“I am 6-months pregnant and have a 4-year-old girl. We have been talking about the new baby for a while. Lately my daughter has been really needy. She wants a lot of my attention. She wants to sleep in our bed and be held like a baby. She told me not to give away her baby clothes because she was going to be a baby again. I have been trying to reassure her that she’s going to have a new sibling. How can I deal with the transition to a two-child household and help my daughter cope in the meantime.”

Every big sister or brother will be jealous of the new baby. The older child is displaced from being the one and only. To put it another way, think about how you would feel if your husband announced he was bringing a new wife home?

First of all, stop worrying! Regressing, wanting to be a baby again, clinging to Mommy, asking for a diaper or a bottle are all normal behaviors we see in smart little kids as they watch Mommy’s stomach expand. Your daughter came up with a very creative solution: if she becomes a baby again her problem is solved! My daughter pouted because baby was taking up Mommy’s lap. My lap used to be hers exclusively. The baby who wasn’t even born yet was crowding her out!

Clinging in a 4-year-old looks babyish. And a pregnant mommy might panic worrying how she would ever take care of two clingers. Mothers of twins like my daughter managed and you will too. Helpful hint: It may sound paradoxical but the more secure children feel the less clinging they do. Your goal is to help your daughter feel secure in your love now and when the baby arrives.

You have done everything right so far. You have already told your daughter what is happening. You might want to explain (in age-appropriate terms) how the baby got there and how your daughter will be related to the new baby, she won’t become a baby again, she will be the BIG SISTER which is about as close a relative as you can be! She will be special!

(Every time I type “age-appropriate terms” I smile. My granddaughter then 4 asked in a piping voice on a quiet airplane in line for takeoff, “But how does the Daddy’s seed get into the Mommy’s tummy?”)

Some mothers try to wean the older child from her attention to prepare her (or him) for baby’s arrival when Mom will be coping with a newborn plus recovering from the birth. I suggest you give your daughter as much time and attention now as possible.

In addition to parents telling their child about the baby, they must also listen and watch for behavioral signals. Your daughter is signaling she is scared of losing your love. Reassure her. Cuddle, sing, read, play. Grant her request and hold her like a baby. Tell her to hold her doll like a baby too.

Be sure to say repeatedly that you will always love her. She will always be special to you because she was the first child in the family.

Tell her you will need her help. Babies need to be cared for because they can’t take care of themselves. Big girls can walk and talk and sing and play. Most important, they can help you! You will need her to bring you diapers and washcloths. And sing lullabies to the baby. And later teach the baby how to play patty-cake. Talk less about the baby and more about your daughter’s new grownup role.

Before the baby comes buy a new baby doll. When the baby arrives, give this to your daughter saying you two will both be a mommy!

Find time to spend with the older child every day even if it is only a few minutes of your undivided attention. I never tried this but one mother told me when she was playing with the older child and Baby cried she would go to the baby but write down in big numbers that she owed Big Sister so many minutes of time together. It worked for them. If you have a good baby who nurses easily ask your older child to sing Baby some songs and you can chime in once in a while.

Daddy needs to be involved with both children. My husband always played with the older child for a few minutes when he came home from work. I fed Baby on the big bed when I came home from work so Older Sister could join us and tell me about her day.

I was two weeks short of 5 years old when my sister was born. I have no memories of being jealous but I do remember how proud I was when I could take her out in the carriage up and down the driveway with Mommy watching from the front stoop. I had a real baby while the other girls only had dolls! Lucky me!


Ilustración por Tammie Graves / La Estrella de Tucsón

Dr. Heins is a pediatrician, parent, grandparent, great-step grandparent, and the founder and CEO of ParentKidsRight.com. She welcomes your individual parenting questions. Email info@ParentKidsRight.com for a professional, personal, private, and free answer to your questions.