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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  www.multiplebirthscanada.org

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5 Secrets of Successful Parenting of Multiples

Children don’t come with instruction manuals and even though there are some wonderful books available providing hints and tips for successful parenting multiples, these hints and tips are missing the emotion that also occurs around a child’s challenging behaviour.  It isn’t unusual to feel discouraged, realize you were not as patient as you might have been, or raised your voice to an “outside voice,” or even to contemplate resignation from the position of parent – some days are just like that!  All parents get discouraged and wonder what the heck is going on with their own behaviour.  Sometimes speaking with parents with children a little older than yours is really helpful and allows you to see a possible light at the end of the tunnel.

Raising multiples has challenges, not the least of which is having two, three or four children of the same age, which does not ensure a one-rule policy will work, or that each multiple will respond the same way to the household rules.  Add to the mix the different sexes within the multiple set and things can be very bumpy indeed.

Here are some ideas and hints to help you with your parenting duties and hopefully make things run a little more smoothly in your household.  Keep in mind that this is not a complete list……

Keep Calm and Carry On – If you think you are really going to lose your cool.  Make sure the children are safe and step out of the room for a short while.  Take a bathroom break or make yourself a cup of coffee.  If the children are old enough to understand, indicate that you cannot talk about what is going on at the moment and you need to take a break and you will talk later.  There is no rule that says you have to have all the answers immediately.  Giving yourself a time out can be wise; get your act together and go back some time later for discussion and feedback.

The Same But Different – Do NOT compare the children to each other.  It can be difficult enough for singletons to be compared to each other, maybe you’ve had that experience yourself as a child.  Just because they have arrived in twos, threes, fours or more, they will not like the same thing at the same time, have the same interests, same abilities, creativities or skills.  Don’t let anyone else compare them to each other either.

Another point here – do NOT constantly dress them alike.  Big mistake, as the boundaries blur and they become a lump rather than distinct individuals.  Ask yourself “Am I dressing them alike because I like the attention it brings to me?”  If the answer is “Yes,” please carefully reconsider and think about the future for your children who will have to go it alone and who will be hindered by their reinforced presentation as a package rather than as their own person.

Mark my Words…. – There are conflicting thoughts on making you, as a parent, carry through and I have often read that once you’ve made a decision, don’t go back on it.  Mostly I agree with following through with discipline, but I found as my children got older and were able to explain why such-and-such happened, I sometimes felt I needed to rethink the punishment.  I had been making a decision from my perspective and with the explanation, it became clearer why the culprit (in my eyes) did what she did.  The argument against reversing your decision is that the children will see you as “weak” and try to take advantage at every turn.   For me each interaction needs to be assessed on its own merits and if there is a very good explanation, I have no problem with doing a flip with the punishment.

Joined at the Hip – Your multiples are NOT required to be together 24/7.  Encourage them to each have their own friends, hobbies, likes and dislikes.  They do not have to go everywhere together. Don’t go calling a parent who invites only one multiple to a party (that parent may not even be aware they are multiples – it is most likely not personal).  Each child is a separate entity and needs to have the time and space to separate from their co-multiple and be free.  In this way each can grow to enjoy their origins and also learn to fly on their own.

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Unwanted Advice on Raising Multiples

Once upon a time a hurt, tearful and frustrated friend of mine recounted a story. Her sister was pregnant with her first child and my friend was wishing her the “worst behaved little child ever born”. The reason for this comment was because her sister had always given my friend feedback and advice on how to raise her 3-year old monozygotic girls. This feedback was offered under the guise of “advice” and often went something along these lines: “You should be stricter. They are out of control.” “You are too soft with them. You let them get away with murder.” “If they were my children, things would be different!” “If they were my children, they would be sleeping through the night by now.” An alternative to the last comment is,“…they would be toilet trained by now!” Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Over the years, many parents of multiples have expressed anger, frustration and guilt as a result of “advice” meted out to them from well-meaning family and friends, who, I might add, were also NOT parents of or raising multiples. Several mentioned that the feedback began even while they were pregnant, “You’re not resting enough… eating properly… how come so many doctor’s visits?…” The main gist of the “advice” was judgmental and negative, leaving the distinct impression that, given the same circumstances, the unsolicited advisor would be making far superior decisions and is the much wiser parent.

One of my own experiences came in the form of a neighbour blessed with a 4-year old and a newborn while I merely juggled two 18-month olds and their sister, nearly three. On the surface, her words were benign enough, “You have no idea how busy I am!”, but that was not how I received them. In a split second I was on a downhill slide and felt defensive, angry, a failure, ridiculous and ready to kill! I find that these helpful folks usually fall into one of three categories, a) childless; b) have singletons either many months or even years apart; or c) are family members and as such, feel completely justified in providing feedback in the name of Love. The majority of ‘Ann Landers Wannabes’ tend to fall into the latter category, i.e. family members who are long on “advice” and short on empathy or practical experience.

There are some suggested plans of action for handling this situation:

Plan A – Kill the Offender(s) – NOT RECOMMENDED!

You will notice where Plan A appears on the list but this Plan needs to be scrapped about as quickly as it develops in your mind. Although very tempting, implementing it will drastically reduce your “hands on” approach and availability for parenting. Plan A is legally and morally unacceptable and while it may appear to have its satisfying side, is neither recommended nor endorsed.

Plan B – Ignore the Advisor

This Plan, while on the surface, may sound appropriate and even doable; there are some drawbacks. When the Advisor is met with silence, even a stony one, they don’t always “get it” and could interpret silence as 1) agreement with their advice; or 2) you want (need?) to hear more advice. With many witnesses in attendance, ignoring the Advisor may work in the short term. Be prepared, however, to have to implement another Plan in the future in case the Advisor feels your silence is a result of your agreement with their “advice.”

Plan C – Humour

This is an excellent Plan and can alleviate feelings of rancor, bitterness and resentment in one well-expressed and well-timed retort! You may need some practice or some run through scenarios in front of the mirror beforehand, as you rehearse your responses. Here are some samples for specific occasions:

Comment: “If they were my children, they wouldn’t act that way.”

Response: “Show me the adoption papers! ”
Or: with an added a tinge of sarcasm to your response: “Thank you, for that very helpful advice.”

Comment: “Better you than me!”

Response: “Hey, no contest! I couldn’t agree more!”

Comment: “Boy, do you have your hands full!”

Response: “Yes, and I love every minute of it.”

Comment (to a Dad of triplets): “How many times did you have to do ‘it’ to get triplets?”

Response: I am afraid you are on your own with this one but I have every faith in you to come up with an appropriate response. I never did hear back how Dad responded to this individual who obviously had no background in Biology.

Plan D – Tell it Like It Is

There is no real answer as to how to avoid the inadequacy that others can make us feel as we parent our multiples. While I relied very heavily on Plan C, I didn’t always feel humorous nor have time to practice my deliveries. As a result, my responses were ‘less than I would have hoped for’ as I gave in to my emotions and snapped back a response, broke down in tears or felt genuinely inadequate for long periods of time. In order to cover as many situations as possible and to end up retaining as many of my good feelings about parenting as I could, I also developed a Plan D. I sometimes responded to the Advisor, being sure to make eye contact, “You may not agree with how I am handling my children but I am doing the best that I can, not the worst that I can.” This direct response often humbles the most critical of Advisors, at least for a little while.

I sincerely hope that you will not be humbled, feel inadequate or ‘break down in tears’ to unrequited feedback on your parenting style. Go for ‘The Humor’ and feel very comfortable in educating your well-meaning critic that you are, indeed, feeling very comfortable with your parenting style and would appreciate it if they would ‘hold a baby’ rather than offer unwanted advice.

If you need further proof that you are ‘doing a great parenting job’, be sure and join your local Multiples Support Group. Here you will find compassion, consideration, and lots of excellent advice, no judgements and respect as you all travel the road of living with multiples (and their siblings?). After all, no one knows better exactly what you are going through and feeling than someone else sharing ‘your road.’

Good luck and enjoy your children!

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Useful Safety Tips for Parents of Multiples

Having two, three, four or more toddlers and preschoolers around the house can make keeping them safe a challenge.  There in no way cover all of the possible dangers of having more than one child of the same age and of the possible safety difficulties that might develop.  Following are some safety tips to help you keep your children safe.

Remember that NO precautions are foolproof in the face of more than one determined child.

THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE, ALERT ADULT SUPERVISION AT ALL TIMES.

In the Home

  • Childproof your house every day.  It is a good idea to crawl around the house in order to view it from a child’s point of view.
  • If you don’t want it broken, remove it!
  • Make sure that you have a house key hidden outside of your house.
  • Make sure where you visit is childproofed e.g. Gramma’s, sister’s house, etc.
  • Never leave the kids alone in a bathroom or in a bath.
  • Toddlers can be very rough with pets.  Teach children to respect them.
  • While dealing with a crisis with one child, remember that you are still responsible for the safety of your other children.  STAY ALERT!  This is where those “eyes in the back of your head” can come in very handy.
  • Important for partner and any other caretakers to be equally safety conscious.
  • Tape electrical cords to the floor/walls for the time the kiddies are exploring their environment.
  • Make sure that your hot water heater is not set too high.  Kids have been scalded when a sibling has turned on the hot water.
  • Watch for loose air vents in your home.  Small children can slip down them and they make good receptacles for toys, bottles, food, etc.
  • Dresser drawers make good climbing stairs. Purchase very low dressers, bolt a higher dresser to the wall or turn the drawer side into the wall until their climbing stage is over.  Children can be fatally or seriously injured when two or more children try to climb dressers.
  • Ditto for bookcases, turn them to the wall and anchor them.
  • Check out accessibility to fireplaces (e.g. one twin pushed his co-twin up into a chimney and he got stuck), appliances (e.g. fridges, dryers, ovens, etc.)
  • Do not place cribs near windows.  Screens can be removed and toddlers tumble out.
  • Two (or three) children can push a chair across a room to climb up onto countertops or reach higher objects.
  • Safely secure medicines and cleaning chemicals.  “Child-proof” containers are not so “child-proof” when set upon by two or more determined children.
  • Many issues occur at nap-time because children often share the same room and “encourage” each other in their creativity and exploration.  E.g. peeling off the wallpaper, emptying dresser drawers and climbing them, taking screens off windows and climbing out, finding the talcum powder and emptying it all over (makes breathing difficult), and the list goes on…  Using a portable intercom may reduce potential hazards.  If you wish to rest at the same time, as the children, place the intercom right near your ear.
  • Put safety catches on all cupboards, drawers, screens, kitchen doors, etc..
  • Put covers on electric plug outlets.
  • Stereos and TVs can be pushed off entertainment centers.  You may wish to either put them higher or bolt them down securely.
  • Use gates and locked doors to seal off areas of the house where you don’t want them to go. E.g. laundry rooms, garage, etc.
  • No shoving, pushing or running on the stairs.  Many siblings have been pushed in play.
  • When walking down the stairs with the children and carrying something such as a laundry basket, keep it to the side so that your view of anyone on the stairs is not impeded.

Equipment

  • Make sure ALL baby equipment is in good repair.  Check them at regular intervals.
  • Make sure clothing and blinds have no long cords that can entrap and choke.
  • Never assume the suggested age-range for baby equipment is appropriate for your children. Check each one out carefully and individually.
  • Make sure the kids are harnessed into swings, car seats, highchairs, etc. Kiddies can easily undo each other and then get into further mischief.
  • Security gates receive an extensive workout when 2 or more are climbing, shaking or pulling on it.  Check it regularly to make sure it remains securely bolted into the wall.
  • If your children are weight discrepant, change their seating location each outing in the stroller in order to give it equal wear.
  • Cribs need to be dismantled when the kids begin to attempt to climb out.
  • Check second hand equipment very carefully.  Look for outdated safety features, cracks, or rips.
  • A baby backpack (with frame) should only be used after a baby can hold its head up.

Toys

  • Purchase toys that appeal to kids and encourage play.
  • Toys belonging to older siblings can be a source of danger.
  • Always check out second hand toys very carefully prior to purchasing.  Look for small pieces, sharp edges, and broken parts.
  • Crib mobiles are not toys and need to be removed from the crib when a baby can reach it.
  • Regularly check the toys for missing parts, chips, and cracks.  Our children put a lot of play, stress and strain on toys and as a result, the toys may not last as long as if only one child was playing with them.

In the Vehicle

  • Teach everyone to stand clear when closing ANY doors.
  • Discourage the slamming of doors.  Someone could get hurt or fingers caught.
  • While fastening one child into a car, the other(s) can disappear in a flash.  Put all the children loose in the car, and then buckle in one at a time.
  • NEVER leave children alone in a running car.  They can get loose and put the car in gear.
  • ALWAYS put your car in “park” or turn it off when someone is disembarking.
  • If you have to leave the car while escorting one child up to a friend’s house, take the ignition key with you.
  • Play a road game of teaching the kids to identify road signs, e.g. danger, one-way signs, railroad tracks, etc.
  • Be aware that with everyone sitting close to each other in car seats, it is very easy for one to reach over and undo the buckle of the next one.  If you find that one of children has unbuckled the other DON’T PANIC!  Use your voice to tell your child to stand still.  Pull your vehicle over to the side of road, stop completely and then deal with putting your child back into his seat.
  • Do not “store” articles on the floor in front of your children.  In a crash these items become flying objects and can inflict serious injury.

Water

  • Place your children into swim classes at your earliest possible convenience.
  • When swimming with your children keep alert.  Accidents occur when the adult is distracted with one child.
  • Do NOT leave your children in charge of an older sibling.  An 8 -year old cannot properly “watch” two two-year olds.
  • Discuss safety equipment and why we need it, e.g. life jackets, pool equipment, etc.
  • NEVER let them swim without an adult who can swim being present.  If you are hiring day care and you have access to a pool, you may wish to ask if the applicant can swim.
  • No pushing or shoving around water as small kids love to do.
  • NEVER leave the kids alone in a bathtub.  If the phone rings, leave it!
  • When your home is one side of the fence around your pool, make sure that the door to the house has a high and sturdy lock on it.
  • If you are taking several children to the beach/pool, determine ahead of time who will be responsible for whom.  This way each adult knows who will be watching whom.

Complacency

As the children are older, a level of complacency can be experienced by parents when their multiples are with each other.  This level of comfort can too easily create a feeling of safety and security that does not necessarily exist.  “Oh, they are together, it shouldn’t be a problem.”  Some times this is when kids can get into the most trouble.  This is particularly true of the middle, pre-teen and teen years.

General Safety Precautions

  • Stress staying together on outings.  The kids, too, have a responsibility not to get lost.  Train yourself to count heads every few minutes.
  • Practice, practice, practice, e.g. Look both ways and holding hands while crossing a road, reading road signs, danger signs, etc.
  • Repeat safety rules to them on a regular basis, e.g. knives and scissor are sharp, remember to keep an eye on Daddy/Mommy while we are out.
  • Dressing your children in bright colours makes them easier to locate while out in public.
  • When walking in unconfined areas (e.g. store, shopping mall), keeping everyone in a stroller or on a wrist harness may be the way to go.
  • Stress to them that they shouldn’t cut each other’s hair.  Don’t say you weren’t warned!
  • Firm reminders of safety rules with consistent “time out” reinforcement or infractions.
  • Remember that some things are just not negotiable, e.g. car seat belts!
  • Teach them identifying landmarks in the neighbourhood so they can find or direct someone home.
  • Teach them their phone number and area code as soon as they are able to learn.  They also need to know your first names and their last names.   If someone gets lost, it is important for them to know your first and last names.
  • When completing a difficult task, e.g. climbing a climber, encouraging them to “concentrate” on what they are doing helps them not to be distracted.
  • Multiples often attempt to “change” each other’s diapers.  Be aware!
  • Remember that your younger children are NOT the responsibility of your older children.  A ten-year-old cannot adequately look after and make responsible decisions for 2 or 3 four-year-olds.
  • Never carry your stroller up the stairs with babies in it.
  • Never leave babies alone in a stroller.
  • Make sure everyone is holding hands BEFORE you cross the street.
  • NOTHING beats constant, alert, vigilant adult supervision.

 

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Advantages of Having Multiples

They are finally here!

The many doctor’s appointments, the pregnancy and births went well and now you are enjoying so many of the experiences around raising your multiples.

Following are some advantages of having multiples; thoughts, which parents have shared about what they enjoy about having multiples.

  1. One pregnancy can mean an instant family.
  2. A unique parenting experience at every stage.
  3. The children have each other as playmates and a source of entertainment, and as they grow older may play freely for longer periods.
  4. A wider variety of games can be played because of built-in playmates, e.g. tag, board games, playing school, etc.
  5. Parents have two or more little faces looking up at them at once with love and affection.  Multiply the giggles, kisses and hugs.
  6. Many of life’s lessons are built-in with multiples:  sharing, negotiation, waiting your turn, compromise, learning a task from the other, e.g. getting dressed.
  7. One of life’s challenges is the fear of being alone.  Multiples are never alone unless they choose to be.
  8. The children may take the same programs and activities on certain occasions, which gives them the security of a buddy, makes the family schedule simpler and which may include less driving.
  9. If it works for everyone, only one birthday party a year.
  10. They can potentially be best friends.
  11. There can be a special sense of status with being a multiple.
  12. A special bond and friendship is often experienced between the multiples themselves.
  13. The joy of growing up together.
  14. Interesting for a parent to watch them grow and develop.