Do you know any competitive twins?
When I was a kid, I had twin cousins and I remember feeling intensely jealous of them.
As an only child, I could not imagine any bond stronger than that of twins.
They told stories of feeling each other’s pain from separate rooms, reading one another’s thoughts and that general “twin connection” that everyone talks about. How cool was that?
But, adulthood has a way of pulling back the curtain and diminishing childish envy. Come to find out, they did not always love being twins as much as I loved watching them be twins.
They were identical girls with straight, blonde hair – cute as buttons – and their mother did the best that she could to set them apart. She cut their hair so one had bangs and the other did not and she dressed one in blue and one in pink basically every day.
But, whether they liked it or not, they did not get to walk through life as totally individual humans. They were always being viewed in comparison to their sister:
• The one with the bangs…
• The twin who doesn’t have braces yet…
• The girl with the blue shirt…
Today, I have two little boys who are only a year apart (“Irish twins,” as they say) and I understand more why being a twin can be very challenging for kids.
My sons both want my attention, my love and my approval and they do not want to be lumped together. They want to be individually appreciated and understood. If they do not feel this way, tensions arise.
If you have twins, then you may have seen some of this competition and comparison cropping up with your children. But, take a minute and remember their challenges.
They were born with a partner in crime, a friend and someone to blame when they drink the last of the milk.
However, they were also born with someone who shares just about everything with them and from whom they may desperately wish to have a separate identity.
So, what can parents do to quell this competitiveness?
1Don’t use their competitiveness for your own purposes
This is something you may do subconsciously. Do you ever encourage them to compete on household chores with hopes that they will get done faster?
Have you ever used one kid’s grades as an incentive for the other? If so, you are still an awesome parent – just FYI. However, try and minimize that because you are encouraging competitiveness and divisiveness.
2Foster separate and equally rewarding interests and hobbies
Encourage them to develop their own separate but totally equal identities. If your twins end up playing the same sport or getting into the same afterschool club, you may find that the competition gets worse. If you want for them to be close, work to promote that type of intimacy with cooperation, teamwork, and praise.
3Give them one-on-one attention
When it comes to my two boys, I spend a lot of our quality time with both of them at the same time. They are close in age and enjoy the same types of activities so I naturally tend to play or interact with them as a unit. But, they are not a unit. That type of inclination to treat them as a single entity is much stronger for parents of twins but it is even more important to give them each their own time where you can remind them of their individuality and uniqueness.
4Validate their feelings and emotions
Help them remember how special it is to be a twin while still validating and understanding their feelings. Don’t say: “Oh gosh! It must be so great to be a twin! Why are you complaining?” Instead, tell them: “I know being a twin can be tough because you feel like you need to compare yourself but your bond with your sibling is special and you should not waste time trying to compete with them.”
5Try not to intervene too much but set boundaries
It’s tough not to pipe up when your kids are bickering but, within reason, backing off is not a bad idea. Of course, some fights require an adult’s intervention but a lot of twin arguments can be worked out between the two of them. Give them boundaries so that they are not constantly stepping on one another’s toes but let them work out as many of their problems as they can independently.
I can see now that there were definitely downsides to being a twin. Though being an only child was often lonely, I had no one with whom to be compared and I was rarely in competition.
Now I can see that sharing your birthday, your room and your shoes with a sibling is challenging enough and that having to share your actual face might be less than awesome sometimes.
So, be patient and model what you want to see (as always). This is likely just one of a million phases in their relationship; this too shall pass.