Singleton Siblings of Multiples – Older & Younger

It is normal for parents to worry about their singleton child(ren) when twins, triplets or more expected. Involved preparation for the singleton is imperative, but there are no guarantees that there will be a smooth transition. In spite of the parents’ best preparation efforts, the new arrivals can be a challenge for singleton siblings, especially if they have been the centre of attention 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 there may be changes in behaviour. One 3-year-old singleton declared, “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 didn’t speak to his parents for weeks staying in his room as much as possible when his siblings arrived.

Not all singletons react negatively to the babies’ arrival and some, especially if they are a little older, may react with delight and fascination. They can also be willing to help out and run little errands.

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

  • refuses to give up the bottle/reverts back to the bottle;
  • wishes to breastfeed again;
  • seeks attention when you are least 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;
  • 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 your singleton child(ren) and assist him/her 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 ensures they are perceived as a package. Continually dressing them alike and/or 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 him/her to have him/her own special time, activities and things to talk about;
  • include him/her in the decoration of the babies’ room—“What colour paint should we use, lavender or blue?” Limit the choice to two you can live with;
  • allow her to help put the babies’ clothes in the dresser drawers;
  • don’t get caught in the trap of using 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 boy/girl 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. Handing him a bottle even though he already can drink from a cup plays down the issue rather than having it escalate out of control and become a full-blown temper tantrum. It won’t take long for him to realize that he is not a baby 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 her. It can be bath time, bed time and story, grocery shopping, play time but the important thing is for her to be the full focus;
  • if you can’t be available when he requests attention, buy a little timer and give it to him. Set it for 15 minutes (or what works for you) and say, “When the bell rings, we will read (play) together” and then try hard 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 and there can be a new plan. Such an acknowledgement helps a child learn that others have limits and they were not to blame. Children tend to internalize things when they don’t work out as planned and see themselves as being “bad” for things not working. Clearing the air is 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 life by 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 including the other child(ren). After some strangers had made a fuss about her triplet siblings and not even spoken to her, one 4-year-old asked her Mom, “Didn’t they see me standing there?” It is important to advocate for all of your children.

Splitting up the kids for an outing can provide a welcome change to the group dynamics. Take an older child and one baby to do groceries. It gives everyone a change of pace, or just one baby to do groceries. You are setting up value time for one-on-one getting to know each other.

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 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 wonders. Some parents will buy that child a gift too. I am of the feeling that 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 and those disappointments can be survived. Explaining that her birthday will come and she will get to blow out the candles on her own cake, separates the events and gives each child a chance to have a special day of his/her own. Who better to explain life’s realities than a loving parent?

Even young children can talk about their frustrations and if you feel that your younger child is struggling with the attention focused on the multiples, put the words in place to open a conversation. “I am feeling that you are may be a little frustrated by the attention going to your brothers. Would you like to talk about that?” You may be surprised by what you learn, have opened the channels of discussion, learned what the issues are and have an opportunity to talk things through. Win/win.

Sometimes an issue of the multiples ganging together and “bossing” a younger sibling occurs. If such is your experience, appropriate guidelines will need to be put in place so that the younger one is not bullied. 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 each occasion.

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.

*Lynda’s Note:  If you are thinking of having another child and your multiples were spontaneously conceived (i.e. no infertility assistance), know that your chances of spontaneously having multiples again is increased by an additional 50%.  So, it will not be unusual to have another set.  Great to know ahead of time!!!

Additional Resources

The Singleton Siblings of Multiples, Multiple Births Canada, booklet 1999, 2001, 2007

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