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Preparing your child for a new baby

Adding a new member to the family is a major life transition for all members. But for a young child, it can bring up insecurity, as well as excitement. The following guidelines will help you create the optimal atmosphere for helping your child adjust to the role of big brother or sister, before and after your newborn arrives:

1. Communicate the wonder of birth!

All children are enamored by the story of their own birth. Do not hesitate to begin your young child's preparation for having a sibling, by recounting the very special day that your child came into your life. But do not stop there! Allow your child to listen to the baby's heartbeat, or even gently "talk" to the baby through the womb. By the last month of pregnancy, the baby can hear the sounds of family members' voices through the waters. Trace the development of the baby, if your child shows interest. Books, such as Sheila Kitzinger's A Child is Born teach the fascination of life, appropriate to share with your child at this time.

2. Teach nurturing

Excitement about caring for and protecting a new baby can develop from the value you place on nurturing in your family. For example, taking care of a kitten can help a young child practice being gentle and considerate with living things. Caring for plants and holding a friend's baby, if possible before birth can give your child a sense of being competent in their role as big brother or sister. Many hospital maternity programs now have sibling classes to help prepare children for this very exciting event. Consult your local hospital for programs in your community.

3. Read books that tell the story of adjusting to life with a new baby

Children learn through stories and story telling. Pick a few different kinds of stories that encourage a full range of feelings about the arrival of a newborn in the family. Make room for "unpopular" feelings like anger and jealousy, as well as love and kindness. By doing so, you reassure your child that feelings are acceptable and can be expressed, while sending a clear message that aggressive actions (such as hitting!) are off-limits.

4. Allow your child to participate in helping prepare for the baby's arrival

Give your child appropriate tasks to help prepare the nursery or the baby's room. Encourage any special toys your child wants to put in the baby's room to welcome him or her home.

5. Allow regression

Do not be surprised if your preschooler or toddler wants to "play baby", too! Indulge him by cuddling, rocking and cooing as you would to a baby. This kind of play helps your child work through this transition, whether before or after the baby comes. Temporarily returning to a bottle or even a diaper is a possibility. If this occurs, do not shame your child. Adopt a patient attitude, which reflects their temporary wish to return to being a baby, but be sure to point out the advantages to being an older sibling, too.

For example, babies can't eat ice cream. But big boys and girls can and do! Continue to support your child's excitement in her own growth and the things she can do now that a newborn cannot.

6. Keep change to a minimum

Any changes that will be necessary, such as daycare, a new bed or bedroom or other alterations to make room for a newborn should be staggered either before or some time after the baby's arrival. Your child will be less likely to associate her new bed, room or schedule with displacement if changes do not occur simultaneously.

7. Create special time with Dad and Mom, separately

Your child may be used to getting attention from both parents when they are in the environment. Spend some time before the baby's arrival doing one-on-one activities. For example; a walk around the block with Dad, while Mom cooks dinner, or alternating bedtime stories with one parent can help a child prepare for sharing attention with a new baby.

8. Gifts for your child after the birth

Young children can develop jealousy when they see sparkling gift wrapped packages arrive for baby, but not for them. Young children fare better when relatives or friends celebrate their new role in the family with a special gift, too!

And finally, visit friends who have recently added another sibling to their family. Seeing other children going through a similar experience will help your child adapt, rather than resist this transition.

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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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