Given all the tasks you face as parents of multiples, don’t overburden yourself with anxiety about individuality. There will be plenty of occasions when treating your multiples the same is simply the practical option; your own wellbeing as well as theirs is important to the happiness of the family.
However, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself what you would do if the children were two years apart, and then do that. Here are a few other tips that might help:
- Encourage them to try new things and to pursue what interests them, whether it’s the same or different.
- Make it easy for people to tell which child is which, perhaps by different haircuts.
- Make sure they have their own possessions as far as possible, and don’t just share things from a general pool.
- Let them each choose what to wear (whether the same or different) and give them their own drawer or cupboard for their clothes.
- Shopping excursions needn’t be an exercise in fair play: just because one needs new shoes doesn’t mean they all do.
- Teach your children to say their names and to correct anyone who calls them by the wrong name.
- Speak to your children individually, addressing them by name. When speaking to others, talk about them individually rather than as a group.
- Make time for each child alone, and arrange occasional outings with one child at a time, even if it’s just to the supermarket.
- Take individual photographs as well as joint ones and put them on display at home.
- Get the children used to being apart for short periods.
Twins, triplets and more often hate having to share presents or cards. They might prefer separate parties too, but most share parties at least until they are at school.
You can still make each child feel special by giving them their own cake and singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to each in turn. Let each child invite individual friends, and encourage family and friends to give the children separate presents and cards. You could also appoint other days in the year which each child has as their own special day.
Getting out of the house helps entertain the children, breaks up the day and is good for your mood. However, it probably helps to accept that any outing is going to be more complicated for you than for your friends with only one toddler.
Plan things in advance, and don’t be too ambitious: small children are just as happy with a small outing as with an all-day marathon. Ring ahead to check on the availability of high chairs, and take small toys or activities to amuse them. Once the children are confident walkers, you could switch to a single pushchair if that makes outings easier and let the other(s) walk. Identify fixed changing-over points on regular routes to avoid arguments.
Whenever possible, try to give each of the children the chance to go out separately with you, even if it’s only to the shops. Apart from emphasising that not everything has to be done in twos, threes or fours, it’s nice for each child to have some individual attention from you – and for you to experience the blissful ease of going out with just one child!
Multiples usually learn to cooperate with other children at an earlier stage than many singletons. Parks, parent-and-toddler groups and twins clubs are all great places to start making friends. Once the children are two years old, explore the possibility of playgroup or nursery school for the following year. Apart from giving you a much-needed break it will give the children a chance to mix more with their peers.
Click here for more on family life, development in the early years (including tips on potty training multiples, sharing toys, language, favouritism and moving into beds) and managing difficult behaviour.