Help! My Twins Constantly Compete For My Attention

Question of the Week:

I have 23-month-old boy-girl twins, and recently over the past few months, they’ve both been competing for my attention and affection. My morning routine usually consists of cuddling with my early-bird son for about an hour, and then when my daughter wakes up, I like to cuddle with her. My son has been showing signs of jealousy and has been crying when he sees my holding my daughter. I’ve tried holding them together, and then they just hit each other. If I put my daughter down, then she starts crying. Any advice on how to handle such a difficult situation?
—B.H.

Answer: It’s a problem that every new mom of twins faces—two babies, not enough hands. What do you do?

boy-girl twins huggingAlthough it’s frustrating, competing for mom’s attention is a normal stage in childhood development, something that all siblings learn to control (notice I didn’t say outgrow) as they mature and learn to cooperate with each other. Yet when you have twins—two siblings who are at the same developmental stage in life—this twin rivalry seems more pronounced and therefore more worrisome when in fact, it is not.

It may help to look at this situation from your children’s point of view: Just as your son is enjoying his special time with Mommy, along comes his sister to break it up and take you away. On the other hand, your daughter wakes up to find her brother occupying all your time, leaving her to cry, “What about me?” Single-born children, however, have a period of time in their lives when they get Mom all to themselves—older singletons head off to school leaving the younger ones home alone with Mom. This is something that twins never experience.

When you look at that way, both twins have a legitimate reason to be upset with the other!

Now, let’s look at some ways to elevate the tension and bring about a peaceful solution. Start by encouraging each of your twins to voice their frustration or give them the words if they’re struggling to express themselves. (“You don’t want Mommy to hold brother? You want Mommy to cuddle with you instead?”) By verbalizing the negative emotions, you’re validating your children’s feelings without condoning the negative behavior. The practice shows them that you accept and love them, helping both children to build their self-esteem and confidence.

Next, think about transitioning away from cuddle time with your son a few minutes before you anticipate your daughter waking up. For instance, try engaging him in a special activity (such as a craft project or a favorite video) about fifteen minutes before your daughter wakes up. With his attention elsewhere, perhaps he won’t be so focused on you as you give your daughter some alone time. Furthermore, some moms in your situation have found that another person “playing interference” works well. Have your husband or partner take over with your son just before your daughter wakes up.

And finally, don’t stop offering one-on-one time with each twin. It’s so important not only for your twins’ individuation and social development, but also for your bonding separately with each of them, a challenge for some moms of multiples. Instead, brainstorm to come up with some different ways in which to carve out alone time with each child. During the weekends, for instance, simply take one twin to the store or for a stroll through the neighborhood for a half hour. Or enlist the help of a spouse, grandparent or even a baby-sitter—you each take one twin on a short errand and then all four of you can meet up for ice cream or at a neighborhood park.

If your morning routine continues to cause trouble, maybe you can forgo the ritual, at least temporarily, and focus on other times of the day to offer one-on-one cuddling. For instance, maybe you can hang out together in the afternoon or evening when another adult is around to occupy one of your twins. Your children will eventually outgrow this stage, and you’ll be free to resume your early morning snuggle-fest.

Have a question about your twins? Ask it here!

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