Discipline boils down to teaching children the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and getting them to stick within those limits most of the time.
The most effective discipline comes about when children feel loved and want to please their parents: this give them the biggest possible incentive to behave in ways you like. Rewarding acceptable or good behaviour will gain a greater, more positive response from both the child and for you than disciplining the negative.
It will help them to do this if you make the rules clear by being as consistent as possible. Fairness is also important. If children feel they are treated fairly they are likely to respond better to the rules you lay down.
Fairness and discipline
Multiples are forever checking to see whether they are receiving the same as their siblings. This can be exhausting for parents, who are put under pressure by the multiples group to be precisely equal in their every word, deed, cuddle and reprimand.
It’s worth thinking about what it means to treat children fairly. Fairness can mean the same rules apply to each, which may mean that sometimes only one gets what they want. For example, if one child achieves their goal on a star chart then the reward goes only to that child. The child or children with no reward can then understand what they need to do to achieve their goal.
Sometimes it is easy to get into the habit of responding more when a child is being naughty. It will help you tackle unwanted behaviour if you try to redirect that attention to the child or children whose behaviour is acceptable. This will encourage the children to remain within the boundaries you lay down. This individual approach may also help you if you are feeling overwhelmed by the multiple group’s behaviour.
However, your children may have different behaviour patterns and different needs. If one child has complex needs, treating your children fairly may not always mean treating them equally. Every family is different, and you will need to develop your own approach to discipline. Here are a few ideas that may help:
- If you are telling one child not to do something, use that child’s name and make eye contact so that there is no confusion about whose behaviour is unacceptable.
- If you are feeling wound up by one child, don’t take it out on the other. Try and stay calm and in control. If you need to and it is safe to do so, go to another room and calm down.
- Don’t expect too much. No child is perfect so let them make some mistakes it is one of the ways that children will learn.
- Try to praise your children each day more times than you tell them off.
- Give your children attention when they behave well, not only when they misbehave.
- Use humour or distraction to deflect problems rather than say ‘no’ all the time.
- Make sure your children know what you think is acceptable. Decide on a few rules and stick to them.
- Talk over any problems with your partner and anyone else who cares for your children. Enlist their support and present a united front.
- Stick to a routine so the children know what to expect each day.
Tamba runs a workshop, ‘Parenting with Multiples in Mind’, for parents of twins, triplets and more aged 1-5 which looks at common behavioural problems and ways you can handle them. For details and dates of a workshop near you, please contact us.
It goes without saying that tantrums are especially hard for parents of multiples to weather. Children may have tantrums one after another or all at the same time. Either way the situation is exhausting and stressful and may tax your ability to stay calm beyond any reasonable limit.
It helps to understand what is going on. Tantrums in young children are an expression of frustration. They occur most often because the child is not emotionally equipped to cope with challenges and has no other way to express it. Most children grow out of tantrums as they learn to manage things better for themselves and to express themselves in language. This often happens after the children turn three.
Coping with tantrums
Take it one day at a time and enlist support for yourself where you can. Don’t add a burden of guilt to things by expecting never to lose your cool. Bear in mind that parents who have one child find tantrums tough, so having two or more venting their frustration one after the other, or occasionally all at once, really is tough. Grit your teeth, try to stay calm and consistent, and remember – because it is true – that this phase will pass.
You can limit tantrums to some extent by dealing with the causes. A routine that keeps the children rested, occupied and regularly fed helps avoid the kind of tired, hungry or bored scenarios where they are less able to cope. Keep an eye out for things that tend to trigger tantrums and avoid them. Tantrums often happen at predictable times of day, so avoid shopping trips or outings at those times.
If the cause is less obvious, it may be that the children feel frustrated at being clumsy, or at being unable to communicate. Be aware that the children may have tantrums for different reasons, so they need different coping strategies. Think about how they react to each other. Does one set the other off? Try separating them as soon as a tantrum seems likely. Do the children use tantrums to compete for your attention? Stay calm and pay attention to the child who is not having a tantrum. Make sure you don’t reward the child having the tantrum with extra attention, whether positive or negative.
Experiment with different approaches and find what works for you. Here are a few pointers some parents have found helpful:
- Distract them with a song or story, or switch on the radio or television.
- Cuddle the children.
- Put them in separate rooms for time out. Calmly visit every so often to make sure they are OK, but don’t allow them to leave the room until they are calm.
- Take time out yourself if you can leave the children in safety. Take out your own anger on a pillow or cushion.
- If the tantrums always occur at home, they may stop if you go out for a walk or a drive.
- However public the tantrum, don’t get upset. Be calm and firm, and, if safe, ignore the outburst.
- If the tantrums are a ploy for the children to get their own way, don’t give in to the demands or you teach the children that tantrums work.
No single approach will work for all families or for one family all the time, but there are plenty of different techniques to try. Distraction is very effective when younger children argue. You can also channel their aggression into messy play or physical activities.
Fighting may happen when children are bored, tired or wanting attention. You can address these causes as and when they arise, or, if the children squabble over toys, concentrate on helping them learn to share and take turns.
Try and change activities frequently to prevent boredom, perhaps with trips out or getting the children to help you with chores. If the fighting is more long-term, consider giving them each a designated corner of the bedroom, or even separate bedrooms.
If it’s safe to do so, you can try ignoring the fighting. But if it begins to sound as though one or more is suffering unduly then break it up. When one child is behaving badly, the other is often especially sweet and obliging – a transparent tactic, but better than both children having a bad day at the same time.
Some children never bite, and most grow out of it eventually. In the meantime, emphasise that biting, hitting and scratching are not acceptable and then ignore the child who is biting and give lots of attention to the others. It may help to introduce a consequence every time, such as putting the offender in another room for a few minutes. Be sure to enforce any sanctions consistently.
Two or more acting together can leave parents feeling out of control. If this happens, try to think about each child’s behaviour individually. Use ‘time out’ to create a breathing space, or try giving the children more time apart.
If the children are uncooperative, present your instructions as a challenge. For example, ‘I bet you can’t tidy up your Lego before I clear the table’ may be more effective than ‘Tidy up!’.
Make sure you give each child individual time and attention so you can enjoy spending time with each of them. Make sure they know you love them, however they behave.
Look after yourself, too. Make sure you get a break from the children regularly, and get support from someone who understands. It is probably best to ignore what outsiders think when faced with difficult behaviour: do what you know works.
You can talk things over with another multiples parent by ringing Tamba’s confidential helpline, Twinline, on 0800 138 0509, or find your nearest twins club to meet other parents of young multiples.
You can read more in Tamba’s Managing Behaviour information sheet, or for this and many other aspects of life with preschool multiples, download Tamba’s guide Twins, Triplets or More: Years 2, 3 and 4. Don't forget to make the most of Tamba by registering for FREE resources or get even more benefits by joining for as little as just £1 a month by direct debit.
Click here for more on family life in the early years (including relationships, other siblings and safety), individuality and development (including potty training multiples, sharing, language, favouritism and moving into beds).