Question of the Week: I have twin grandsons. One twin is very aggressive, pushes his brother down and is generally ugly to him but he does look to him for help sometimes. He is mean and doesn’t listen to me or his parents. They are five and in separate classrooms in school. My daughter does dress them alike and they are on the same sports teams. I keep them every Wednesday after school. They try to talk over each other by getting louder than the other so I can’t hear either one! Today, I was in tears when they were here. What can we do? Thanks.
Answer: Before I offer some advice, I want to put this into a little bit of perspective for you. Most young twins are on a perpetually playdate together. What do I mean by that? Young twins spend much of their waking hours together, more time than any other two siblings or even friends do. If single-born children had a non-stop playdate with each other, for instance, sooner or later they too would end up bickering, pushing, talking over each other, and yes, even biting. In other words, it’s not necessarily your twins that are the problem, it’s often the situation that they find themselves in.
Try to Understand the Source of Aggression
I said the aggression could be the circumstances that your grandson finds himself in (i.e. being a twin) but then again, maybe it’s not. Therefore, it’s important to try to figure out why he is being aggressive as it can originate from a number of different situations. Aggression could be part of your grandson’s personality, for instance, in his DNA. Or it could sometimes be an outward sign of the child’s frustration or poor impulse control when he is unable to verbally express himself. Or it could be a symptom of something else. Perhaps there is conflict within his family? Or in his neighborhood?
I am not a doctor so if you suspect that there is some strong, underlying reason to your grandson’s aggression, you should speak with his pediatrician about having him properly diagnosed.
So what are you to do in the meantime? Below are a few tips and tricks to help.
Implement the Odd-Even Rule
Taking turns is a skill that twins need to adopt early in their lives. For some twins, however, sharing is a difficult pill to swallow. They are just not having any of it! Each wants to be first—the first to tell a story, the first to try out a new toy, the first choose the movie. One way to help teach how to share is to use the Odd-Even Rule—”Twin A” gets to go first on odd-numbered days; “Twin B” gets his turn to go first on even-numbered days. You can use this system for any number of situations, including sharing an exciting event that happened during the day (but put a limit on how much of the story each can divulge during his turn.) It’s not a perfect system (for example, months that have 31 days can be challenging) but it can work surprising well.
Reward the Positive Behavior No Matter How Minor (and Try to Ignore Smaller Infractions)
All children want the approval of their parents and caretakers. Some just try to get approval in negative ways. So it’s your job to change that script and teach your children (or grandchildren) that only positive behavior will win your attention and praise.
This one can be difficult for some parents as they swear their children rarely act in a positive way but if you look—I mean really pay attention—you can find even the naughtiest of children will show kindness. It may be something very small indeed but if it’s something positive, jump on it! Pour on the praise: “Wow, I like how you gave your brother your baseball. That was so nice of you! I’m so proud!” But you may have to start out small, so commend your grandson even if he sits quietly while watching TV or takes his empty milk glass to the sink without asking. Find anything positive that he does, and praise it often.
Conversely, try to look the other way when he makes small infractions, and let his cotwin fend a bit more for himself. In other words, don’t jump in when the aggressive twin grabs a toy from his cotwin. It not only gives attention to the bad behavior but it also may make the cotwin look like a victim. Instead, wait and see if the cotwin will resolve the situation on his own.
Step in Immediately If the Behavior Turns Violent
Yes, ignore the small stuff but never turn your back on physical aggression. If your grandson kicks, bites, or punches his cotwin (or you), calmly remove him from the situation immediately and explain, “We do not bite. Ever. You are now in a time out.” Then turn your attention away from him and comfort his cotwin.
After five minutes, return to your grandson and ask, “Do you know why I gave you a time out?” Encourage him to use his words to explain his feelings. Listen and nod. Then ask him what he could have done differently. Brainstorm together. When the conversation ends, give him a hug and move on.
Keep Tabs on Your Own Temper
Children look to their parents and caregivers as examples of what to do and what not to do. Therefore, never spank your children or scream as a way of disciplining them. Parenting is a tough job, so you may have to take a time-out yourself if you feel that you are losing your temper.
Keep Routines and Schedules Consistent
All kids (twins especially) react well when they know what to expect and when. So stick to a schedule whenever possible.