Children move through the stages of childhood at different rates. How far and how fast they master new skills is what we mean by development, but it’s important to remember that this is not a race. All children develop according to their individual strengths, and they don’t have to do it at the same time as anyone else – including a fellow twin or triplet.
Your children may seem smaller than their singleton friends. Twins are usually smaller at birth than singletons, and triplets are smaller still. They are likely to catch up by the time they are eight, or sooner. A child born prematurely is unlikely to reach milestones at the same age as a child who was born at full term. But over time this effect decreases.
Your children may reach developmental milestones at different rates to each other (girls typically sooner than boys). This is not usually a problem as long as it is handled sensitively. The best advice is not to compare your children with each other, or with other children. Allow them to be individuals (particularly important to remember with identical siblings), and accept their differences right from the start.
Differences between multiples
Multiples, especially identical twins, can find it hard to tolerate differences. It sometimes happens that one child holds themselves back from outperforming a less-able sibling; non-identical multiples may respond by becoming fiercely competitive.
Sometimes parents are unsure how to respond when one child achieves well and can play down the achievement for fear of the other’s reaction. This becomes problematic if one child consistently outshines the other/s. Tamba’s Honorary Consultant, Audrey Sandbank, argues that if parents can accept the differences in their children then the children are more likely to be able to do so as well. That way they don’t end up feeling guilty for achieving more highly than their sibling/s.
Favouritism is a common emotion in parents of multiples; accept it, but try not to dwell on it. Here are a few tips:
- Avoid labelling your children with a particular trait such as ‘the clever one’ or ‘the naughty one’, and ensure others avoid them too.
- Allow children to have individual goals which are realistic for them and their level of abilities.
- Be consistent when managing each child’s behaviour; resist the urge to compensate for your feelings of favouritism.
- Find something in each child to encourage and praise.
- Try and provide time for each child’s interests; give turns for choosing activities.
- Give each child the opportunity to spend time apart from their sibling.
- Include private activities in play like drawing, writing and making things.
- Look for each child’s individual strengths and abilities, then recognise and praise these. Avoid making comparisons.
Where one child has special needs, parents can find it very painful to watch differences unfold and may experience a form of bereavement for the health of the child with special needs. It may be especially painful as their twin or other triplets reach important milestones.
Helping the children to understand their differences can be beneficial. The child with special needs probably needs to understand why he or she has different abilities and different expectations of behaviour; however, they may find having a more able sibling stimulating and a source of motivation. Explain to the child without special needs why his or her sibling is treated differently and behaves differently; there may be mixed feelings towards the child with special needs and jealousy over the extra attention. Caring for a child with special needs can bring challenging time particularly if one of multiples; however It is also important to celebrate the individuality of a child with special needs, as they will bring many rewarding and special moments to your family.
Tamba runs a support group for parents who are bringing up multiples where one or more has special needs. Please get in touch with us to find out more.
Twins, triplets and more often play alone when they are very young, as if unaware of each other’s presence. As they grow, they begin to play together and to share toys, games and fun. By the time they are three, your children are likely to play together for extended periods of time, leaving you free to get on with other things.
Parents of multiples often find messy play a challenge. Children love messy play, and it is a great way for them to find out about their world. You can make things easier by asking friends or family to look after one or more of the children while you do a messy activity with the other, such as baking a cake or painting. It’s also worth joining a twins club or other toddler group where messy play is organised for you.
Other tips for play with multiples include:
- Give each child a box to keep their own toys in.
- Allow activities that are individual , such as drawing and colouring.
- Turn chores into a game by asking the children to help wash up, empty the washing machine or when shopping give them their own list with drawings of things to find.
- Set clear boundaries for play and keeping them consistent.
Learning to share is important for any child, but for multiples it is a fact of life right from the word go. Some parents ensure fairness by allowing each child a set amount of time with a favoured toy. You can use a clock or kitchen timer to show when the time is up.
Try not to rely on this all the time, and don’t expect the children to share everything. Multiples have to share so much – including you – that it is important they also have some toys and belongings of their own through which to develop individual preferences.
You can probably expect your children to share toys which you would reasonably expect any siblings close in age to share, such as Lego or a seesaw. Tricycles and other large sit-and-ride toys are not always suitable for sharing as children like to use them simultaneously.
Sometimes multiples don’t feel much need to play with other children. Parents may also feel that extra friends are unnecessary, but the children do need outside friends so that each one can develop social skills; without these opportunities, one may come to rely on the other’s social skills and end up at a disadvantage.
Toddler groups and twins clubs are useful places to meet other children. Go regularly so that your children recognise the people there. You can also encourage each child to invite friends round, and make this a regular event. Perhaps one child could invite someone over while the other goes out elsewhere, giving each the opportunity to interact with friends as though they were singletons.
Make it clear to other parents that they don’t have to invite both children at once. Be prepared for tears when one is left out and arrange something else for the uninvited child. A bit of one-on-one time with you doing something fun like cooking or painting may do the trick.
Moving into beds
Many parents delay the expense of buying two beds as late as possible. Not only do beds take up more space, but cots can keep active toddlers out of trouble.
Once toddlers can climb out of their cots, though, beds are probably safer. Changing to separate rooms may not be possible if you are short of space, but may not be necessary either. If your children sleep well in the same room and like to play with each other when they wake up, they may prefer to share. If they do share, try to give them each a corner of the room where they can keep their belongings.
Being prepared for the move from cots to beds is important and throughout the process talk through with the children what is happening and set the boundaries that you will be sticking to (e.g. not getting out of bed, if they wake up to play quietly etc.) It is important to keep the children safe at this time so thinking about a stair gate at the bedroom door/s so that they will not be wandering around the house at night, bed guards or similar to stop any falls or rolling out of bed in the night. It is common when moving to a bed for there to be a couple of disturbed bedtimes and nights, but stick to your boundaries and be consistent and this will hopefully settle down over a week or so.
Some parents potty train their twins, triplets or more at the same time. Others find that one child – often the girl in boy/girl pairs – is ready earlier. In fact, there is no reason why multiples should develop bowel control and bladder control at the same time as each other, or in a set order. Even identical twins may have an interval of months between them.
The main factors determining when a child is ready for potty training are muscle control and mental readiness. Resist pressure to start early: this usually means a long struggle and a lot of puddles. Wait until the child shows signs of readiness, such as being able to use the potty when asked or tugging at their nappy when wet or dirty.
On a practical level, have at least one potty per child and keep them handy, upstairs and down if possible. Some parents recommend waiting for warm weather and spending time in the garden.
If things go badly, go back to nappies and try again in a couple of months. Bear in mind that what works for one child may not work for another, so try different approaches and be patient. If one child is successfully potty trained and the other goes back into nappies, be prepared for the first child to regress. As far as you can, praise success: don’t react negatively if one child has been successful and the other hasn’t. It’s a good idea to find something else to praise in the child that is finding it harder.
Many children are still not dry at night when they start school; this is not abnormal. If you are worried, seek advice from your health visitor. You can read more tips on potty training multiples in Tamba’s information sheet Potty Training Multiple Birth Children.
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 managing difficult behaviour.