Question of the Week: My boys, Jack and Riley, are turning nine years old in July. They are simply not able to tell us about a shared experience they have had. For instance, we recently asked them to tell us about their stay at a friend’s farm. They talked over each other, each speaking louder and louder, competing to see who could tell us the most. It is always very frustrating and always ends with one, or all of us, angry. I would like to know how to get them to feel that they can each tell us about their shared experiences knowing that the other twin will leave some details for the other.
A: I have to admit that I smiled when I read this question, and if I am totally honest, I laughed a bit too. No, I’m not insensitive; just the opposite. I understand this problem completely as we had this exact same issue when my fraternal twin sons were young.
For us, it began when our boys shared a preschool classroom together. Every day it was a race home to see who could get to me first to relate the events of the day. And, as you pointed out, each boy would try to cram in as much information as he could, speaking over his brother—louder and faster—in an effort to drown out his brother. It never worked. Both boys always ended up bickering with each other, or worse, in tears. I just ended up exasperated and annoyed.
But as my husband and I talked about this frustrating situation, we realized that their actions were actually appropriate considering their circumstances. At that time, my young twins shared just about everything together—mealtime, bath time, bed time, and now even a preschool classroom. They never had a solo experience, a unique event that they could call their own and share with the family. Once we realized this, we changed course. We separated them in kindergarten the following year, which helped, and took great effort in giving them some space from each other. For instance, we tried to spend more time with each son separately, from taking just one son to run errands on a Saturday afternoon to assigning them completely separate chores in different areas of the house. We even tried separate bed time stories, each boy choosing his favorite and snuggling up to just one parent. We just became hyper-aware when we were grouping them together, and made a concerted effort to separate them when it was deemed appropriate. And it helped.
But that was only part of the solution. Our next step was to try to teach them to respect each other’s right to speak, not an easy task for a pair of five-year-old twins. For instance, we tried to turn their story sharing into a game. When I saw them running to me after a shared experience, I’d stop them before either had a chance to speak. “Hold on!” I’d say. “Let’s play a game!” I’d tell them to each think of three things about their time together that they wanted to share. “Don’t say them out loud,” I’d warn. Then I’d implement the odd-even rule, where if it was an odd-numbered day, “Twin A” got to share one fun fact about their experience without “Twin B” interrupting. (But if it was an even-numbered day, “Twin B” got to go first.) Then it was “Twin B’s” turn to share one fact. After he was finished, it was “Twin A’s” turn again. And so on until the story hit a final conclusion.
This, too, helped. But there’s nothing like the passing of time for most problems to disappear. Your boys will mature and learn to control their emotions and impulses a bit more. In the meantime, hang in there!