sharing your experiences and letting me know that I am not alone. I will definitely try to have a conversation with her, even if she doesn't participate in it herself. +1 for your experiences. Thanks again :) Sep 30 at 13:07
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I wholeheartedly agree with what @Joe said, so I'm not going to repeat that.

What the parents should do is involve their children in the pregancy and the care for the newborn.

  1. Parents should begin to speak to their children about new siblings at the same time that they begin to discuss that idea with themselves. If they have always wanted to have more children, then all their children need to be aware of that plan from the time they are born. It is never a good idea to let children grow up under the impression that they are unique and then take it away from them. Basically, be upfront and honest to your children in the same way that you want to be treated yourself. Children learn dishonesty and lying from you! (Also don't lie to them about Santa Clause. Many children will never forgive you that lie, as I have learned from many adults.)

  2. If you want the older siblings to have a good relationship to their younger siblings, involve them in the process. Let them feel mommy's tummy. Take them with you when you buy new clothes or sort through the old and allow them to decide some things like a red or a green brush for the newborn. When the baby is born, bring it into bodily contact with the older children immediately (!) to facilitate a bond. Let them help in feeding, washing, etc. the child. When you hold the baby, hold your older children as well (if they come) and caress them both and encourage them to caress each other. Etc. Basically, encourage (physical) interaction to foster a bond. That's what the mother and father need to develop a bond to their children, and it is what the other children need, too.

What you (as a babysitter) should do is not allow the parents to turn you into the bearer of bad news or unpleasant surprises or the executor of their discipline. You don't have the bond to the children that allows them to accept this from you.

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  • I will definitely attempt these suggestions once the baby arrives. Thank you for your answer. I know I should not allow them to make me the bad news bear, but I did want to do them (the parents) a favor and wasn't expecting quite the adverse reaction that I recieved. Thank you for your time and again, will gladly attempt your strategies :) +1 Sep 30 at 13:05
  • From a Santa Myth study where researchers interviewed kids who had already discovered the truth about Santa: "Children reported predominantly positive reactions on learning the truth. Parents, however, described themselves as predominantly sad in reaction to their child's discovery." These are kids whose parents strongly encouraged a belief in Santa. Parenting by lying and manipulation is wrong, and damaging. But about Santa, it's more about kids developing and flexing the cognitive skills to figure out that it's a myth. Oct 1 at 17:13
  • @anongoodnurse most people are fine when they learn the truth, but some do consider it a serious betrayal and never forgive it. I've heard that from multiple adults myself. It's definitely a gamble.
    – Kat
    Oct 2 at 15:00

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