Like many multiples, my fraternal twin boys are close but it wasn’t until recently that I was reminded how strong their bond truly is. I was going through their school backpacks, leafing through graded class assignments when one in particular caught my eye. The heading read, “Friendship,” and there was a crayon rendering of both my twins holding hands with big smiles on their faces. Just the sight of it made my eyes well up with tears.
The Ties That Bind
Unlike single-born children, twins have a unique connection. “The twin bond is important since it’s a relationship that really started in utero,” says Eileen Pearlman, a licensed marriage, family, and child therapist who lectures on multiple birth issues and is the author of Raising Twins: What Parents Want to Know (and What Twins Want to Tell Them).
“Even in the womb, there was a lot of working together sharing a very small space.”
Yet it’s not only this preordained creation that makes the twin bond so special; there are other forces at work, too. From a practical point of view, most young twins do everything Lisa Odorizzi’s two-and-a-half-year-old identical twin daughters, Hailey and Ashley, are close, too. “If one wakes from a nap first, she waits patiently for the other to get up. They cover each other with blankets, give each other sippy cups or the puppy,” says the Mt. Olive, Ill. mom. “We have always told them how important it is to be nice to each other but I think the friendship is just there.”together from eating and sleeping to bathing and playing. Although done to save time (and a parent’s sanity), this high access to each other has an added bonus—helping to cement a strong intratwin relationship. “My fraternal twin boys, Luis and Leonel, are nineteen months old and have never been apart for more than an hour,” says Wendy de Munoz of Montreal, Canada. And while she admits that they argue and push like all other young kids learning to cooperate and share, she also sees a strong innate attachment. “They hug, kiss, and cuddle all the time. If one gets hurt, the other will go and rub his head, doing all this on their own ninety-five percent of the time.”
The third factor contributing to the twin bond, Pearlman explains, is that they become each other’s transitional objects—you know, that teddy bear or security blanket that helps to ease the pain when Mommy’s not around. “That teddy bear can also be replaced with a twin,” she says. “If Mommy’s not here but my twin is, that will soothe me.”
It’s that helping each other in times of stress that allows many multiples to more easily adjust to unfamiliar situations. “My twins were getting ready for preschool for the first time,” remembers Kim Clayton, “and Max grabbed Emily’s hand and said, ‘It’s OK. We’re doing it together!’ Like he knew she was nervous or something.” The Monroe, New Jersey mom is still amazed by her three-year olds connection to each other. “I see now that their bond is there whether or not I tell them to do or say something nice to each other.”
Nurturing Their Special Twin Relationship
So how can you help your twins and triplets continue to develop a deeper friendship? First and foremost is to recognize that their bond is always evolving and changing and some twins will be closer and at different times than others. Between the ages of 24 to 36 months, for instance, children start the separation and individualizing process. “They’re trying to figure out who they are,” explains Pearlman. “It’s who I am not being a twin. What’s me and what’s not me?” During this time, the bond may become less important. Parents, Pearlman cautions, shouldn’t force their twins to do everything together during this time. Instead they should try to understand that this is just a normal phase, a natural progression to becoming an individual.
Pamela Fierro, the Guide to Parenting Multiples at About.com, and the author of says that parents play an important role though. “They have to teach their children the basics of human interaction,” she stresses, “to respect each others’ feelings, to apologize when they hurt someone else, to be inclusive rather than exclusive, and to support each other in hard times.”
Yet the most valuable tool parents can give their multiples is one of identity. “The more individualized twins are the less they’re competing trying to figure out who they are as opposed to who they’re not,” says Pearlman. “When they feel more comfortable with themselves, then they can experience and appreciate the twin relationship, the ‘we’ relationship more.”
Maria Quiles is sensitive to her identical twin daughters’ differences. “They do a lot of things together but I don’t push one’s likes on the other,” she says of the two-year olds, Gabi and Gracie. Her daughter Gabi, for instance, favors Dora the Explorer and has her side of their bedroom decorated to match her enthusiasm for the cartoon character. The Miami, Fla. mom also encourages each daughter to pick out her own clothes. “They don’t like the same foods either and I don’t push it. I try to keep their tastes to each other.”
Fierro agrees with this approach. “Parents should encourage their twins as individuals—recognizing their individual needs, nurture their individual talents and goals.” She recommends that parents find an activity whether sports, music, or art that each child can call her own. Her ten-year-old twin daughters do just that. “One takes dance class and the other plays basketball. One plays the piano and the other sings in the chorus,” she says. “They also do plenty of things together such as swimming and volleyball, but I really encourage them to find one thing that is theirs alone.”
Friends For Life
It’s this early connection between twins and even triplets that often translates into a strong adult bond. Through shared experiences over the years, the twin union matures taking on a deep richness. “The twin history is really important as we get older,” explains Pearlman, herself an identical twin. When older multiples need a bit of nurturing and support, for instance, they can always turn toward the one who knows them best, their cotwin. “I still find myself—as well as many other twins I know—during periods of stress, calling my twin. There’s this soothing function, even as adults. Just hearing my twin’s voice provides that soothing comforting function.”
It seems that when a person has a cotwin, all that is wrong with the world can quickly become right.
Tips for Building the Twin Bond
The twin relationship is very strong indeed. Yet parents can help their multiples deepen their bond by following these tips.
- Give your multiples lots of praise when one does something considerate or nice for the other.
- Take each twin shopping individually to buy a special birthday or holiday gift for the other.
- Talk candidly and frequently about being happy for the other’s achievements. When one wins an award or trophy, help the other make a homemade card of congratulations.
- Nurture all sibling relationships. Encourage each multiple to spend time alone with other single-born children in the family.
- Offer privacy when needed and never insist on constant twin togetherness.