Dear Savvy Auntie,

My 5-year-old niece gets very upset when looking at family pictures from before she was born because she's not in them. She's very sensitive and cries when we try to explain how time works and that she wasn't born when the picture was taken. We try showing her pictures of great grandparents and grandparents from when my sister (her mom) and I weren't born yet, or showing her pictures of us as babies. What can I do?

Picture This

Dear Picture This,

I wonder what she is really upset about... perhaps it is not a question of time. So put on your Sherlock Holmes investigating hat and start looking for clues. Here are some possible areas:

1- Does she know of or have a new baby in her life and has concerns about being displaced?

2- Has she heard about how babies are conceived and has questions about sex and

3- Does she have confusion about time, in general?  A clock with hands and a 3 minute sand hour glass or a timer can help explain short periods of time. For longer time spans a calendar made for her that shows her life for the week and then for the month  might help.

4- Does she understand “before and after”, “then and now”.  The bigger question of “space” might be your niece’s question, as in: where was she (or anybody) before they were born.

Religions often address this and  your family might have it’s own explanations; i.e. a twinkle in mommy and daddy’s eye or in heaven waiting for the right family. In any case this is a topic for her parents to be consulted on and for them to talk to her about.

Perhaps, she just wants more photos of herself in the family albums in which case you, and your family, can decide whether or not to oblige her.

Good Luck,
Natalie Robinson Garfield


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