Mommy's "helper"

Sometimes first-born children want to take on too much responsibility. Here's how they can do it safely

Q: My three-year-old has taken to playing mommy to her younger sisters. She tries to feed the baby and picks up and carries both of them. How can I help her understand that there are some things she shouldn’t be doing for fear of hurting her sisters — without hurting my big girl’s self-esteem?

A: Eldest children often try to take on responsibility that is beyond what’s appropriate to their age. As parents, we sometimes lose track of how young our first-born children really are, so they and we believe they’re more competent than they really are. In the interest of safety, you need to tell your eldest that it’s not OK for her to pick up her sisters. Let her know what she can do, as well as what she cannot, and be matter-of-fact about it.

Then make a point of asking her to do things more in tune with her develop-mental stage, such as helping you to pick up the toys in the living room or put her clothes away; this will actually enhance her self-esteem. You might also consider enrolling her in preschool so she has a special activity that she enjoys away from her younger sisters.