Keeping jealousy to a minimum when new siblings arrive

September 8, 2010

I read a terrific book while I was pregnant that was full of helpful hints. It's called TWIN SENSE by Dagmara Scalise. She's an award-winning journalist, researcher and educator who gave me good ideas. Maybe they'll help you too!

First you should mention your twin pregnancy early and often to a sibling. I told my 10-year-old son Jake when I was 5-months pregnant, and I was sure the twins were healthy and growing well. Then I would regularly mention doctor visits and show him ultrasound pictures to keep him "in the loop." I took Scalise's advice and reassured Jake each time that he was still special because he was my firstborn... and that he would always be a rock star to the twins by virtue of his "big kid" status.

It helped that two of Jake's best friends are twin boys, Alex and Sam, in his class at school. So when Jake had questions or concerns, I'd ask Alex and Sam to explain how it works in their family... or even asked their parents to fill Jake in. You should also get advice and practical suggestions from other twin families who have "been there and done that."

Scalise also suggests you let your older child do artwork for the nursery. So we took 10 of Jake's best pieces of art and together hung a "gallery of art" on all 4 walls in the babies' room. We even put tiny framed watercolors in popsicle-stick frames on each crib (no glass in the frames.) Every time Jake walks in the baby's room, he sees his handiwork everywhere; over the changing table, over the dresser, over both cribs, over the fireplace. He knows they'll grow up with a heavy "Jake" influence.

I also let Jake help decide the younger boys' names. We agreed on their first names, then Jake got to pick the middle names which also start with "J's" just like his name. He even got the "naming rights" in the hospital - he got to decide which twin was Hunter and which twin was Zeke.

The little guys were in the NICU for 3 weeks, which is normal, so Jake made regular visits to hold them, bathe them, pick out their outfits, rock them, feed them and read to them. He came at least twice a week and we took lots of pictures. It was a priceless bonding experience for our little family and the twins would turn their heads when they heard Jake's voice! They were excited to see him and recognized his sound.

But when we came home, I made sure Jake and I had lots of time together without focusing on the twins. It was all about Jake, then. Special dinners that I know he loves, watching his favorite TV shows, playing his favorite music, playing Monopoly and card games together, doing artwork at our kitchen table - all activities that only a big kid can do. He got the loud, clear message that mommy still likes doing things with him that I've always done... and I made sure to say it as well. I didn't want Jake to think I pushed him to the side in lieu of "Babyville."

Scalise also suggests when the babies come home from the hospital that you give a "gift" to your older child from them. I did this as well: I bought Jake a Wii microphone for his Beatles Wii game and wrapped it up from Hunter and Zeke.

Once the little boys came home and we got in a nice groove, I made sure to build in some separate time for Jake. When the twins would nap each afternoon during my maternity leave, Jake and I played ball in our rec room or watched SportsCenter together cuddled up on the couch. I would also set aside money to pay a babysitter some evenings so I could take Jake to the movies or swimming. That way it could be all about him.

I had promised to take Jake on two short weekend trips in mid and late summer without the twins, since we were not taking a long family vacation this summer. I didn't know what the twins' needs would be so I didn't want to plan a week or 10 days away this year with our newborns at home. So I planned out 2 baseball-themed trips which Jake loves... one trip to see Wrigley Field in Chicago and tour that city, the other to visit the new Yankee Stadium and tour the Big Apple. Jake adored both, even though he and I are both avid Phillies fans (we still think Citizens' Bank Park beats the other ball fields, hands down.) Just last week I overheard Jake telling his friends this has been the best summer of his life and how much he liked those trips!

And now that summer's over, I still plan at least twice a week to do something just with Jake, without the twins. It can be at home, or going out... just so it's big-kid focused. For us, that can include cooking together (we made chicken stew the other night), tossing the football on the beach, walking the boardwalk in Ocean City while the twins stayed home.

Because of all the individual attention I gave Jake, and by taking Scalise's advice, I never saw a single instance of jealousy. Jake loves his little brothers and is thrilled to hold them, play with them and talk to them. Just this week I let Jake pick out Halloween costumes for the little tikes... one is going to be a duckling, the other a giraffe. And he can't wait to show them off when the doorbell rings!

Here are some other ideas for you from Scalise:

    1. Declare some things off-limits to the twins when they get older... they can't go in the older siblings' room, or touch certain special toys.

    2. Celebrate the differences... bigger kids are cool because they get to stay up later, they can kick a ball or read books already and they've had more birthday parties. Plus singleton children don't have to worry that someone will confuse them with another sibling.

    3. Arrange lots of play dates inside and outside the home. (Jake loves showing off his new brothers to friends... but he enjoys going to other kids' houses too... away from the bottles and diapers.)

    4. Keep a secret stash of gifts. Jake just got the Beatles Anthology book as a Back-to-school gift from me and the twins.

    5. Don't force the "big brother/sister" role.

    6. Copycat behavior is normal.

    7. Jealousy is normal.

Perhaps my favorite way to include Jake in helping with the twins came from a gift I received at a baby shower. My friend Phyllis gave me a children's book that lets you record voices on it... so your baby/babies can hear your voice when you're away. Jake and I recorded it together for the sitter to read to the twins. Even when we're home, Jake loves opening the book and turning the pages to hear his own voice reading to Zeke and Hunter.

You'll have wonderful togetherness like this too... with a minimum of jealousy... if you follow the simple advice mentioned above. Tell your older child about new siblings early, reassure them often, and make "dates" with them alone. Good luck and enjoy!

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