This morning, as I listened to my teenage twin sons bicker loudly over who gets to plug his iTouch into the recharging dock first, I was reminded of an assumption we all have about twins—namely, they naturally know how to share. In fact, a few psychologists believe that twins have an inherent predisposition to sharing that begins in the womb.
But is sharing instinctive to twins? Personally, I’m not so convinced. Sure, twins amicably share a womb but don’t they have to? It’s not like they have a choice where one can move out! And as any parent of toddler twins can tell you, sharing is often the last thing their twins do willing. The Internet message boards are abuzz with frustrated parents of multiples seeking advice. Many moms and dads seem utterly perplexed when their toddler twins argue over a toy and flat-out refuse to compromise. Why, they wonder, is there so much hitting, biting, and crying between the pair?
My take on it? Since twins are forced to share from the moment of conception, they learn the skill out of necessity a bit sooner and perhaps a bit better than single-born children. But like most kids, twins can’t readily grasp the concept of sharing by the tender age of two. It takes time (not to mention patience). But multiples do indeed adapt, especially as they get older and more in command of their language and emotions. (So hang in there parents of preschool twins.) It’s then that twins become master negotiators as they bargain for that coveted toy.
Yes, sharing is a life skill that all twins need to master as it helps them evolve into competent, social beings. Those who learn to “share nicely” through compromise, bargaining and negotiating are better liked by their peers, and do better overall in school than those children who use aggression to get what they want. Here are a few tips to help you teach your twins how to share.
- Have reasonable expectation. You can’t expect a two year old to wait patiently for his turn on a shared trike. When twins are young, it’s best to have large toys that they can easily share (double-sided easel, huge collection of large blocks, roomy play kitchen, etc.) or you’ll need two so each can play at the same time (two trikes, two Barbies, two Tonka trucks). Furthermore, tired and hungry twins forced to share is a recipe for disaster. Instead, use the old distraction technique: “Hey, who wants to have a snack?”
- Allow for longer turns. Experts say that part of the squabbling over sharing erupts when the turn is too short in duration and the child is simply not done playing with the toy in question.
- Prep them with several warnings. Use a timer or a clock to show how much longer your child can play with a toy before giving his twin a turn.
- Set a good example by being generous and talk it up. “Hey, I just made some brownies that I would love to share with you!” Or, “Wow! Your Daddy is sharing the newspaper with me! Thanks Daddy.”
- Respect your twin’s right to his own things. Can twins be forced to share too much? Absolutely! Due to their unique circumstances—shared birthday, shared bedroom, a few shared friends, sometimes the same classroom, the same personal space, shared attention from Mom and Dad—twins are literally thrust into a world of what’s-yours-is-mine-and-what’s-mine-is-yours. Privacy and personal possessions can be scarce when you’re a twin. Yet when young multiples are possessive of their things, it may actually be healthy as it shows each child’s growing independence and self autonomy. In other words, they’re figuring out that each is an individual, not part of a pair. Just like single-born children, twins deserve their own clothes, backpacks, and of course, toys.
Bottom line? Have patience while your twins are learning to share. And while you should encourage cooperation between your pair, set some boundaries and allow each child the opportunity to be a bit selfish!