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Child psychologists urge special attention for sister of septuplets

November 24, 1997

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ When Mikayla McCaughey got a peek at her tiny brothers and sisters in the intensive care unit, she saw only a lot of babies _ not seven instant rivals for Mommy and Daddy’s attention.

For the first 21 months of her life, the family revolved around Mikayla, then the only child of Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey. But before Mikayla turns 2, four little brothers and three sisters _ all born last Wednesday _ should be home from the hospital.

Child psychologists say the McCaugheys must be careful not to get so busy with the septuplets that they ignore Mikayla.

``What happens is that people in their great excitement at a multiple birth begin to lavish attention on the multiples and really tend to exclude that older child,″ said Nancy Segal, a psychology professor at California State University-Fullerton and director of the school’s Twin Studies Center.

Ms. Segal said little research has been done on the effects of multiple births on older siblings, but mishandled relationships can lead to resentment, withdrawal and anger toward the parents and brothers and sisters.

McCaughey said last week that his oldest child was thrilled when she first saw the family’s new additions. ``I brought her down yesterday and she just kind of sat there in my arms and said: ’Baby! Baby!‴ he said.

But the McCaughey family has said that Mikayla does not yet understand that the seven babies are her parents’ and that they eventually will come home. Six were in serious condition Monday; one was in fair condition.

The family has made sure to focus attention on Mikayla and involve her when gifts are given, said her aunt, Michele Hepworth, who has cared for Mikayla since Mrs. McCaughey was confined to bed nine weeks into the pregnancy.

When the family was given a new van, Mikayla’s name was written on the side along with those of her brothers and sisters. When Gov. Terry Branstad stood with the family to talk about donations for a new house, he had a stuffed Winnie the Pooh for Mikayla.

``She’s going to be a wonderful big sister,″ Ms. Hepworth said. ``She loves to play with baby dolls all the time, cradles them and puts them to sleep.″

Child psychologist Alice Sterling Honig of Syracuse University said the transition can be smooth if Mikayla’s parents carve out special time with their daughter, making sure they read long bedtime stories and sing different songs to her from those sung to her siblings.

If their daughter enjoys bathtime, the McCaugheys should let her play longer in the bathtub. Special snuggles, back rubs and parents’ laps should all become part of a daily routine, Ms. Honig said.

``The routines are fantastic; routines can settle down a child,″ Honig said.

It’s also important to let her help do things around the house, such as helping match socks from the dryer _ things babies could not possibly do.

She should be praised for her help, but ``don’t call her a big girl every two seconds because she doesn’t want to be a big girl yet,″ the psychologist said.

Mikayla also should be remembered with gifts, especially when the septuplets celebrate their first birthday.

``Be sure and have a special present for being the big sister in this family,″ Ms. Honig said. ``They should make a big fuss over her, too.″

Ms. Honig also said it is important for the McCaugheys to get Mikayla involved in a play group that meets several times a week. ``You physically will not find the time to do as many interactive, enriching games,″ the psychologist said. ``She needs something of her own. This will be for her.″

The septuplets aren’t likely to be home before January and will probably not be released at the same time, a bonus for the family as they prepare Mikayla for her new life, said Maureen A. Doolan Boyle, executive director of Mothers of Supertwins, a support group based in Brentwood, N.Y.

``It’s going to give Bobbi and Mikayla some time to rekindle their bond,″ she said. ``That will help to ease a lot of the transition.″

Ms. Boyle’s own daughter was 2 1/2 when triplets came along in 1987, followed by another sibling.

``When people make a fuss over my sisters and brothers, I get mad because they get a whole lot of attention from people and I don’t like it,″ said Meggie Boyle, 13.

But ``when the other children in my family aren’t around, my parents hug me a lot and tell me they love me. I know that they think I am special by the way they treat me.″

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