Singleton Siblings of Multiples

Singleton with twin siblings‘Things were just great around here until they came along!’ 17-year old brother of 1-year old twin sisters.

‘You always loved them more than me!’ 6-year old sister of 4-year old twin sisters

Our 9-year old son has consistently acted maturely and responsible towards his twin brothers (aged 3 years) since their birth. From the beginning we involved him in their care (they were premature) and he seems to be very proud to be the brother of twins. Mother of 9-year old singleton and 3-year old twins.

My son is 13-1/2 months older than his twin sisters. He learned to talk and speak up very early to make his needs known.  Mother of 3-year old son and 2-year old twin daughters.

I loved being the singleton child in our family. Twins were the norm and I was one the who was ‘special’.  Singleton sibling, with FOUR sets of twin siblings, two older and two younger!

For parents, the arrival of twins, triplets or more is cause for a rollercoaster ride of emotions: how will we cope? This is SO cool! Can we afford them? How will I carry them all? and feelings of over whelming joy, to name a few. Even though the impending arrivals is shared with the older child(ren), it is very difficult for him to comprehend the effect of the arrival of so many babies and how it will affect him. Parents are very sensitive to the needs of their singleton child(ren), and do their best to explain what will happen and that no matter, “Mommy and Daddy will still love them to the moon and back.”

In spite of the parents’ best preparation efforts, the arrival of two, three or more siblings, can be a challenge for singleton siblings, especially if they have been the King/Queen of the Castle for some time.

Initially the multiples’ arrival may not impact the siblings too much but give it a week or 10 days and the realization sets in that Mommy and Daddy are not as available and behaviours may change. One 3-year old singleton said to his parents, “OK, that’s enough. Take them [his twin siblings] back to the hospital now.” Another 3-year old yelled at his parents, “I only want one!”

Reactions aren’t limited to the younger set: A 15-year old girl put herself in foster care when her twin sisters arrived, and a 17-year old young man (yes, young man), didn’t speak to his parents for weeks and stayed in his room as much as possible when his twin siblings arrived.

Following are some examples of, but not limited to, possible behaviour which may be exhibited by singleton siblings:

  • refuses to give up the bottle/reverts back to the bottle;
  • wishes to breastfeed again;
  • seeks your attention when you are less able to provide it and rejects you when you are available;
  • there could be problems with toilet training, i.e. a set back or refusal to use the potty;
  • speech regression or refusal to speak;
  • is clingy and/or excessively whiny;
  • plays rough with the babies;
  • may pinch, hit or bite them when alone with them; or
  • unresponsive to direction, refuses to co-operate.

There are some ways to support the singleton child(ren) and to assist him (them) in coping with the new arrivals:

  • avoid calling the babies, “the twins” or “the triplets.” This label automatically leaves out any singleton children and gives the impression that those with this label are more special. Correct others each and every time they use the label. As the parents others will take their cue from you;
  • presenting the multiples as a package will ensure that they are perceived as a package. Continually dressing them alike and giving them rhyming names reinforces the “package” mentality and the singleton child(ren) is left out;
  • arranging special play dates or preschool for an older child allows her to have her own special time, activities and things to talk about;
  • include them in the decoration of the babies’ room (should we use yellow or green paint?) can be helpful;
  • allow them to help put the babies’ clothes in the dresser drawers;
  • don’t use your older child(ren) as “gophers.” They can quickly resent being sent on an excessive number of fetches. This doesn’t mean they can’t help (could you please get Daddy a diaper for your sister?), but don’t get caught in the habit of using them on a continual basis;
  • provide lots of positive feedback. “You were SO helpful today!” “You are so special to me and have been such a good girl/boy today.” “Thank you for being so patient;”
  • if there is bottle or toilet training regression, just go with the flow. Don’t make issues of it and handing them a bottle plays down the issue rather than have it escalate out of control and become a temper tantrum and make of control. It won’t take long for them to realize that they are not babies and a bottle can be hard work. Leave the potty out in plain view, but don’t over focus on it;
  • set aside some time each day for him. It can be bath time, bed time and story, grocery shopping, play time but the important thing is for him to be the full focus;
  • if you can’t be available when she requests attention, buy a little timer and give it to her. Set it for 15 minutes (or what works for you) and say, “When the bell rings, we will read (play) together” and then keep your promise;
  • if you can’t keep your promise, and there will be times when you can’t, let your child(ren) know that you are sorry and realize you have broken your promise but will make it up to them as soon as you can. Two things are important here: 1) you have taken responsibility for your behaviour, and 2) you have taught your child it is OK to take responsibility for one’s behaviour. Such an acknowledgement helps a child learn that others have limits and it isn’t their fault you weren’t available. Children tend to internalize things when they don’t work out as planned and see themselves as being “bad” as a result. Clearing the air is most important. But do try to make it up to them as soon as you can;
  • you can give your child(ren) some feelings of control in the life but giving them simple choices: what would you like to wear today, the red outfit or the blue? What would you like for breakfast, cereal or toast?

Multiples in public cause a stir and attract a lot of attention. It will be important to include your other child(ren) in the conversation when necessary. A simple, “This is their older sister and she is such a help” goes a long way to soothing hurt feelings.

As one 4-year old asked her Mom after some strangers had made a fuss about her triplet siblings and not even spoken to her, “Didn’t they see me standing there?” It is important that parents advocate for all of their children.

Splitting up the kids for an outing can change the group dynamics. Take an older child and one baby to do groceries. It gives everyone a change of pace.

Give your singleton child(ren) time to make the adjustment to the arrivals. Be as patient as you can. Just as it will take parents time to get into a proper routine, it will take a child(ren) time to adjust to the changes in his/her own routine.

Younger Singleton Siblings of Multiples

Some parents go on to have singleton children after the birth of their multiples. These singleton children are born into the situation and may have less adjustment to make as a result but there are no guarantees. When two or three siblings are all having a birthday party at the same time and you are not, feelings can be hurt and the tears flow.

Patience and understanding works wonder. Some parents will buy that child a gift too. I’m not sure that is the way to go because the world will not make room for you just because your feelings are hurt. Cuddling and words of explanation may be a better approach than expecting a gift on your siblings’ birthday and is an important learning tool that the world does always cater to you. Explaining that his birthday will come and he will get to blow out the candles himself on his own cake, separates the events and gives each child a chance to have a special day to all his own.

Sometimes an issue of the multiples ganging together and “bossing” a younger sibling(s) occurs. If such is your experience, appropriate guidelines will need to be put in place so that a younger one does not feel bullied or ganged up on. Explaining to everyone that “Mom and Dad set the rules, not the kids” and “two (or three) against one amounts to bullying” can be helpful. Be prepared to go over these rules on at least a semi-regular basis and perhaps to have consequences in place when necessary, e.g. no TV/internet tonight, put 25 cents into the jar (for allowance-aged older multiples) at each offence.

It is human nature to adjust and most of us get over having siblings. Being guided by the loving adults in our life can make the journey more tolerable.

Additional Resources

The Singleton Siblings of Multiples, Multiple Births Canada, booklet.

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