Question of the Week:
I’m a working mom of five-year-old fraternal twin girls. They’re currently in preschool three days a week. On the days they don’t attend I send them to separate baby-sitters. I’ve done this for almost a year as I’ve always felt they should be independent of each other. They’re both completely different in every way from looks to likes. I have never referred to them as “twins,” using each girl’s name separately and I’ve enforced this with family and friends.
But it seems even on their separate days they argue and fight terribly. If “Twin A” wants to borrow “Twin B’s” toy, “Twin B” says “no” it’s her special toy. I’ve always agreed that they each have their own toys and a special toy does not have to be shared. “Twin A” gets hurt and uses the “she-isn’t-sharing line” but when I reinforce the special toy rule, “Twin A” says “Twin B” hurt her feelings. “Twin B” also purposely ignores “Twin A.” When “Twin A” calls “Twin B’s” name a hundred times in a row getting no response, of course I step in because if I hear the name one more time I’m going to scream, but “Twin B” says she wants to play alone. It is all so frustrating!
Several of my friends who have fraternal twins as well feel I have forced the individuality too much and now they’re just not close. What can I do so that my twins will be friends with each other and have the “twin” bond every speaks of? —B.H.
Answer: There’s nothing more frustrating for parents than to see their children bickering and fighting with one another. And when you’re the parent to twins, triplets or quads, it hits especially hard as we’ve all been told that multiples have a special and unique bond. Yet it is totally bogus that your twins’ fighting is because you’ve nurtured their individuality. I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve met where it’s just the opposite—their twins fight constantly because they spend way too much time together. And when the parents finally give their twins some breathing room—time away from each other where each child is free to be an individual rather than a twin—presto! The kids get along much better.
Remember, fraternal twins are merely siblings born on the same day. They don’t share nearly as much of their DNA with their cotwins as identical twins do so therefore they can have vastly different personalities, dispositions, likes as well as dislikes. Yet everyone who comes into contact with fraternal twins assumes that they’re best friends, soul mates.
Talk about high expectations!
Some fraternal twins are close from the day they are born; others are not. But even if twins aren’t close as children, that still doesn’t mean they won’t be close some day. Think of your own siblings. Perhaps you fought constantly with them when you were kids (I know I did with my sisters) but now as adults, you have solid, close relationships.
Keep in mind, too, that all siblings fight. Your girls are young and just beginning to get to an age where they’re learning about the world around them, to negotiate for what they want, and to put their feelings into words.
Furthermore, from the research that I’ve read on twin subsets (identical boys, identical girls, fraternal boys, fraternal girls, and boy/girl twins), it’s fraternal girls that are the most independent, have more outside relationships and fewer shared friends, and experience more inter-twin conflicts than all other twin types. These qualifications were merely the girls’ observations of their differences rather than a statement of dislike for their cotwins, and it was these differences that helped them to define their relationships. Many fraternal twin girls believe that their relationship with their cotwins is constantly changing and evolving. But most importantly, they don’t view this as a negative aspect to their twinship.
Bottom line? Your girls behavior isn’t out of the norm and is sure to mature as they grow older.
In the meantime, however, there are a few things that you can do to help them navigate their relationship more peacefully. For instance, you may want to examine how you react to your daughters’ fighting. While you should never let one twin physically hurt the other, you shouldn’t take sides or intervene for every infraction either as it can intensify their rivalry. Instead, try to be more of a referee only stepping in when necessary. Let them work out their toy squabbles on their own. I know it’s frustrating to listen to the arguing so why not try distraction techniques (“Hey, let’s watch a DVD!” “Anyone want to go to the park?”) when their conflicts appear to be heating up.
Continue to offer them opportunities to do what each girl would like independent of the other but perhaps you can find some common ground in their relationship, too. Look for activities where they both enjoy playing together or have a common interest. Drawing? Cooking? Music? A particular board game? Compliment them when you do see them cooperating with each other. (From my own experience, I know this can be hard but if you really listen for the positive behavior, you will find it. Make sure they know but saying something like, “Wow, I really liked how you shared your snack with your sister. That was so thoughtful.”) By focusing and praising the positive behavior and ignoring the negative, you’ll reduce your stress and your daughters are sure to internalize “the right way to act” towards each other.