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Preparing 18 Month Old for New Baby

QUESTION: What is the best way to prepare our 18-month-old daughter for the arrival of her new sibling in six months? She will have to move into a new bedroom - in a bed rather than a crib - and share our attention.

Be aware that your daughter will need plenty of attention to assure her that she is not being replaced by a newer model! Though it is not inevitable, close spacing (less than three years) can create friction between siblings because both will have high needs for parental attention. Plan on plenty of one-on-one parenting time with Daddy, and start now.

Any changes that you believe necessary should not coincide with the new baby's arrival. There will be enough to adjust to when the new family member arrives, so keep change at that time to a minimum. If a new bedroom or bed is required, make this change at least four to six weeks before she becomes a big sister. And don't assume that because she has a new sibling she must sleep in a bed instead of a crib, especially if she still enjoys and feels comforted by the crib she is now using.

If you stagger the timing of changes, your daughter will be less likely to associate her new room or bed with displacement. And you will still have undivided attention to give to her, which will help her adjust to a new situation. Begin reading books to her about babies coming into the family and talk with her about the baby in utero. Though she will not completely understand, she will be primed for the baby's arrival when it occurs.

Encourage her contact with as many babies as possible. Teach her the concept "gentle" in touching babies, as well as other living things such as cats and dogs. This will help her practice beforehand the idea of becoming a "big sister."

But despite the fact that she will become a "big sister," do not rob her of her own baby-toddlerhood. Continue to diaper her and offer her the bottle (or breast, if you're breastfeeding). Don't push her towards premature childhood, as she is still very much a baby herself! Perhaps she will accept her place as a big sister if it is still okay for her to be a "baby" of sorts as well. Expect her to want to be held and even play "baby" by being cuddled and cooed in your arms. Teasing her playfully in this way may help ease her adjustment once her younger sibling is born.

It may also help to buy special toys that are just for her when you are receiving gifts for the baby and attention is being showered on the newborn. Be ready to remind her that she was a newborn at one time. Show her pictures of herself, gifts that she received then and bring her attention to the gifts that you buy her on the occasion of becoming a big sister!

Allow her to help in ways that give her a sense of competence and provide involvement in the baby's arrival: bringing a diaper to Mommy for the baby, taking an adult by the hand to show the new baby or giving the baby a rattle.

Be certain to involve her in activities she can do which separate her from the newborn and give her the message that she can do certain things because she is NOT a newborn. Sitting on your lap and pointing to pictures as you read, putting a simple puzzle together or other activities appropriate to her development will continue her excitement in her own growth and the things she can do now that she could not do as a newborn!

Whether a new child is being born or a teenager is leaving for college, transitions in families require profound physical and psychological adjustments. Family researchers have identified changes in daily family household membership to be the most stressful. It's natural for your toddler to regress during this time.

Don't be alarmed if she seems more clingy or crabby than usual. She will need to express herself and see that her place in the family is still secure. But with time and your consideration, she will adapt and gain a sense of mastery (rather than jealousy) about her new role in the family.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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