Recognizing That Even Twins Are Individuals

Family Counseling Insights brought to you by Patricia McTague-Loft

As if parenting weren’t hard enough, Nature seems to laugh quietly every time a pair of twins are born into the world. Ah, double the fun and… double the trouble. Unsuspecting parents are gradually confronted with challenges they probably never experienced as they were growing up with a sibling or two a few years older or younger.

As the years quickly go by, though, parents adapt and are then confronted with problems created by their own creative adaptations. A natural tendency is to treat twins equally and over time see them as a single unit. Make no mistake, either, parents with siblings close in age — say, a year or so apart — can fall into the same habit.

You begin structuring playtime for them both because, well, it’s so easy and seems to work. They like to play with each other. They have the same interests. You wouldn’t want one to feel left out if you paid more attention to one than the other.

In reality, that can become a problem as they grow older. Kids become adolescents, and then teenagers and then adults. They discover they are indeed individuals despite any genetic or familial closeness with their sibling.

Writing for Positive Parenting Solutions, Amy McCready offers three simple steps you can take to avoid competition between twins or siblings close in age, and nurture their individuality at the same time.

“Fill Their ‘Attention Buckets’… Separately.” The reasoning behind this advice is simple: even though they may be twins or siblings close in age, they will inevitably discover they are individuals. “Kids want and need our individualized time and attention,” McCready says. “However, all too often with twins or siblings close in age, attention is given as a unit rather than one-on-one, and that creates competition. “All kids want to find their very own spot in your heart and in your family’s dynamic that is exclusively theirs. To give kids the emotional connection they crave and a secure sense of belonging in your family, be sure to spend individualized time with each child on a daily basis.”

Of course it’s important to structure “me time” in a way where each sibling gets equal time. And whoever is second in line may feel left out at first. That’s ok – just develop a routine where you alternate between who gets first special time together.

“Avoid Labels.” It’s debatable whether a label is desirable when we’re talking about a single child. “Oh, she’s so smart,” lays a lot of pressure on a young person. But when we’re talking about labeling one when another is by definition part of the unit? That’s a problem. He’s the smart one implicitly says the other is not so smart.

“It’s best to leave the labels out of your conversations and gently remind others to do the same,” writes McCready. “Every kid has attributes that make them unique and special – focus on nurturing the whole of what makes your kids amazing rather than the one feature that creates comparison.”

“Unique vs. Unit.” When kids are young it’s easy to get away with signing them up for the same activities, sending them to same summer camps, enrolling them in the same sports. But over time you’re going to find that one excels or is simply more interested in an activity than the other. That’s individuality asserting itself.

It’s up to the parent to recognize the differences, the unique strengths, the individual interests, and encourage them. “Of course, your kids (and you) will always treasure the wonderful bond between them – but we can make room for some individuality to shine as well,” McCready says. “What happens when you do? Everyone flourishes and your family can celebrate all the special things that make it unique – both individually and as a unit.”

Good advice for parents hoping to raise kids who will rise to their potential.