My daughter has had quite the shock to the system. Not only did she have six years to get used to being an only child, when she did finally get a sibling, she got two at the same time. Understandably, by the time the Twins turned one she was feeling pretty put out.
Two newborns are time-consuming, and because Elsie’s relatively self-sufficient, I will confess it has been easy to neglect her needs. I’ve spent the past few weeks considering simple ways to engage and finding time for your older child… it’s not always easy but being aware of important moments makes all the difference.
If you struggle finding time for your older child, you are not alone. We are only human after all and it’s natural to prioritize the needs of a newborn. We’ve had some behavioral issues from Big Sister over the past year, and I’m pretty sure a lot of it is related to her feeling a little excluded:
- Defiance and total refusal to do basic tasks like tidying up;
- Increased anxiety and phobias including nightmares;
- Increased pickiness with food;
- Reverting to baby habits such as needing her lovey and thumb sucking;
- Clingyness and general attention-seeking;
Of course, it’s difficult to tell what is a normal 7-year-old phase and what is directly associated with her new role as big sister. However, there is a general theme with all these issues… attention. I’m no therapist but I have seen how each of these behaviors has gained attention, whether it’s positive or negative. For many kids, bad attention is better than no attention, right?
Children (and all humans) are constantly seeking “belonging and significance.” They want to feel connected to other people. Your child wants to contribute something valuable to the group or to the relationship somehow. (K. Pfieffer, Positive Parenting Connection)
I’ve been working hard these past couple weeks, trying and change my habits as a parent. I need a little reprogramming as much as my daughter does.
The Twins are about to turn two, and although they face me with new challenges every day, we are in a good routine and I have much more sleep than I did 18months ago! I’ve been testing simple ways to give her the connection she craves, and here’s what I’ve noticed…
Finding Time for Your Older Child – 7 Ways to Engage
I have sat down and given Elsie’s homework my full attention the past few weeks and it’s made a huge difference. We slipped into a habit of having her sit at the table and do homework while I was pottering around the house, checking on her occasionally and giving it a quick look over once finished. She became less interested in doing her homework and got pretty sloppy at it too.
I’ve been tougher on the standard of work: “You need to use a ruler to underline… careful with your handwriting,” and watching and celebrating good work more often: “Fantastic handwriting… and you remembered to space your words!” We’ve been doing multiple spelling tests and self-marking instead of the basic list task she is set for homework. It has taken more time, but we’ve both enjoyed it and it’s proper one-on-one time. Not just spending time together but connecting, talking, listening.
brushing hair, pruning, outfits.
As my only daughter, I used to spend time picking out gorgeous dresses and trying out new braids. I’ve never been a ‘girly girl’ but I do enjoy sharing girly moments with my daughter. However, when you go from one child to three overnight, simple things like blow drying hair is easy to give up on. But those girly moments with Mommy mean a lot, and I have been trying to resurrect them.
We got the curlers out the other day for the first time in ages… Salon of Mom is back in business! Elsie helped me sort through her closet and hang clothes in color co-ordinated order. We’ve been talking about outfit combos and style. Conversation… so easy to forget when you’re just going through the motions of mom life.
Ask a question out of the blue.
Like most seven-year-olds, Elsie talks a lot. So much, in fact, my head feels like it might explode sometimes… anything and everything comes out of her mouth. She’s not even thinking about what she’s saying most the time, she just wants to have a chat. I have been aware for some time that I need to make more of an effort to listen and engage in her chatting, but when your multitasking to the brim and feeling burnt out, I find it really difficult to get excited about a conversation about the latest Lego Ninjago movie.
So… instead of trying to force my interest, I have been trying to instigate a conversation about something I find interesting, when I’m feeling awake and not stressed about which twin is going to break the dog first. “Where would you rather live… the beach or the mountains? Why?”
Elsie is at the age where she is able to do a lot of things to help around the house and with her brothers. Although the suggestion of changing a diaper does not go down well, she does like helping the Twins with their dinner and helping me fold the clothes. This goes back to the idea of significance and contribution… we all want to feel like we have a role to play in the family unit. Calling her from upstairs and asking her to help fold washing gives an opportunity for conversation (see above) while making her a contributor and valued family member.
Plan a Playdate
We used to do playdates all the time. Trips to the park, over to friends houses… what kid doesn’t love playdates. Trouble is, when you have two toddlers in tow it becomes more difficult and we’ve been really bad at organizing things this past year. We organized an afternoon at a friends house this week and she was so happy to see her old friend.
Playdates allow kids to build one-on-one relationships with friends they don’t get the opportunity for at school when they’re always in a big group. The six-year age gap between my kids will mean Elsie’s always going to be craving a buddy to hang out with, and I’m going to try harder to get back into the swing of playdates!
Take them on a Day/Night Out.
We haven’t been great at spending time with Elsie on her own. So this month I took her to see Lego Ninjago… yes, I even talked about the movie all the way home. Dad stayed home with the Twins and we had a girls afternoon out. Earlier this week we had a friend in town and bought tickets to the Hockey, we booked a babysitter for the Twins but took Elsie with us. She had so much fun!
Teach them a new skill.
I have been terrible at this the past couple of years. Poor Elsie has been pestering me to show her how to tie her own ponytail for ages and I kept saying “yes, later… maybe tomorrow,”. I realized the other day it’s been quite a while since I taught her something totally new. So we brought American Girl doll Julie down from her room and spruced her up with a new ponytail. Teaching her how to stretch the toggle over her hand and twist and turn it to bring back over honestly took 5 minutes and I felt awful it had taken me that long to make the time to do it. She was very excited about it all and for that moment in time I was the best Mom ever… she told me so herself.
Basic parenting activities can easily be side-lined when siblings come along. I can’t be the only one that’s started to slack off the homework bandwagon? Like all Moms, I’m doing my best and tweaking things as I go.
Similarly, I should remind us all not to forget out our significant other… twins moms sadly have a particularly high divorce rate. Parenting multiples is tough and I know many find couples counseling helpful during tough times. You can even do it online these days! To find out more on this head over to BetterHelp and the benefits of online couples counseling.
I hope you can take this opportunity to do something tomorrow to make the more neglected members of your family feel special!