We have a son who is 6 years old and twins who are 3 years old. Often our son feels left out because the twins get "all the attention." The twins obviously take a lot of time because there are two of them, and when we are in public they are noticed. So how can we make sure our son knows he is loved equally?
Whenever parents have more than one child it is always a challenge to find ways to give each of them the time and special attention that they need. In our experience it’s even more challenging when those younger siblings are twins.
The most important way to make sure your son knows he is loved is for both of you to tell him. When you tell him don’t just say the words. Make sure that you are looking in his eyes and perhaps even touching him. Let him know specifically what are some of the things are that you appreciate about him. How is he special? It may be his sense of humor, how he picks ups his room, his smile, how he does what you ask him to do, any number of things. Communicate your love in ways that acknowledge the uniqueness of who is.
It’s also important to spend some focused time with him. When one of you is watching the twins perhaps the other parent could go to the park with him or take him on a bike ride. What does he enjoy? What does he ask you to do with him? There may be times when you can get a baby sitter and both of you can do something just with him. At night when he goes to bed be sure that one of you stays in the room after you’ve shut the lights out just to pray and chat with him. Gary did this with each one of our boys and it remains as one of their most precious memories.
We know of parents who have used an older child to help care for their younger children. With the age of your son there may not be a lot he could do but even some small things would give him the opportunity to feel involved and needed and give you the opportunity to acknowledge and encourage him. We’ve worked with parents who, whenever they were in public and people commented on the cuteness of there twins or on how challenging it must be to care for them, they were able to turn to their older child and say, “I couldn’t do it without his help.”
It would also be valuable for you to understand the unique challenges and opportunities of raising a son. In our book Raising Sons and Loving It, we talk about some of the unique needs of boys and ways to parent them that are consistent with who they are and where they are developmentally. Every child needs to be loved in ways that acknowledge their uniqueness both in terms of their gender and their personality type.
When we see men in counseling one of the greatest challenges they face is their difficulty and at times even their inability to deal with their emotions. If your son expresses emotions regarding having younger siblings be sure to let him talk about it. It doesn’t matter if they are feelings of joy or feelings of frustration. Draw him out and let him talk about them. One of the greatest gifts parents of sons can give their boys is the freedom to experience and the ability to express their emotions. Emotionally healthy boys tend to grow up into emotionally mature men.
As your son becomes more aware of your love for him and as you acknowledge and encourage him for the special person that he is, you’ll find that he will experience greater significance and security. He will be less likely to become jealous or even embittered towards his younger siblings and more likely to accept and value them, not as competitors but as family.
Carrie Oliver, M.A., is an educator and a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D. is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment and Professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. The Olivers have co-authored Raising Sons . . . and Loving It! (Zondervan). Visit Carrie and Gary at www.liferelationships.com.