Why start with such a negative topic? While most parents manage and enjoy their twins or higher multiples, some do not. There are now several population-based studies that show a higher rate of depression in parents of young twins that is not just postnatal depression, but ongoing problems right up to school-age. There have been no really convincing studies of triplets. However, one study from well before the birth found that almost 40% of parents were being treated with anti-depressants several years later. It is not clear why this happens with twins and higher multiples, but much seems to have to do with the stresses (the extra workload, the lack of sleep, the financial burden and so on) of two or more children the same age.
So while many families will be coping, what happens about those who are not?
A. For the family
Recognize that Mum and sometimes Dad is not coping and seek sympathetic help. The last thing you want is the comment:
“What can you expect with twins?”
All parents (and their children) have the right to support when things are difficult
B. For the preschool staff
There is lots of advice given to parents at preschool about how to help the children adjust, but how does this work for two, three or more, especially if Mum or Dad is not managing so well? Recognizing that this is an issue and suggesting they seek help may be fundamental. Sometimes it gets too much, and there are two major studies that show higher rates of child abuse in families with multiples, which is sometimes directed to the older sibling rather than one of the twins. Fortunately, this is rare. However, preschool staff may need to think about how they would handle such a situation if it arose.
I remember the mother who said the incessant squabbling between her two-year-old twins got so bad, she put one inside the washing machine! Fortunately rather than turn it on, she went to speak to a supportive neighbor. What if she had not had someone like this she could turn to without being judged?
Preschool is also a time for educating parents. They learn a lot about how to help their child adjust to preschool, but how do they cope with two or more? Schools need to think about what demands they are putting upon families, and parents need to think about what they have the time to do. Two key areas for multiple birth children are the development of language and individuality. Parents and educators need to consider t of language and individuality. Parents and educators need to consider how they relate to multiple birth children and hoe to give them opportunities to develop their speech and language and appreciation of themselves as an individual with high self-esteem.
“The twins have got each other, Mum and Dad have got each other. All I have got is the dog and he smells” (Five-year brother of twins)
When twins or higher multiples are born, how often and how does the preschool teacher relate this to an older sibling in the class? The child has suddenly become (in many cases) not the only child in the family, but the older brother or sister of twins or higher multiples. The t child in the family, but the older brother or sister of twins or higher multiples. The teacher needs to be aware of what has happened and also make allowance for disruption to home routine. Especially with higher multiples, there may be prolonged periods of bed rest for the expectant mother, sometimes in a distant hospital with high-level services. How does the sibling cope? At least things are better than for the (now middle-aged) man we know who was sent to an orphanage while his mother was expecting his twin brothers!
One mother of quadruplets commented that when her children were very young,
“Our older son wasn’t very happy about the attention that his siblings were getting, especially from Mum and Dad, even though we tried to give him as much time as possible. As a result, he became quite aggressive and rough with the multiples.”
They sought help from a child psychologist, who suggested ways in which to resolve this understandable, but very undesirable behavior. They succeeded in changing his behavior by making a point of praising their son when he interacted gently with the other children and constantly reminding him that they were smaller than he, so he must be gentle with them.
On the positive side, a study of parental stress in families with young multiples found that mothers who had an older child or children felt less stressed, and more competent, than did first-time mothers. They also reported less stress relating to health and their partner relationship.
Many older children have very positive feelings toward their younger siblings and might enjoy helping out with them. A mother of quintuplets commented that because her husband’s job meant that he had to be away from home at least two weeks out of four, her two-year-old daughter was very helpful.
“As young as she was, she was an enormous help by doing little things like fetching and carrying. She was wonderful and seldom demanding.”
It is important that parents involve the older siblings in the caring routine if they would like to become involved, and they are capable of doing something helpful. Nonetheless, they should not be ‘parentified’ – nor be expected to take responsibility for their younger siblings unless considerably older than the multiples.
Time alone with Mum and Dad or Gran and Grandpa
One of the best ways of spending concentrated time with the older child or children is for a parent, or someone else, to spend time reading with them or engaged in some other pleasurable activity – without the multiples being present. It is also recommended that some space be set aside that the older child can use without interference from the multiples, anywhere that the child can play, or engage in some other creative activity, out of the reach of younger siblings. It is also important that grandparents and other family or friends be encouraged to spend time with the older child or children.