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Tuesday, 29 June 2004

Runaway Bunny Helps Big Sister Adjust to New Baby

Written by  Hilorie Baer, MSW

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During my last pregnancy, I found one book, far and above all others, to be particularly helpful to myself and to my three-year-old while she waited for her baby sister to be born.

The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown (author of the classic Goodnight Moon,) is about a little bunny who wants to run away. When he announces his intention to his mother, she says, "If you run away, I will run after you. For you are my little bunny." But that doesn't deter little bunny. He says, "If you run after me, I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you." Mother bunny replies, "If you become a fish in a trout stream, I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you."

The story continues with little bunny becoming a rock on a mountain and his mother becoming a mountain climber; little bunny becoming a crocus in a hidden garden and mother the gardener who will find him; little bunny a bird who flies away and mother the tree he comes home to. Little bunny keeps thinking of ingenious ways to escape but mom always comes up with a charming way to follow.


I see this book as psychologically helpful to expectant parents who have older children and to young children who are awaiting the birth of a new sibling.

Reading this book as an adult I would not have thought it would be particularly attractive to a child. To adults, the book feels oppressive. That little bunny wants to get away from his mother and he just can't get any freedom.

But during my pregnancy and after the baby came, my three-year-old became very attached to this book. I have many books about becoming an older sibling but this book -- which isn't outwardly about that -- was the one she asked for again and again during this period. I believe the message of this book for my daughter was that no matter what happens, I will always be there for her. That was immensely comforting to her during an insecure time.

The other books about siblings were all directed toward the older sibling -- her feelings, her process, the impending changes, her experience. But The Runaway Bunny was also directed towards me, the mother. It was telling me what I, as a parent, needed to do.

The birth of a sibling necessarily entails a change of identity for an older child. The book's message for me was that no matter how much my daughter changes or how different she becomes, what she needs from me during this time is to know that as long as she is little and needs me, I will never let her go.


It's interesting to notice how this mother doesn't let her boy go. She allows him to change. She doesn't tell him no, it's not good to become a rock or a flower, it's better to be a bunny; or, I don't want you to change or I'll be sad if you do. She accepts it, she lets him go off and become a rock, a bird, a flower and she adapts herself to becoming something connected with that change in her son. She contains him and his change. She sticks with him no matter what. She doesn't do this just once or twice but allows this to happen many times.

My daughter felt reassured by this book. Children can often feel frightened by their feelings. If they feel aggressive toward a new sibling they might unconsciously fear that this means they will be abandoned or rejected by their parents -- or that they might be replaced.

The bunny's wanting to run away can be seen as an expression of feelings of frustration or aggression. It's not a good thing he's doing. This book gives license to feeling and expressing things that could potentially be seen as being bad or hurtful or not okay. The bunny does these things but he is not abandoned or rejected. In fact, the message is that no matter how bad you feel, no matter what expression it takes, your mother will still be there.

On a deeper level, the mother in the story is the mother we carry around within us even as adults. It's the internal security that allows us to change, to take risks, to explore, to learn about ourselves. It's an ego strength that allows us to comfort ourselves, to keep perspective, to feel safe.

This experience taught me an important parenting lesson. If your young child asks for a certain book to be read to her over and over, swallow your boredom and fulfill the request. It's there for a reason.

Last modified on Thursday, 04 April 2013 10:09
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Hilorie Baer, MSW

Hilorie Baer, MSW

Hilorie Baer, MSW, is a psychotherapist specializing in addiction.

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