Mommy’s Pregnant – Toddler Is NOT Pleased

Hello Janet.

I would love to hear your thoughts/advice on the apparent “stage” my son is going through. (I hesitate to call it that, since I am somewhat tired of being told it’s a stage, he’ll grow out of it, etc. But for lack of a better term, “stage” it is.) B has just turned three. I may be biased, but he is a bright, articulate, funny child who has, over the past few months, gone from a talk to anyone two-year-old to a shy, withdrawn three-year-old. We are weeks away from welcoming our second baby and it seems to me, that he is getting more and more withdrawn as the pregnancy progresses.

This is not really the child I am used to. We’ve had our moments, of course, but he has always been very independent and able to play well at daycare or friends’ houses. Unfortunately, we are in a time of huge transitions. We’ve just had to say goodbye to the daycare director he has been with for almost two years. He is now adapting to a temporary replacement, who will only be there for a few weeks. After that, we will be going through this transition again for the permanent replacement. Yesterday was the first day I took him to “her” house without her there. He was in tears before we even got out of our car and was adamant that he go home with me. It was hard for me to walk away from that situation and leave him when he was upset. I knew he would be fine and trusted the caregivers he was with, so I forced myself to walk away. (And, yes, over the course of the day, he was fine!)

We just went through a similar situation this morning at his preschool. He used to run in the door and not worry about me. Now, he hangs his head when the teacher says hello and clings to my leg so that I don’t leave. I had to physically remove his little hand from my pants this morning and turn him toward to the teacher so I could walk away. This is heartbreaking for any mama, much less a pregnant one!

It isn’t just preschool, either. He often wants to sit with Mom or Dad when we’re at friends’ houses, birthday parties or anywhere where there are large groups of people. For the most part, all of these people are familiar to him, yet he will say very little to them and would prefer to be on his own. We give him the space and time he needs to warm up and try to let him lead the way when he is comfortable.

I was a shy child. And if this is simply a shy child, okay, but it just seems so different from the way he was several months ago. I desperately want to help him though all of these transitions and try and ease whatever fears he has but I just don’t know how. I’ve given him the chance to talk about the new baby and he admitted he isn’t excited about that. I told him that was okay and that he should tell me what worries him. I’m just not sure how to relate the two issues (baby and shyness) when I talk to him.

Forgive me for being long-winded but until I have no anxiety about theses situations, they aren’t going to get easier for either of us!

Thank you for listening!

Hi Cheryl,

I know how hard it is to see clearly when you’re in the thick of it, but from my point-of-view your son’s “stage” makes perfect sense. He’s simply reacting to the stage you’re in – pregnancy — and all the feelings you’re having around it.

First, I wouldn’t be concerned about him becoming ”shy” or mention anything to him about shyness, unless you speak about it as a transient feeling, i.e., “Are you feeling shy? Come, sit next to me.” I was dubbed “shy”, too, but the “shy” label (like all labels) can be perceived as a pronouncement or judgment.

It sounds to me like he’s understandably worried, unsure and unsettled about the impending, somewhat mysterious change in his life, and that’s causing him to regress a little — withdraw, feel clingy and needy. The best way to handle this, in my opinion, is to realize that his behavioral changes are normal, natural and temporary, and welcome them.

Yes, he must continue to go to school and may cry when you leave him, and the changes in his daycare have made matters worse, but he’ll cope.  As uncomfortable as it is to for his sensitive pregnant mommy to see his tears, keep in mind that it’s really good for him to release some of his tension, shed some of the confusing mix of feelings he’s carrying around. Don’t talk him out of any feelings. Acknowledge them and keep encouraging him to talk about them to try to sort them out, reminding him how normal they are.

“He often wants to sit with Mom or Dad when we’re at friends’ houses, birthday parties or anywhere where there are large groups of people…We give him the space and time he needs to warm up and try to let him lead the way when he is comfortable.”

Keep handling social situations this way, allowing him to be the one to pull away from you and decide when (or if) he wants to interact with others. Embrace his clinginess (literally) and enjoy having him on your lap. Soak up these last days of it being just the two of you (or three, with daddy).  Even if he spends the entire party on your lap (if you still have a lap) or right next to you, so what? Don’t worry about it or project even the tiniest bit of disappointment in him. This is an instance when “letting go” is best.

Trust your son’s need to withdraw, and allow him to, no matter how uncharacteristic or unreasonable the behavior might seem, but don’t let go of rules and limits if he acts out. The anticipation of the birth of a new sibling and the adjustment in the first months afterwards cause some children to act out their discomfort by testing our limits. If we feel sorry or guilty, we might follow an impulse to give in and allow misbehavior rather than setting the usual limits. Children in difficult transitions actually need the opposite — to feel even more “nested”, reined-in by our firm, consistent boundaries. When our kids are feeling wobbly, which usually (and inconveniently) coincides with our own wobbliness, they need us to stay on the ball, kindly setting them straight. I know this isn’t your issue right now (be grateful!), but it might happen later.

Most importantly, please relax, breathe deeply and try not to add any of your anxiety, worries, guilt or fear to the equation. This will pass, I swear, and soon your boy will revert back to being his friendly, articulate, outgoing and funny self. Some children calm down considerably as soon as the baby’s born. Others take a few more months to transition to a change they perceive as both positive and negative. Accept it all with open arms. Try to enjoy all the ups and downs of this exciting chapter in your life, and please let me know how it goes…

        Take good care…I’m excited for you!

I share more advice for handling difficult toddler emotions in
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Thank you for a great response! I think I needed to be reminded that this is normal, that we are handling it the best way we know how and that it will get better.
    We have given him the space to talk about the baby, and he has been honest and said, “I don’t think I’m excited about that.” I told him that is okay and he can tell me what worries him. I hope I’ve given him the freedom to feel worried and express that.
    You make a great point about just enjoying the time he wants to spend with us; a three year-old boy won’t want to sit on Mom’s lap forever.
    I appreciate the reminder about maintaining rules and limits as well. That will be increasingly important in the next few months, I am sure.

    I should perhaps add that we had a great day at preschool this week and will go into our daycare drop off today with no anxiety and hope for the best!

    1. Yay! Glad it’s getting better. I had another thought while driving home from teaching today. You might let him know that when the baby comes you will still be making time for the two of you to be alone together each day, doing whatever he likes, and you could even start that routine now. It only has to be 25 or 30 minutes or so…and it can be just sitting together, watching him play outside, reading to him, whatever, but really being present. A few weeks after the baby’s born, you might even try to set aside time once a week to have a little outing together just the two of you. There will be lots of times you’ll be busy with the baby and can’t be there for him, and in those times you can remind him that you’ll have your special time together later.

  2. We had a similar situation at our preschool, where little Emma was going through the same thing when her mum was pregnant. Juliette her mum and our team worked together towards making Emma feel important and special and we kept involving her with everything that had to do with the baby. Emma loved playing in the family area and you would often see her nuturing and caring for baby dolls. At one stage just before mum gave birth she wouldnt touch a doll and the happy placid child, started throwing herself on the floor for every slight thing that upsetted her. We respected the fact that she was going through some sort of turmoil within her, coming to grips with perhaps the new baby that everyone was excited about and getting ready for. We continued to talk about the baby and how lucky the baby was to have a sister like Emma and kept our conversations around the baby in a positive manner,when she was ready to engage in a conversation about her sister. We also made sure that we didnt bombard her too much about the baby either. We accepted the fact Emma was worried, insecure perhaps at times, and worked around all these situations positively in a partnership with mum and dad and finally when the baby was born Emma came in with the baby. We noticed that she did not show much interest towards Lucy, neither did she show any signs of insecurity. Her grandparents came from scotland for the birth and at times they dropped her at the centre. One day we decided to take pictures of Emma and her grandparents and we stuck it on the wall for her. We did the same with her and mums and dads pictures too. I think this was a turning point where we were concerned. She was quite excited to see her family pictures on the wall and the easy access she had to take it off the wall and have a look at it. Excitedly she would call out to others and show her grandads picture. There were times she would take mum to bed, sleeping cuddled up with mum’s and her picture. We are glad we came up with this idea. We have got back our Emma again, the bouncy happy content child who is the most popular child at the centre amongst her freinds because of her friendly manner. This experience tell us childrens feelings need to be acknowledged and listened to, and we should work around situations in a positive manner, after all as adults too we do feel insecure and upset at times and strange towards the unknown.

    1. Sharmila,

      This story is a helpful example and I appreciate you sharing it. When everyone acknowledges only the positives for a new big sister or brother, “You’re going to be a BIG SISTER, aren’t you excited?!” the child feels like there’s something wrong with her for having negative feelings about the situation. I think it’s healthy to encourage a “grieving period”, and give support the way you are doing with Emma. The amount of attention the child gets, the one-on-one relationship with the mother changes drastically with the birth of a new baby. It’s a ‘gain’ to have a sibling in the long run (usually), but also a loss initially.

  3. This post came at a wonderful time for my family and I. We just found out that I am newly pregnant (its very early on) and that our sweet, strong-willed son will be one month shy of turning three when the baby arrives. Because he just turned 2 on August 1st, we have held off with him attending preschool (I am a stay at home mom). Our plan was to put him in preschool just two or three days a week starting next year, and because of the arrival of the baby, I am concerned that this is going to be a ton of change at once for him. We currently attend regular classes and have play dates, and I plan on maintaining that structure/stability through the next year, but do you have any tips on helping him process all of this change (and me!) ?

  4. Only 1 week to go for no. 2 for us! She seems pretty positive about it al but good to put in our ‘tool box’.

  5. Thank you for sharing this post! I am in a similar situation with my 2.5 year old daughter. She has been especially clingy with me and shy in situations she would normally thrive in. She seems very excited about the impending arrival of her sister and all the ways she plans on helping, but her clinginess, shyness and night wakings tell me she is feeling as anxious as she is excited. The nighttime wakings have been especially difficult because she wants me to lay with her until she falls asleep or to get in bed with mommy and daddy. As much as I would love to indulge her, I don’t want to start any bad habits…especially ones I won’t be able to continue once baby arrives. Any advice regarding the night wakings? She also has been calling herself a baby lately and asking for a pacifier or bottle. I remind her that she is my baby but that she is going to be a great big sister soon. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to say. We haven’t let her have a bottle or pacifier though we did buy her a baby doll and have started helping her care for the doll in the ways we will be caring for the baby. Sorry for the long-winded post! We are 6 weeks out and all of this has me feeling anxious and is only adding to my insomnia!

    1. Thank you for this post and comments! I am 30 weeks pregnant and struggling as my 3 year old regresses to frequent tantrums, saying the opposite of everything he wants, clinginess, and difficulty surrounding transitions…particularly daycare dropoff, pickup, and getting dressed. I’m trying to reframe this in my mind as his way of showing his anxieties but it is SO hard to deal with these situations in the moment, particularly as the pregnancy progresses and he is difficult to carry etc. Hoping this abates soon as we stay consistent with his routine and spend lots of time together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More From Janet

Books & Recommendations