Life of 6

The great outdoors alone with multiples

Haven’t updated recently and we missed September altogether.  I didn’t really have a topic of interest till now.  There was some interest lately in SPOTT about heading out alone with your twins and triplets.  For some reason many people did not feel this to be a possibility. Let me tell you that it totally is! I have witnessed many parents of twins and triplets heading outdoors solo. Parents in our playgroup, especially, typically attend playgroup without bringing their spouses or helpers.  The topic is relevant for SAHMs who are home all day (probably going a little crazy) with their little ones. And even if you have a helper, wouldn’t it be nice to just spend time alone with the kids?

I actually wrote a whole article about going outdoors with multiples babies and you can read it here.

I haven’t written much when it came to multiples who are toddlers and preschoolers. I guess I didn’t realise that even with walking children, it could be such a difficult and unnerving experience for some. Our family have never owned or rented a car so I feel that if you are privileged to have a car at your disposal, there is absolutely no excuse not to head out on your own with your kids!

When the girls started walking it was only when they hit 13 months before their walk was steady. Even then, they were still pretty small and their strides were tiny so they couldn’t take long walks.  Back then I relied heavily on our City Mini Jogger double stroller that I bought preloved. Two kids would sit on the City Mini, I would babywear one, and my older toddler would walk. So anywhere I wanted to go, I would lug the stroller along.  I had to rely heavily on taxis because its impossible to be alone and carry a stroller and 4 kids up a bus (there is no MRT nearby our current HDB). As for trips to the park, playground or NTUC in our neighborhood, we got ourselves a preloved Little Tikes wagon that seated 4 toddlers.  The girls love their wagon and we still use it today. Since the girls were strapped into their stroller, baby carrier or wagon, there was little worry about kids running in different directions when we were on our way to our destination.

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Girls in their trusty wagon

It was around 14-15 months that it became apparent that the girls were no longer interested in their stroller.  They were also getting taller and they were able to take long walks and spend long hours outdoors without complaints.  I felt bringing a stroller along was like babysitting a 5th child. So I started heading out solo without the stroller and by 18 months, I also stopped using baby carriers.  The girls enjoyed their freedom and independence of being able to walk without handholding. How did I achieve this?  How do I go out with 4 toddlers with unpredictable mood swings and not tear out my hair?

Above all our attitude towards our children and how we view them matters greatly. Do we view them as dependent on us or are they competent individuals who are able to follow and listen to instruction?  With toddlers, even for the wee ones who are 18 months old, they are learning their limits and their boundaries and it is our duty to set those boundaries, guide them gently and give them plenty of exposure and freedom to explore as opposed to shutting them indoors and limiting their experiences because of fear. Instead of looking at our toddlers and go, hey they are still too small, they are not capable of listening to me when we are outdoors, or I am afraid they will run in different directions and get themselves hurt.  We need to tell ourselves that our toddlers are capable and willing to learn and that we need to lead and guide confidently. If problems arise, we can and will adapt.

Getting There

For newbies starting to venture out with their toddlers solo, it is important to set ground rules with your toddlers before heading out about where you are going and what can be expected of him during the outing. For example, let him know that when it comes to crossing the road or walking along the road, you need him to hold your hand, or if you are taking the taxi that you need them to sit still. Be clear about the boundaries that you intend to set and when you head outdoors, be consistent with carrying through.

When taking public transportation, boarding onto the transportation tends to be the most tedious process.  Whether it is a bus or taxi, I found that it can be an unstable situation. For taxis, I would ask my oldest toddler to board first and then I start loading the triplets one by one into the taxi.  Two will sit on my lap and one sits beside me and my oldest toddler is on her own seat at the farthest end.  As for taking the bus, I would hold the hands of all my triplets to help them board and once they get on I let go and allow them to quickly climb onto a seat while my oldest toddler boards the bus on her own. Of course this is contingent on passengers leaving the front seats empty so I usually tend to request for passengers to give up their seats to my daughters. The driver is usually nice enough to stall the bus until all the girls are comfortably seated. Sometimes he does not and I would have to scream please wait! Or I get help from other passengers to help hold on to the girls. Unfortunately when you are alone, you depend a lot more on the kindness of others and so far, people have shown to be extremely kind.

Whilst in public transport, I remind my kids that we are in a taxi/bus, therefore I expect them to sit and if they can hold on to something. Sometimes they get fidgety and I would use a firm voice and go, Sit! We are in a taxi/bus or its dangerous, you need to sit.

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How we sit in a taxi or other forms of public transport

As for crossing the road which can be a bit of a complex issue for four kids and one adult, I will hold the hands of 2 girls and my older toddler will hold the hand of one of her sisters. I make sure my older toddler and her sister walk in front of me while crossing the road.  I avoid jaywalking  because its just too risky. I often walk in roundabout ways just to find a safe pedestrian crossing.

What then if one or more children refuses to hold my hand when we are in a situation where we are nearby roads or somewhere else dangerous? I will stop and come down to their level of sight. And look at them directly and inform them firmly, Mummy needs to hold your hand because we are close to a road and it can be dangerous to let go.  If they still refuse, I will let them know I will be counting down to 5 and taking their hand whether they extended it voluntarily. Typically, I don’t even have to do a countdown once they realise I mean business. I will also let them know that once we reached a safe site, I would let go of their hands and they can walk freely.  This tells them that they have freedom at safe junctures.  When you do this consistently enough, you don’t even need to explain the rules and they would voluntarily offer their hands and listen to you.

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Reaching the Destination

When I plan to go out with my daughters, I select destinations that are safe and kid-friendly. I want them to play and explore freely with little intervention from me.  Kids need a lot of freedom where there is no adult telling them no, you can’t do this, or you can’t do that.  When we are outdoors playing, they should be free to scatter, go in opposite directions and do whatever their bodies feel like doing: climb, jump, run, skip, roll etc.  It is extremely disappointing for the child to leave the house and then reach a destination of play only to be constantly directed by an adult person. If I were the child, I would lose interest quickly or even get angry. I would also be reluctant to cooperate the next time we are outdoors because at no point does the adult trust me to play.

Sometimes I do bring them out to meet my friends or on more serious business appointments. I know that this is way more boring for them so I try to always make the meetings brief and then head somewhere where they can play.  It is unrealistic to expect toddlers to sit at a cafe quietly while you chat with your friend for hours, unless of course the restaurant or cafe has a playground attached.

Another point to note is how to handle multiples while shopping or at the swimming pool. For shopping I will let the girls roam freely in the shop but not stray too far from me.  If its grocery shopping, I load them all into the shopping cart.  When it comes to swimming or areas with pools, I make the girls wear their puddle jumper floats and stay in pools that are shallow. The puddle jumpers allow me to relax at a particular spot and watch them play in the water safely.

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Adults are most concerned that they are unable to “control” their toddlers outdoors.  I think by this they mean: What happens if they run in opposite directions, who should I keep my eye on?  Or what if they have a meltdown and I am attending to one child, how do I keep watch on the rest?  My reply is to practice some wide angle positions where you always have a bird’s eye view of both children.  Even if they run in opposite directions or scatter, move your position in a way where you can have sight of all of them from a distance. The moment once leaves your sight completely, its time to call them in or to let them know not to venture too far, or at least to wait for you to catch up.

As for tantrums and meltdowns, it is crucial that you are able to identify first the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown.  Typically most parents would try to distract their toddlers from their negative emotions and try to stop them from crying as soon as possible.  While I won’t totally say don’t do this, I recommend not making it your first option because this is another exercise for toddlers to learn and regulate their emotions.  You should try first to understand if there are genuine needs that you need to respond to.  If its about the child not getting what he or she wants, then it is totally okay for to them to cry and validate and empathise those feelings and wait for them to finish crying.  You can read how to handle meltdowns and tantrums in greater detail here and here.  I’ve had situations where all four of my children rolled on the floor screaming when they do not get what they want.  I deal with each child one by one and when all is lost and I am on my wits’ end, I use distraction by biscuits.  I don’t recommend this at all but when you’ve reached the end of your limit, you do whatever you can to move along.

One last point that cropped up: how do I handle toilet-breaks? Well since I am alone, I am left with little choice but to bring the girls with me to the toilet.  I try not to use the toilet when I am outdoors, if possible. Since my girls are all toilet-trained now, we sort of take pee breaks together 🙂

Getting Home

Wow, so after a long day outdoors getting home is another challenge altogether!  For us when we want to get home, we inevitably choose to take a taxi because everyone is just SO tired. For parents with strollers and baby carriers this should pose little problem because their kids can nap in the stroller or baby carrier.  But if you choose not to bring gear, you have two options: 1) Give your kids snacks to boost their energy during the walk to the public transport and then once you are seated comfortably on the public transport, let them take a nap; OR 2) Take a short break before heading home, give them snacks and drinks, and then start walking to the public transport and then let them take a nap once you are seated in the bus/taxi/train. A twin mummy once sent me a photo of how her 2 year olds taking a nap while on the MRT: she sits in the middle and one twin rests her head on her mom’s left lap, while the other on her right lap.

For my kids they have always taken a nap when we are on a public transport on our way home.  What happens then when you have reached home and they are still napping?  Well I think if you have twins, you can simply carry them home if you are a particularly fit individual.  For me, I would wake them 5 minutes before we reach our destination to prepare them to alight.  Of course I can expect some fussiness, crying or crankiness but they would much rather alight than be stuck alone in the taxi.  Once they are on their feet, they are usually fine to walk to the doorstep.  In my case as I have four toddlers, I have never made it an option that I will carry them at any point when we are outdoors.  So my triplets have never gestured or asked me to ever carry them.  When they feel tired, we would take a break and sit down until they feel less tired, or I expect them to pull through it and fuss/cry/whine along the way.  Anyway we are almost home and I know that once they are in the comfort of their own home they will settle down.

The main point is when you go out solo with the kids often enough, your toddlers will learn their boundaries and limits.  The first few times may be challenging, but by your 4th outing, it should be a cinch.

I would also be mindful of your toddler’s triggers.  When they are hungry, thirsty or tired, they are least likely to cooperate so always bring enough drinks and snacks and have a good guestimation how long they can last outdoors.  I have experienced times when I stayed too long outdoors, or I did not feed the girls enough, that it was a terrible experience to lug them around and in getting home.

In conclusion: Be flexible, don’t rush, set age-appropriate and consistent boundaries and limits, learn how to manage meltdowns and tantrums, and pack well and efficiently. And most important of all, have fun and create memories because isn’t that the point of it all?

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