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Preparing Your Child for the Arrival of a New Sibling

June 16, 2015

By Jennifer Eckert

Preparing Your Child for the Arrival of a New Sibling | This mother shares five tips for preparing your child for the arrival of a new sibling. | A girl kisses her baby sister.

Just over a year ago, my husband and I learned that we were expecting our second child. While we were overjoyed to be adding to our family, Rob and I were also anxious about how our 18-month-old son would react and adjust to the new arrival. As a first child (and only grandchild on my side of the family), Bobby was used to being the center of attention. The upcoming change was going to, in the words of my mother, “turn his world upside down.”

Naturally, I scoured the Internet in search of advice and found tons of it. Many of the articles I found supported each other, and just as many contradicted each other. While every child is different in terms of situation and temperament, the following strategies seemed to work well as Rob and I prepared our Baby No. 1 for the arrival of Baby No. 2.

Provide concrete details versus abstract ideas.
With a young child, it’s better to wait until you (or your spouse or partner) starts showing. Pointing to a growing belly and talking about the baby “in Mommy’s tummy” provides some physical evidence of a change that’s about to occur. I’m pretty sure all Bobby thought about my bump at first was that it was a great shelf to stand on when in the swimming pool. But once he was able to feel the baby’s movement, he seemed to think my belly was pretty cool.

Strengthen the bond with Dad.
If your first child is extremely attached to Mom (or if Mom’s the primary caregiver), it’s going to be a bit rough once she’s busy with the new baby—especially if she’s breastfeeding. It’s a good idea for your child to spend a little more one-on-one time with the other parent before the baby arrives so it’s not such a shock when suddenly Mom’s not as available. Bobby has always been kind of a “Daddy’s boy,” so we accomplished this step pretty easily (a little too easily in my opinion).

Schedule big changes for before or after the due date.
The arrival of a new sibling is probably going to be the biggest change that has occurred in your first child’s life so far. It’s best to get any other changes (e.g., a new childcare situation, a new bed, potty-training) out of the way in advance, or you might want to hold off until things have settled down a bit.

For instance, even though we knew the new baby would sleep in a bassinet in our room for the first few months, Rob and I still moved Bobby out of the crib and into a toddler bed about a month before I was due. We figured that would give him plenty of time to get used to the new bed and not feel as if he was being “kicked out” by the new arrival.

Read books, but don’t overdo it.
Of course, we received tons of books from family and friends about new babies and becoming a big brother, but we used them sparingly. We didn’t want to shove the topic down his throat and cause resentment. One of my favorites was I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole. It emphasized the positive aspects of having a sibling and the idea that the older child would continue to have a special place in his parents’ heart.

Bring out the baby gear early.
This was one of the best pieces of advice for us. We brought out the bassinet, car seat, rattles, mobile, etc., about two months before we needed them. This gave Bobby plenty of time to “rediscover” all his old stuff and get used to it lying around. At first he kept trying to use everything himself (including wanting to take his nightly bath in the baby bathtub), but eventually he chose one of his stuffed animals to be the “baby.” Every night, he’d pretend to feed his toy Glo Worm with a bottle and then lay it down in the crib to go to sleep. Rob and I were quite touched by the nurturing side we began to see.

Armed with all these preparation tactics, we felt we had done our job by the time Baby Henry joined our family in late January. As to how Bobby really did adjust to having a younger brother... well, that is the subject of a future article.

Learn more about preparing your child for big changes in our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

Jennifer Eckert is an editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with one husband, two sons, and three cats.


Couple Chat: Surviving the First Year of Parenthood

June 2, 2015

By Ana and Mario Vela

Couple Chat: Surviving the First Year of Parenthood | Mario and Ana Vela talk about the best and most difficult parts of the first year of parenthood. | Mario, Ana, and Mariana Vela take a photo outside in Lincoln Park, Chicago.

In the Couple Chat series, we pose a few topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s responses and the couple discusses their individual thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion with us in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked Ana and Mario Vela, whose daughter Mariana will turn one year old next week, about surviving the first year of parenthood. Here’s what they said.

What’s the best survival tip you’ve learned in this first year?

Ana: My best survival tip is to trust your instincts. I have been so surprised to discover how well I know my own child, and how my instincts have helped me find solutions to comfort her, make her happy, and keep her safe. I think this is the hardest concept to grasp, but when you are in it you will know exactly what it means.

Mario: The attachment and care your child needs will offer you a drive you might not be aware you had. The new moments and experiences you gain will allow you to offer the care necessary to your child. Also, if your family and friends offer support, accept it. We’ve been very fortunate that our mothers have decided to take turns in living with us.

What was the hardest thing about the first year of parenthood?

Ana: The hardest thing about the first year of parenthood is trying to juggle everything. You lose sleep, your priorities change, it´s difficult to find time to spend with your partner—much less friends—keeping up with work, and finding time just for yourself. I´m most surprised about the strain it has caused on our marriage because we prioritized everything else and took our relationship for granted. It has taken me many months to start getting to a place where I feel I can start “handling my personal load” again, and I have had to make some major life decisions in order to achieve a good sense of balance. And that´s okay. After all, this new child is absolutely worth it!

Mario: Adjusting my priorities. I’ve been driven by my career and educational goals, and I had to adjust that amount of time since I now want to be with my daughter and support my partner. I previously attended several networking events per week, and now I have reduced to a few events a month. I’m also now involved in non-profit boards that require less time in the community, but make a bigger impact. I’ve even had to reduce the time we spend with our friends, which they understand. Now that Mariana is closer to a year old, we’ve been able to spend time with our friends again by having her join us at some Chicago summer festivals.

What was the best thing about the first year?

Ana: The best thing about this first year has been having fun! I never knew how much fun spending time with my daughter would be. Every new thing she learns is fascinating. Making her laugh is the best! And taking her out to the world and seeing her enjoy new experiences is so fulfilling. I am always looking forward to doing ¨the next thing” with her because everything is new to her. I couldn´t have ever imagined this feeling.

Mario: Seeing Mariana mature, socialize, and develop her own personality. I see myself in her.

What did you learn about your partner that you never knew in this first year?

Ana: The most surprising thing I learned about my husband has been seeing his inner child come out. It´s interesting to see how he sees the world through her eyes, and how he wants to make everything fun and memorable for her. I always knew he would be a good father, but didn´t realize how fun and attentive he would be to her development.

Mario: The type of love and care she offers our daughter. Ana wanted to have children, but I was surprised by how naturally it came to her. I was also surprised to see her moments of doubt. I believe she now feels capable and confident, but with new stages forthcoming. She also makes me a better father.

Ana: When reading our answers to each other, we got very emotional. The first year has been demanding, and yet so wonderful. It’s the oddest thing. But we survived, and we both agree that we are so proud of where Mariana is in her development. We both contributed different things to shape her in to the person she is right now.

It’s interesting how we don’t want to waste any time in life anymore. Every moment is about her – giving her everything she needs and spending time with her and making it memorable. We’re looking forward to her first birthday party—having our family fly in from Texas, surrounded by our friends, and celebrating that we will have completed our first year as parents!

We can help you through not only your first year of parenthood, but through high school graduation and beyond. Check out our holistic approach to parenting in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon


Teach Toddlers to Share

May 26, 2015

Article and Photograph by Nikki Cecala

Teach Toddlers to Share | Young children might not be able to understand why they should share, but you can teach them how to share in the meantime. | The author's son Seth and nephew Daniel get along on the playground.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon at my sister’s house, our sons, who had just turned two, were playing with their new birthday toys. Everything was going well until one of them saw the other having the time of his life with a particular toy. You know where this is going.

My son, Seth, was jumping off a large plastic car (don’t worry, the rug beneath the car kept it in place) when Daniel decided he wanted to jump off of it, too. Seth ran back around, pushed Daniel to the side, and climbed on the car to jump. As you can imagine, this left Daniel sad and crying.

Seth stood near the car with a concerned look on his face. He seemed curious as to why Daniel was crying, but he wasn’t making the connection that it was a result of his actions. Seth gave Daniel a hug, which Daniel accepted, and then attempted to get on the car again. I realized this was a great teachable moment to show the boys how to share nicely, so I used these four tactics to help.

Be patient
Successfully teaching a child to share involves many stages. It’s not something learned quickly, especially for a two year old. While you can teach a toddler to share at this age, he or she likely won’t fully understand the concept or value of sharing for a few more years. You may need to show and tell your child repeatedly how to share, which can take time to learn and change their behavior, so remember to be patient when teaching.

Put it in perspective
Never force a child to share without explaining the reasoning for it. Instead, create an environment that encourages your child to want to share on his or her own. Saying, “Sally, you need to share your doll because your cousin Mark is over,” is not going to teach Sally the importance of sharing when Mark or any other child is at her house. Put sharing in perspective for her by saying, “When you go to Mark’s house, he shares his toys with you so that you can play together. Wouldn’t it be nice to share your toys with Mark so he can play with you here?”

Model positive behavior
As stated in the first book of YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher, “Children learn to control their behavior by imitating the behavior of adults around them. They will learn more from what they see you do than they ever will from what you say.” Take the opportunity to demonstrate how you share with your partner, grandma, or a neighbor. It may not seem like much, but your child is observing and learning how to behave, which can make a big impact.

Encourage them
When encouraging Seth and Daniel to take turns, I always told them whose turn it was and cheered the other on when he completed the jump.

“Good job Seth! Now it’s Daniel’s turn to jump.”

This strategy worked out well because although they were antsy waiting for their turns, they knew to wait until the other was done based on the name I was announcing. It kept them more calm and orderly. Are the boys excellent sharers now? No, about an hour later they were bickering over a new toy, but jumping in and guiding the situation helped a lot. We took the first step in learning how and why to share, and they were both more willing to because of our earlier experience.

How do you encourage sharing with your children? Tell me your story in the comments below.

Do you want more lessons that develop your child's social and emotional well-being? Check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon


Dad’s Story: Planning the First Mother’s Day

May 7, 2015

By Mario Vela

Dad’s Story: Planning the First Mother’s Day | Once you have a family of your own, the meaning of Mother's Day changes a bit. Here's a first-time father's story of what he's planning for their first Mother's Day with a baby, and how it's not just Mom and Dad who he has to plan for. | The author, his wife, and his daughter pose for a selfie in the snow this past winter.

Photo of Mario, Ana, and Mariana (clockwise from top) courtesy of Mario and Ana Vela. 

My spouse and I decided to have our first child after being married for 10 years. This month, our daughter Mariana will turn 11 months old and we will celebrate our first Mother’s Day as a family.

This first Mother’s Day is especially important to celebrate because I want to thank and appreciate my wife for our new partnership and commitment now that we have a daughter. Being new parents requires a stronger focus on our relationship and how we collaborate in raising our daughter. Because of that, we’ve developed a new kind of friendship and I’ve learned that she has the ability to show a new kind of love that I wasn’t aware of that she offers to our daughter. I appreciate her commitment to our partnership and our daughter, and want to make sure I plan a special day. 
Typically I would take my wife to dinner to celebrate an achievement, anniversary, or birthday, but this is an event where Mariana’s needs and preferences will be important to our experience as well. For our first Mother’s Day, I’ll have to consider the opinions and preferences of both my wife and daughter.
Since we live in Chicago and it’s warming up, we definitely have to appreciate the ability to be outside. Gone are the days that I would choose the trendiest restaurant. Instead I will base my choice on having the option for Mariana to walk around. We make an effort to have her try different cuisines, new visuals and stimuli, and give her opportunities to interact with people, so the restaurant will need to accommodate those things.

We’ve also learned that Mariana loves—not surprisingly—ice cream, so I’ll need to find a dessert place within walking distance.

Ana, my wife, also prefers that all our plans are seamless and in order before we go out, so I will surprise her with the day’s activities as well—carefully planned so she has a stress-free day. One of the best things I can do for Ana is to listen for anything she’s been missing the last few months. Since we haven’t been able to go out as much due to the winter and having a newborn, I want to make sure we take advantage of Mariana being a little older to appreciate the food and the ability to be outside and enjoy the springtime weather.

A key lesson I’ve learned in this first year of parenthood is that there are times when you might be overextending yourself, but when that happens you can simply adjust your responsibilities. So instead of celebrating this milestone as I would have in the past, with a nice dinner for my wife and me, we can adjust our expectations and keep it family-focused.

The important thing is to show gratitude to my wife for what she’s accomplished this past year with our family. Our friendship and partnership has been strengthened and revitalized, and that’s something worth celebrating.

Do you want to learn about nurturing your child's core areas of development? Check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon


Where to Find Immunizations on a Budget

April 16, 2015

By Nikki Cecala

Where to Find Immunizations on a Budget | Where to find low-cost or free vaccines for your child. | National Infant Immunization Week: Immunization. Power to Protect.

April 18 marks the beginning of National Infant Immunization Week, an annual observance highlighting the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases. It also celebrates the achievements of immunization programs thus far. This recognition might not seem like something big to celebrate, but think of all the diseases we are now able to better manage because of the available vaccines—measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, and polio, just to name a few.

It is very important to have up-to-date vaccines for children, especially newborns. Unfortunately, doctor visits and immunizations can be expensive—even more so if the sole provider does not have the insurance to cover the child. If you are providing for a bigger family, the costs could be more than half of your paycheck. Thankfully, there are two great websites that provide multiple options for inexpensive vaccines.

Immunize for Good
This website lists the different shots both you and your child need depending on age. It has a wonderful resource page that explains different types of free or low-cost vaccine programs, like Vaccines for Children (VFC), which provides vaccines at no cost to doctors who serve eligible children. Children 19 years old and younger are eligible for VFC vaccines if they are Medicaid-eligible, American Indian or Alaska Native, or have no health insurance.
On this website, you can find great information on necessary vaccines for everyone from newborns to teenagers to seniors. It provides the latest vaccine resources and requirements from federal agencies for all ages.

If you’re seeking insurance on a budget, visit the Health Insurance Marketplace. Find out if you qualify for free or low-cost coverage available through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Most Americans are eligible to use the Marketplace.

Children can receive over 30 vaccines by the time they are four years old. That’s a lot to keep a child healthy! Check out school-based health centers, community-funded clinics, and your state’s healthcare and family services for other low-cost immunization options.

Take a few moments to research the proper places that provide free or low-cost vaccines for your child. If you opt out of vaccinating him or her, you risk multiple doctor visits, hospitalizations, and in some cases even premature death. Sick children can also cause parents to lose time from work. It’s worth the research and the vaccinations to prevent these issues, and in turn give your child the best chance for success throughout his or her life.

Learn more about immunizations and well-baby checkups in our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, which help parents from birth through high school graduation and beyond. Now available on Amazon

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