Unique issues when introducing multiples to siblings

Tips for preparing older kids for the new arrivals

Written by Jen Garth, Psychologist and published in the AMBA Magazine
October 2017

The day we found out we were expecting twins. we told our older three children. This is how we did it.

At just two years old, our little boy frowned, snuggled into his dad and cried at the thought. Perhaps he was expressing some of the emotions we all felt after the startling revelation. Even before their arrival, our identical twin girls impacted their siblings in many ways. The keys to helping all members of the family transition to this new and exciting stage are: preparing our children for the transition and understanding how children process change.

Preparing your children for multiple siblings can be a challenging task. Parenting websites such as raisingchildren.net.au devote entire pages to preparing older children to becoming siblings. While much of this can be applied to welcoming multiples, some unique issues impact siblings of multiples.

#1 Your multiples will impact on the time and attention you can give your older children, even before they arrive.

Whether it is due to the additional medical appointments or the physical limits of being pregnant with more than one baby, you probably won’t be able to spend as much time with your older children as you used to. 

Tip: Make time to do some special things with your older children. Start routines and rituals that are special.


#2 Multiples are more likely to be in NICU or Special Care Nursery than singletons

While we all hope our multiples will not need NICU or special care, if they do, the first time they meet their siblings is likely to be a very different experience. Your older children may not be able to meet their siblings as soon as expected and, when they do, it is likely that they will be in the nursery with sensors and medical equipment everywhere. You may show your children photos of their siblings before taking them in. If you have siblings of different ages, you may need to have longer conversations with your older children.

Having babies in hospital is a difficult thing for a family. Remember this and give everyone a break; just like you, your children are likely to be more emotional and easily upset than usual. This is the start of their relationship. You as parents are nurturing the connection between them. Not setting them up as competitors but encouraging them to care for one another.

Tip: Talking about what to expect in language they can understand helps children prepare for what they will see and reassure them they are being looked after by the doctors.


#3 Your new multiples will be celebrities

Every time you leave the house, strangers are likely to stop you and talk to you about your multiples. Meanwhile, your singleton stands by, barely noticed. It is hard to know which is more difficult for your child, being overlooked or being seen solely as a sibling of multiples. While the strangers in the shopping centre are mostly well-meaning, how you respond to comments can impact significantly on your child’s sense of self. In your responses, affirm your child’s unique attributes aside from their role as a sibling. 

Making sure that your older children are not invisible is vital to maintaining their self-image.

Tip: Some of your guests may need prompting to greet your older children. This is especially important with extended family.


#4 The reason behind cringe-worthy behaviours might be the multiples

Behaviour, especially in young children, is usually purposeful. ‘Acting out’, as it is often called, can be a young child’s way of expressing that they are stressed. Whether or not your preschooler or toddler has amazing language development, young children struggle to articulate emotions.

This is why, as psychologists, we often use play to help children talk about emotions. Even children into early primary school often demonstrate emotional upheaval in behavioural outbursts. Finding the reasons behind the behaviour can help change it. Perhaps spending time playing with them while talking will help you address their stress.

Tip: Remember, in the midst of adjusting to being parents of multiples, simply knowing that siblings are adjusting as well can help reduce the frustration you can feel as a parent, particularly when your child is misbehaving.


#5 Include your children where you can

This is the start of their relationship. You as parents are nurturing the connection between them. Not setting them up as competitors but encouraging them to care for one another. Resist the urge to tell your child they must be the role model, that may be more pressure than they can take. Show them how to play with their siblings. Encourage them to care for their siblings.

Tip: Choose appropriate jobs your older children can do to care for your new multiples. Little jobs like getting nappies and helping hold bottles can make older children feel included. Whether your multiples are the first siblings for your child or the fifth, the adjustment will take time. Some days may not go as planned; remember, each day is a new day for everyone!