Question of the Week:
Q: I have six-year-old twins that just finished first grade. One of my twins (“Twin A”) plays great with other kids, but always leaves the other twin out (“Twin B”). For example, at the pool this summer “Twin A” won’t allow “Twin B” to share the raft in the water or sit beside him to eat. It is very hurtful to “Twin B.” He feels betrayed. And sometimes he is left with the ill-behaved boys or girls to hang with as his brother is better at making friends. Every play date ends in tears. However, at home when no other kids are around, they are best friends. Last year we did not have any problems at school. I hope next year will be the same but I just worry after the way this summer has been going that the meanness and exclusion will transfer to the classroom in the fall. I can’t put them in two different classes since we go to a small private school. If you have any good ideas, please let me know!
A: Parents of multiples always worry when their twins hit a bump in their relationship since we’ve been so programmed to believe that all twins are soul mates and should always get along with one another. But the reality is that it rarely happens! Like all siblings, twins have their ups and downs. And (are you ready for this?) all twins fight. Period.
Furthermore, by the time they reach the school years, many twins begin to crave outside friendships and new experiences independent of their cotwins. Unfortunately, one twin within the twinship is often ready to venture out before the other, thus causing conflict. With “Twin A” acting out in this way (i.e. not wanting to play with his cotwin in public) he might be trying to break free on his own. Call it a temporary break up of the twinship or a mid-twin crisis. Either way, it sounds as though “Twin A” needs more freedom from the relationship. After years of sharing everything with his cotwin, he may just need less face time with his brother.
You are entering a new phase of twin parenting, one where you’ll need to tread lightly. On the one hand, try to be sensitive to “Twin A’s” need for new friendships, and as his parent, you should actually encourage it. Perhaps you can arrange to let him go out on a play date without his cotwin. Still, acting rudely towards his brother shouldn’t be allowed. Teach him to use his words to calmly express when he wants to be left alone. Maybe the two of you can come up with a signal—either a code word or hand gesture—that let’s you know that “Twin A” has had enough togetherness and would like to stop playing with his cotwin. Then you could step in and redirect “Twin B” before it escalates to a point where “Twin A” gets aggressive and mean towards his brother.
On the other hand, you should avoid casting “Twin B” in the role of “victim.” Yes, it’s very hurtful to be rejected but you can’t force their relationship to be something that it is not. It’s fine to listen to his concerns but try to empower “Twin B” instead. Perhaps you can enroll him in a marital arts class where he can build up his self-esteem and also make some new friends in the process. Help him find an area where he can shine on his own (music? art? computers?), out from under the shadow of his brother. The point is: You need to help “Twin B” figure out how to make his own friends and to be a little more independent of his cotwin. Once that happens, I assure you their relationship will once again get on solid footing.
Finally, be sure to talk with their new teacher before the fall. Set up a meeting with her the week before school begins to express your concerns. Not only can she keep an eye out for potential problems and possibly offer some insight but she can also pair “Twin B” with another child in class that could use some Big Brother mentoring.
The bottom line? Offer each boy more positive time apart. Since they can’t be separated at school, try other avenues such as different sports or after-school activities. And lastly, if you’re not already doing so, get in the habit of taking each twin out independently on a regular basis. Not only is alone time with either Mom or Dad a great way to “check in” with each child, it is invaluable in helping both boys develop a strong sense of self.