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Published: Friday April 11, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday April 11, 2014 MYT 9:47:00 AM

Using rice dolls to teach children to care for premature siblings

Angelica Garcia, five, holds the rice baby she made as she visits her brother in the neonatal intensive care unit. – MCT

Angelica Garcia, five, holds the rice baby she made as she visits her brother in the neonatal intensive care unit. – MCT

A Texas non-profit organisation creates dolls to help children with premature siblings.

Clutching her handmade rice doll to her chest, Angelica Garcia quietly sang Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star to her newborn brother this week as he slept in an incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit at Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, in the United States.

It will be months before Jesus, born prematurely and weighing less than 1kg, will be able to join his mum Claudia Rodriguez and five-year-old sister Angelica at home. But the big sister is already preparing for that with the help of her doll, which she named after her brother.

“I have been practising with my rice baby,” said Angelica, who also sings lullabies to the doll. “My baby loves it a lot.”

For the past three years, NICU Helping Hands at Baylor All Saints has helped children like Angelica create dolls to understand how small their premature brothers or sisters really are. The older siblings fashion their dolls by filling a white sock with rice until it weighs what their new sibling did at birth. Each doll gets swaddled in a tiny, colourful blanket decorated with plastic eyes, pacifier and a baby hat.

Angelica, like many of the children, takes the doll everywhere, even on visits to the NICU, said Lisa Grubbs, NICU Helping Hands founder.

Older siblings “learn that the baby is very little and lightweight. They hold it and want to protect it,” Grubbs said. “They are very nurturing. It’s the first opportunity a sibling has to really make a connection with their new brother or sister.”

About 120 rice dolls have been created each year by families with premature babies since NICU Helping Hands started offering the activity at Baylor All Saints in 2011.

The national non-profit organisation, based in Fort Worth, also offers services such as bereavement support, programmes about infant nutrition and sleep safety, and training on what parents can expect medically and developmentally for their premature babies.

Rodriguez, 30, delivered her son in January, when he was nearly 16 weeks early. She doesn’t expect him to come home until her original due date in early May. Rodriguez said, she has enjoyed watching her daughter dote on the rice doll, which she recently brought to visit grandmother’s home.

“She carried him for the whole time. She cared for him like it was her actual brother,” Rodriguez said.

“To me, it did help her understand. She felt like it was her brother she was caring for.” – Fort Worth Star-Telegram/McClatchy Information Services

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Family Community, Premature babies, Doll, Pretend Play, Siblings, Family

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