From the moment I found out I was having my second and third child, at the same time, I worried my oldest and only singleton, would feel left out and jealous. I never expected what actually happened. My singleton LOVES my twins. Sounds sweet and innocent right? It’s not. Never did I expect the phrase “get your face out their face” to become the most used words in my vocabulary. While others are disciplining their children for hitting and biting, I’m putting my five-year-old in time out for loving her siblings too much. The constant affection and attention she gives them is too much. She wants to be wherever they are, helping with anything they need. She wants to hold, squeeze and bear hug them all day. I thought this was just a stage, and that after the newness of the babies wore off, she would become disinterested. Thirteen months in, and nothing has changed. My twins may never learn to walk because their older sibling won’t let them try without her help.
This is, of course, an ever-evolving situation. Every day brings new challenges and opportunities and although I look forward to the time I only have to say “Don’t pick up the babies” once a day. Here are my 5 tips to help when an older sibling LOVES your twins a bit too much:
1. Set limits and boundaries with kindness and be consistent.
We have had to set limits and boundaries, and we have to follow through constantly. We have a strict no picking up the babies rule and we repeat these words at least seventeen times a day. I have this reoccurring dream where I finally get the twins to nap at the same time, and I decide to take a long hot shower. While in said shower, in walks the five-year-old holding one of the babies like a rag-doll, arms clasped tightly together under the arms and across the chest of the baby, wrapped tightly under the baby’s chin, cutting off their air supply and causing their arms to extend forward. Luckily this is just a dream, or nightmare, but I fear it’s not too far off from reality. When the twins were five days old, my daughter asked if she could lay on her brother. I, of course, said no, and explained why. She protested, she just wanted to use her brother as a pillow because he’s so cuddly. I know how much she yearns to pick them up and squeeze them, which is why it is very important that I be pro-active and supervise at all times.
2. Designate certain activities where big sister can interact physically with the twins.
As essential as setting boundaries are, it is also inevitable for children to test their boundaries. Trying to keep her away from the twins just makes her desire and need to squeeze them worse. One way we’ve tried to minimize this is by giving big sister time every day to love on her siblings. Both babies love music and dancing. We have daily dance parties now where big sister is allowed to “dance” with each baby without getting in trouble. She is allowed to hold their hands and wave their arms in the air gently and sing as loud as she wants. The twins love this. Story-time is another time of day that she gets to cuddle her brother and sister. We sit on the floor and the babies take turns sitting in sister’s lap while we read some books. This is my favorite time of the day. It makes my heart smile watching big sister, sweetly hugging the babies while pointing out specific parts of the story to them. Nothing melts my heart more, than when the babies look up at her adoringly and laugh just because she is laughing. This has been a win-win for our family: she gets time to hug them, we get to decide the terms under which it happens.
3. Supervise sibling interaction
When you have a child that may love your twins a bit too much, supervision is essential. Young children can be impulsive and accidentally, unknowingly hurt a baby.The more I read and observe, the more I realize this is reverse jealously behavior. Instead of harming the babies she is overly affectionate with them, but the objective is the same: attention. She wants attention but she wants to give the attention. She is a little mommy and she models her interaction after our interaction with the babies. We have been over and over the fact that as the parents we get to handle the babies differently from others, especially small others. I really never thought that so much negativity could come from an older sister loving her younger siblings so much.
4. Recognize the good, and make sure your child knows you noticed.
I know it comes with the territory of raising littles, but I feel like all I do is point out what my oldest does wrong. We had to do some serious positive reinforcement recon. It was time to show her that we recognize when she listens and follows the rules. I can actually see the pride shining through when she gets a compliment. And although it doesn’t always last very long, I think it makes a happier environment for everyone.
Discipline is a must if the rules are not followed, but I must often remind myself that young children make many immature and impulsive decisions. Although it is important that they follow the rules to ensure everyone’s safety, it is easy to forget how little even the “big sister” is, especially when they seem so much bigger and mature.
The bond between siblings is so special and something that should be encouraged. When an older sibling is a bit too enthusiastic about a new baby or babies, in this case, it can change the dynamic of a household and create stress. The changes we have made to our household and the new rules we have enforced have helped curb my singleton's constant need to be on top of the twins, literally and figuratively.
Amanda Hadley is a part-time photographer and full-time dishwasher, cook, maid and financial assistant to her 5 year old daughter, one year old twins and husband of 8 years. She loves to travel, take naps and Atlanta Braves baseball. Most days you will find her at home sifting through the massive piles of laundry and dishes, and getting as many cuddles as possible before the kiddos are too cool to hang out with mom.