When your child doesn't want you to have a baby

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 Photo: Getty Imaes

For most parents, breaking the news to their child that they are going to have a sibling is a time of joy.  

And for some children, the idea that they will soon have a sibling to play with fills them with excited anticipation. They love to wear their 'I'm going to be a big brother/sister' t-shirt with pride.  

But that's not the case for everyone. Some children are far from excited at the prospect of taking on this new role. They don't want to be a big brother or sister. They are, quite simply, happy as they are.

It happened to author and mum of two Katrina Zaslavsky, who said that her daughter had a hard time accepting a new addition. "For the first time she had to share me and the spotlight with someone else," she says.

Zasklavsky says that her daughter felt like there was nothing to be gained in having a sibling, and she wasn't going to benefit until the baby grew and could play with her.

"That was very tough emotionally on her and myself to get through," she says.

According to psychologist Annie Gurton, it's the fear of change that affects most children, and it's likely that they fear a baby will change things for the worse.

"Parents who used to give undivided attention are now absorbed and besotted by a new rival - at least, that's how it can feel for a child," she says.

Gurton says that how smooth the introduction of a sibling is will depend on how much they feel that their world has been impacted.  

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"If there are benefits to having a new sibling, such as extra presents or special privileges, children are far less likely to feel resentment and jealousy."

"But if the closeness that they previously experienced is suddenly gone and they are told that 'now they are big' they have to behave differently while the new baby is the centre of attention, resentment will follow."

According to Gurton, some children will regress in their behaviour in order to get attention. Bed wetting, thumb sucking and physical clinging are all common.

"At a more subtle level, the older child may be an angel at home but anti-social at school," she says. "They may even become violent as, even though the attention received is not always comforting, it's attention all the same."

Parenting expert Dr Karen Phillip echoes this. In her experience, children often demonstrate disruptive behaviours in the lead up to a new baby entering the house.

"This is often the result of their confusion as to what position they will hold when the baby arrives," she says.  "It's a reaction of a symptom to something they are feeling or confused about."

So what is the best course of action in dealing with this during the pregnancy?

Dr Phillip says to explain how much they will be able to love and care for their new brother or sister when they arrive.

"Depending on the age of the child, get them involved as much as possible during the pregnancy with things like purchasing nursery items, an outfit or a special toy," she says.

Dr Phillip recommends talking about the baby as a natural and normal addition to the family - but advises against being overly elated about the pending baby's arrival in front of the child.  

"Discuss the baby's arrival with the child, be curious about what the child is feeling and thinking, and answer every question they have," she says.

"And give lots of cuddles and attention to ensure they feel part of this upcoming event."

Both experts state the importance of not talking to your child about how they are going to have to share.

"This is not the time to teach them about self-sacrifice and noble altruism," advises Gurton. "They need to be comforted and to see from the actions of the adults that their world is not going to be changed much, except perhaps for the better."

Other strategies that can help include:

  • asking the child for name suggestions
  • taking them shopping to purchase them a new item, and one they can choose for their new baby sister or brother
  • involve them when baby arrives – for example, sit and read to them when feeding the baby
  • try giving them responsibility; even little children can pass a nappy or wipe to mum, while an older child can help bath the baby, wipe baby's face after eating and place the dummy into the mouth
  • ensure you still have one on one time with your child – colour in or play blocks while baby is sleeping
  • keep talking to them about them what they are doing and succeeding at in life - show them that you still notice what's going on.