Q: I have a 4-yr old daughter who starts school at the end of August, which is also the time I am expecting to have my second child. Her father and I are no longer together and his fiance is also expected to have her baby at that time. So my question is: what is the best way for us to make sure she doesn't feel left out or that we are spending more time with the babies while she is in school?
A: Dear cassy_nd_hannah:
It is great that you are looking ahead to try to ease the transitions that your four year old daughter is facing! The good news is that she is not likely to be wondering what you have been up to, during the time that she has spent in school. A child of four is too little to feel suspicious and jealous about things that have gone "behind their back," as you might say--they are pretty well caught up in the moment. They feel suspicious and jealous about what is going on under their noses.
You are asking the right question however, focusing on helping your 4 year old to feel loved and secure during this period of many changes. She is bound to be somewhat confused by the fact that you and her father are no longer together, as well as the fact that she will be getting a new sibling and have to share her Mom with the little one. The coincidence with her beginning school--as well as the arrival of a new half-sibling--is certainly a lot for a small child to deal with, all at once.
The best thing is for you to stay tuned to your daughter's emotional wavelength, as no doubt you have been doing. Be patient if she has some moments of babyishness, which may be a reaction to all the new stresses in her life. Tell her that you'll really miss her when she is in school, but you will be looking forward to seeing her when she comes home at the end of her school day. You will certainly have your hands full with a new infant, but you can always make room for your older daughter to sit right next to you as you explain to her what you are doing for the baby. Include her whenever you can in everyday activities, so that she feels part of the excitement and the action, rather than brushed aside. If your hands are busy, you can include your daughter with a look, with a smile, and with a wink. Take time to tuck her into bed and have a bit of time "just for us two."
Your goal is to help your 4 year old feel just as special and as beloved as she was the day she was born. You can't achieve this at every minute of the day, but you can remember to convey this message to her several times each day.
Your wish to include her, so that she doesn't feel left out, is sincere and loving. Rely on your heart, which will show you the way.
Elizabeth Berger MD
Child Psychiatrist and author of "Raising Kids with Character"