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Katherine Heigl: Actress, Mom… and Animal Rescuer

Adjusting to Adoption

Many other countries have also slowed adoptions to the United States. Now, many children adopted from overseas have medical needs, and even those who don't are at least toddler age, says Abbie Smith, LCSW, director of clinical social services at Holt International Children's Services. "Almost all the kids coming home now are at least 18 months, and that changes the whole ball game," she says. "They've left everything they know: the smells, the sounds, the food of their culture, all the people in their lives."

To help a newly adopted child adjust:

Put him in charge of play for at least 15 minutes each day. Ask him what he wants to play (you may need to use gestures), and follow his lead. 

Understand the trauma your child may have suffered and how that affects his behavior now. Authoritarian-style parenting is usually counterproductive with a child who's been adopted past infancy, Smith says.

Let him set the pace, especially for physical affection. "One dad told me that his elementary-age daughter didn't want to be near any of them. She'd sit on one end of the sofa watching TV, and he'd sit at the other end," says Smith. "Eventually, he'd sit a little closer. Gradually over time it worked up to being able to sit next to her, and then to putting his arm around her. If he'd tried to force hugging and affection on her, it would have driven her away."

Introducing Pets to Kids

Heigl says it never would have occurred to her to give up any of her dogs when she adopted her daughters. But in any shelter, you'll find pets that arrived because their families were expecting a baby. That's a tragedy, says Sharon Crowell-Davis, DVM, PhD, a professor of behavior and anatomy at The University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, because animals given up at most shelters will likely be euthanized. The key, says Crowell-Davis, is to prepare the pet, especially if it's a dog, before the child arrives.

Finish the child's room well ahead of time. Give your dog a chance to sniff around. Then stop letting him in there a couple of weeks before the child arrives, so he won't consider that room his "territory." 

If your dog is really attached to one of you -- especially if it's the parent who'll be spending more time with the baby -- have other family members spend time walking and feeding the dog.

Carry a baby-sized doll around the house in the weeks before you bring baby home. "The dog will learn that his humans will sometimes be carrying this little thing around, and it's normal," Crowell-Davis says.

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