The preschool years are an exciting time for your children – there’s a whole world out there to discover, and they are now acquiring the skills to do it. The next few years will be dominated by learning new tricks, from using language and mastering the potty to negotiating social rules and making friends.
It’s hard work for you as parents caring for them, so make sure you get social contact with others, perhaps through your nearest twins club or through Tamba’s online members-only messageboard.
When one baby is introduced into a family, the whole family takes time to adjust to this new relationship and its effect on pre-existing relationships. When multiples are born, the task is that much more complicated: each member of the family must form their own relationships and get used to the new dynamics .
A multiples group can be very strong – a fact that sometimes leads to other siblings becoming isolated. It also means that parents have to be just as strong in order to counter-balance the multiples. This can be hard, especially for parents managing alone.
In order to maintain a balance within the family, a parent must get his or her support from either the other parent or another adult. This will help them to have the authority they need at home to handle their buoyant twins, triplets or more. Time spent nurturing a supportive relationship with the other parent or getting support elsewhere is important. So is treating each person as an individual first and foremost: this way, each family member’s needs are recognised both within the multiple group and outside it.
The multiples bond
Multiples are born with a deep bond that can be a lifelong source of strength and mutual affection. This bond makes twins, triplets and more unique, and it is an important part of each child’s identity.
At the same time, these youngsters will one day need to make separate choices at school, each according to their interests and abilities. They will need to develop their own social skills and friendships, and one day choose paths that lead them on to separate homes, relationships and families.
So while their bond as multiples is central to who they are, there is a balance to be struck in supporting their development as individuals too.
It can be difficult for both older and younger siblings, especially if they are the only child outside the multiple group. Make individual time for older siblings on their own (for example, in the evening when the other children have gone to bed). Try to make time to listen to their news at the end of the school day, however manic the school run.
Older siblings may feel like outsiders if the multiples are treated as a special unit, especially if they get to stay home when the older child has to go to school. It can help to give the older sibling/s opportunities to spend time with just one of the multiples group.
As multiples grow, older siblings can play with them more and may start to enjoy their senior role so try providing activities that all the children can enjoy together e.g. playdough or dressing up. They may enjoy helping out, for example by supervising mealtimes..
It’s a good idea to protect older siblings’ possessions from marauding multiples. Consider fitting a lock or stairgate to an older child’s bedroom door to allow a degree of security and privacy. If the children share a bedroom, arrange an area that belongs exclusively to the older child, perhaps with a lockable chest for favourite toys.
Encourage older siblings to keep in touch with children of their own age and let them invite friends home. When you are out and people stop to ask you about your twins, triplets or more, make a point of introducing the whole family.
Safety at home
It’s hard to keep an eye on two or more children. Follow all the usual guidelines for child safety, but bear in mind that two children are capable of reaching further and higher than one child, and that they are stronger.
The problem for parents of multiples is that children can hurt each other directly or indirectly – for example by trapping fingers in doors or knocking over furniture. Even a simple object like a pencil can become a vicious weapon. It is also hard to watch what is happening if they are in different places. An ominous silence that might serve as a warning signal may be blotted out by noise from the other child/children. When you are dealing with one mishap, you may miss a more serious one.
Happily, there is plenty you can do to avoid trouble. Most accidents to under-fives happen at home or in the garden, so you can go a long way towards putting your mind at ease just by making sure that your house is childproofed. If you have stairs, fit a sturdy stairgate at the top and the bottom and make sure you use them. Two or more toddlers on the stairs at the same time is very risky, so be vigilant. Buy safety locks for everything from drawers and windows to electrical equipment – and if you want to keep the children out of a room, fit a lock to the door.
Over-the-door stoppers are very good at preventing doors from closing on little fingers. Don’t wait until your children are standing or walking to childproof higher up: always keep one step ahead of their development. Avoid toys such as wooden bricks until the children are old enough to play without hurting each other. It’s a good idea to teach them about safety in a way that enlists their support: inquisitive children can learn how to open locks, climb over fireguards and get round any safety device, so they need to learn for themselves what is unsafe.
It helps to have a few clear house rules, such as:
- Only go on the stairs if a grown-up is with you
- No sitting on window sills
- Don’t touch anything electrical
The usual rules for child safety also apply: don’t leave children unattended in the bath or near water; check that radiators are not too hot to touch; keep hot drinks away from the children; put saucepans and kettles out of reach; and keep choking hazards out of sight and reach. Do the ironing well away from the children or after they have gone to bed.
Some mishaps are unavoidable; if you’ve done all you can to safety-proof your home then try not to be too hard on yourself when accidents happen.
Weekend and holiday safety
Weekends and holidays may be a risk time for families. With both parents around the house, each may assume the other is watching the children. Make sure you discuss which of you is in charge.
Many parents are particularly concerned about safety when they go out of the house. Everyone misses out, though, if you become reluctant to go out. It may help you feel more confident if you have firm rules and enlist the co-operation of everyone else who looks after your children. For example, if you are in a car park or crossing the road, the children must always hold your hand, even if they are wearing reins or wrist straps.
Concern for safety may mean that multiples have less freedom than singletons. Buggies may be used longer because it is hard to manage two or more toddlers on reins. Find a local park where it is safe for them to run around and make it a regular destination. Attending a twins club can also provide great opportunities for safe roaming.
For more on enjoying life with preschool multiples, download Tamba’s guide Twins, Triplets or More: Years 2, 3, and 4 or any of our factsheets. These can be downloaded from the carousels on the right of this page.
Click here for more on encouraging individuality, development in the early years (including tips on potty training multiples, sharing toys, language, favouritism and moving into beds) and managing difficult behaviour.