Encourage their unique identities
There are many benefits for children growing up as twins. The children always have a playmate whether they’re playing dress-up together, or just lying on their beds reading. They’re never alone. Their interests are usually similar because they’re at the same developmental stage, and so is their sense of humor. And they enjoy getting into mischief together, especially tricking people about their identities.
Twins will often help each other out if there is a problem. For instance, if one child’s speech is not developed, the other will translate his needs to the grown-ups. Twins often serve as a security blanket for each other at a new day camp or school, or when they’re flying on a plane to visit their grandmother. Twins also learn a great deal from each other. One might learn to walk first, the other copies, and soon catches up. One twin might teach the other to whistle, while the other teaches him how to snap his fingers. They certainly feel special because they get a lot of attention wherever they go. However, there are challenges that twins face.
Believe it or not, twins are very competitive. Right from the start, there are two babies needing a diaper change or mommy’s lap at the same time; twins must compete for their parent’s attention. If the two are sitting in their strollers and one is cuter or is talking before the other, that child may get more attention and her twin will feel envious. When the two are in school they are often placed in the same preschool class and must compete for the teacher’s and other children’s attention. When I observed a pair of twins at a preschool where I was the consultant, I noticed that one twin was outgoing and had a lot of friends, while the other stayed in her sibling’s shadow. Another set of twins I worked with, struggled at school because one was good at math and the other was failing. The second was convinced that she couldn’t succeed in math. The converse was true in English.
Another challenge for twins is that each child must establish a unique identity. Very often they have what’s called a “twindividuality” where they are not seen as individuals. The teacher may ask, “Are the twins coming today?” If one twin can read before the other he might be labeled the “smart one” in the family and the other child may turn to the arts to establish an “identity.”
There are many things that parents can do to ensure that each twin feels equally loved and self-confident.
Spend time alone with each child. Though it is hard work, it is essential that you give each one individual attention. Sitting and reading to one child while the other is occupied by your spouse, a playmate, or babysitter, will bring you closer, and reassure each child that he or she is important to you. Some parents arrange a special date with each child once a month. The parent and child choose a pleasurable activity such as going to a museum, mark it on the calendar, and have it to look forward to during their hectic routine.
Acknowledge your children’s feelings. Communicate to your children that feeling jealousy and anger toward their twin is natural. All siblings have these feelings. Convey to them that you understand that it is hard for them to be twins because they have to share your love and they are always being compared. Reassure them by saying, “I have enough love for both of you and love you equally.”
Set limits on your children’s behavior. Intervene to stop your children when they are engaging in critical, domineering, rejecting, or aggressive behavior toward each other. Help them to understand that this behavior stems from their jealous and angry feelings. They must use positive ways to express themselves, instead, such as talking about their feelings with each other or coming to you for help.
Try to place your twins in separate classes. If you can, choose a school that has more than one class for each grade. Once they are separated, each child will have the opportunity to develop her own abilities without the hindrance of constantly being compared to her twin.
Avoid labeling or comparing your children. If you call one of your twins “the neat one” and the other one “the slob.” Don’t use phrases such as, “Why can’t you be as organized as your brother?” Neither child will benefit. The child who is not measuring up will feel less loved and angry. The one who is being lauded will feel pressure to live up to this label and will feel guilty because he is feeling good at his sibling’s expense. Caution friends, relatives, and teachers to avoid comparing the children, too. This will diminish their competition.
It is better to describe your children’s behavior rather than label his personality. For example, you might tell your relatives, David is crying because he feels hurt, rather than saying, “He’s the sensitive twin.” Otherwise, the behaviors can become part of the children’s identities and will be etched in stone.
Avoid displaying preferential treatment to either child. If one is more outgoing and funny, and you prefer this behavior because she is more like you, be careful. You may unconsciously show this child favoritism. Try to find qualities in each of your twins that you can enjoy.
Talk about your children’s inadequacy feelings. If one child is not handing in his math homework while his brother is winning math awards, there’s probably a connection. If your child complains that he’s not good at math, you will not make him feel better by immediately pointing out that he is good at English. This statement will confirm his worst fear about math, and about being less competent than his brother. Instead, encourage him: “Don’t worry. If you keep working at it, you will succeed. Both of you can be good at math.”
Encourage their individuality. It will help if you avoid using the term, “The twins,” all the time. It is better to use their names and instruct others to do the same. When you introduce the children, switch the order in which the children’s names are mentioned. Otherwise, it will always feel to one that you love the other child more.
Help each child to develop her own interests. Even though it is easier to bring both twins to one place if a child wants to register for a different program, or study a different instrument, try to give her this opportunity. Sharing all the time is very hard for children. Some parents find that having two of many items works best with twins. This helps the children to feel more separate and reduces the frequency of battles.
Handle birthdays with care. You want to give each child a feeling that he or she is special. Some parents have two separate cakes, sing Happy Birthday twice, or make some sort of special celebration for each child. Try to encourage friends and relatives to send your children separate cards and presents.
Twins can benefit tremendously from their experience if you give each child enough attention and admiration, and encourage their unique identities.