When Your Twins Have Opposite Personalities

From the moment they were born, my fraternal twin sons have had very different temperaments. “Twin A” came out kicking and screaming. Literally. Minutes after he made his very loud entrance, the doctors whisked him off to the nursery to check his breathing and run some tests. He was fine but now at age 17, he still kicks and screams! In other words, he’s my “challenging” child—head strong, opinionated, argumentative. (He’d make a great lawyer!)

“Twin B,” on the other hand, arrived in this world smiling. He didn’t fuss; he didn’t cry. In the recovery room, he gazed up at us for hours as my husband cradled him in his arms. He hasn’t changed all that much in 17 years either. He’s still easy-going—a people-person—well liked by his peers and teachers.

Obviously I’m painting my twins in very broad strokes. (“Twin B,” for instance, is far from perfect. He can be impulsive, immature and silly. “Twin A” is extremely articulate, engaging, and very charming when he wants to be.) Yes, there’s much more to their personalities than I can quickly explain here. Although they have many similar interests, and both claim to think a lot alike, the fact remains that their dispositions are polar opposites. And why is this important? Because it caused some social problems during early childhood.

identical twin boyosLike most twins during those early school years, my boys were viewed as a two-for-one deal by their classmates. Out of sheer politeness or perceived obligation—I’m still not sure which—classmates sent out birthday party or play date invitations to both twins, even if the host was only friendly with my mellow twin. Although the intentions were well-meaning, it wasn’t always a good fit. Sometimes the host just didn’t gel with the other twin’s in-you-face, tell-it-like-it-is style, especially when compared to his cotwin’s easy-going demeanor. Over time, my twins were pigeonholed into these roles—easy twin, difficult twin—and the comparisons started, many negative. It helped when I got involved and stressed to families that it was OK to invite just one twin. But then a new problem arose: The invitations became lopsided with my mellow twin reaping many more offers than his brother.

Both my twins suffered. My mellow twin felt guilty that he got to go to birthday parties and sleepovers with friends more often than his cotwin. He felt a sense of obligation towards his twin, too. After all, his twin was also his friend. My challenging twin, on the other hand, felt jealousy, resentment. At such a young age, he simply didn’t understand the circumstances and turned his frustration toward his brother. It was my job as their mother to help my mellow twin give up his guilt and just live his life, and help my challenging twin examine his own words and actions and their effect on other people. But as someone who watched closely from the sidelines, I also wondered if the situation was exasperated simply because they were twins. Perhaps my challenging child seemed more difficult to his peers because he stood alongside a twin who was super easy-going. If he had been born a singleton with the same ornery personality (or even had a twin with an equally difficult personality), would it have mattered? In other words, was it the side-by-side comparison that became the problem?

Maybe. Maybe not. But I’ll never know.

The good news is that we eventually turned a corner but it took patience and tender guidance. To illustrate how far we’ve come—last week my challenging twin was elected Student Body Vice President of his high school, a position that requires strong leadership skills and the ability to relate well to one’s peers. A proud accomplishment, indeed.

If your twins have opposite personalities and it’s negatively affecting one or both children’s self-esteem, disrupting family life, or causing a rift within the twinship itself, consider the following tips.

  • Encourage your twins to pursue their own personal passions. When each can call something his own, whether it’s a sport or hobby, they are allowed the freedom to be true individuals. It builds their self-esteem and to trust in themselves. Furthermore, others will relate to them as individuals, not just one half of a pair.
  • Allow for sibling rivalry. All brothers and sisters fight. It’s normal and within reason, healthy. Twins need to feel comfortable expressing themselves even if it’s negative. If your twins can’t openly communicate their conflicting emotions, those emotions will simply slip under the surface where they will fester and grow. That said, however, you need to set boundaries. In other words, remind them that passive-aggressive behavior, name calling, or hitting are not healthy ways of handling any problem.
  • Consider short-term counseling for the socially struggling twin. A good therapist who specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy can help your difficult child understand his behavior and ultimately learn to control or change the undesirable aspects of it.
  • Speak with your twins’ teacher/s. He or she sees your twins in a totally different environment than home and might have some insightful observations.
  • Consider school placement very carefully. Yes, separate classrooms can be helpful but it’s not a panacea for every twin ailment. If one of your twins is struggling to fit in or make friends, you may want to consider a fresh start at a completely new school especially when it’s time to move on to middle or high school as it can help break the negative cycle. Or, you may even consider enrolling your twins in separate schools, one that matches each child’s temperament and learning style.
  • Be patient. As your twins get older, they will mature, soften. With your loving help, they’ll soon realize that their actions and words have consequences, and when they do, they’ll begin to get control of their emotions.


4 thoughts on “When Your Twins Have Opposite Personalities

  1. thetwincesses

    Hi my name is Nadine. I have twin 11-month-old girls. I could not have found this post at a more appropriate time. My girls go back and forth with their personalities but what has stayed consistant is the gentle side of baby B and the outgoing side of baby A. Sometimes it is difficult not to compare. Baby A is crawling, pulling up, and pretty much doing everything a baby at 11 months old should do. Baby B is more relaxed and doesn’t seem to care about hitting milestones when it is expected. She rolls and sits but has not attempted crawling or pulling up. My worry has reduced since I have reminded myself they are their own people and have their own schedule. They are not on the same one. Your post reminded me how different twins really are.

  2. Katie

    This site was posted to my local moms of multiples Facebook page and I love it! I have been hopping from topic to topic all morning!
    I have an interesting perspective on twins and their opposite personalities. My 4 year old b/g twins switched the dispositions they had as infants! Our girl was the most laid back and easy going baby, while our boy was fussy and irritable. The “personality transplant” came around 18 months to 2 years old. Now our happy, easygoing baby is a firecracker and our fussy, irritable baby is a mellow, go with the flow boy :)
    We used to say if we had had Kennedy first, we would have had another baby right away, but Jackson would have been an only child….the joke would have been on us, lol!

    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof Post author

      Thanks for stopping by! Funny, my third child did a switch, too! He was a super easy-going baby (but then again, after twins, any baby would seem easy going) but one morning at around 18 months, he woke up and suddenly became surly. We used to go to the supermarket and if ANYONE smiled at him, he’d yell, “Don’t look at me!” Very embarrassing. Every photo–scowl. No one could touch him. Then, miraculously around age five, just about the time he went to kindergarten, he mellowed again. At 14, he’s very well liked and a real sweetie.

  3. RC

    As an identical twin, long out of childhood, I can now openly discuss the many hardships and difficulties of being born a twin, from the twin perspective. First and foremost each twin is an individual. Remember that.

    While dressing twins alike may seem cute, and sharing birthday parties may save money and seem logical, both can have very adverse affects not only on twin children but also on twin adults. Likewise giving twins similar sounding names is a horrible idea.

    There are instances of twins who can have all of these situations occur in their lives and yet not appear to suffer any harm, but regardless of that fact you are setting children up for problems that many won’t be able to cope with.

    All twins, sooner or later, will suffer some form of identity crises. This happens in single birth children, but in twins it is often exponentially magnified. In my own childhood, often my parents were unable to tell their twin boys apart. Only our sister could consistently do so.

    Giving us both identical sounding names made this worse because sometimes people (parents included) would simply confuse the name rather than the personalities. Yet a child can’t tell the difference in that.

    For our entire childhood we were always forced to share everything, mostly. Bedrooms, at times even a bed, birthdays, social events. We were also always in competition with one another. In academics, dating, friendships.

    I was the ‘smarter twin’, almost always getting better grades and doing so with apparently much more ease. My parents pointing at me and asking my twin, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” didn’t help. My twin always felt inferior and bullied in this aspect.

    My twin was the “funny” one. Easily talking jokes and getting lots of laughs. I on the other hand could tell the exact same joke, using the exact same words, yet not get even one laugh. This too left me feeling inferior.

    Twins outward personality appearances may switch back and forth throughout their lives. One being outgoing while the other is very introverted and shy. This was the case with my twin and myself. Eventually I settled permanently as the outgoing one.

    Even from a young age I was extremely empathic toward others. To the extreme. If a childhood friend’s father died I would start crying around them because I was mirroring my friend’s emotional state, and had zero control of this or understanding. Often this was very embarrassing to friends and humiliating for me. My parents what’s just told me “you’re too sensitive”.

    My twin brother, by contrast, was very apathetic. He frequently was unable to understand the emotions of those around him, and this sometimes included himself. For most of his childhood this went unnoticed, but my his late teenage years and throughout his adulthood this has caused him difficulties. My twin didn’t simply choose to disregard the feelings of others he simply was incapable of detecting them in a normal way. Eventually he managed to learn to deal with this but it’s always remained difficult for him.

    All of this said, my parents were not bad parents, they simply had never experienced twins and had no knowledge of issues raising twin sons. Unfortunately, despite this, lifelong damage did occur and it is the twins left to their own devices to resolve such problems mostly on their own.

    I can’t even talk about such childhood issues with my parents because they inevitably think this means I blame them. I do not. I simply wish I could share my hardships with those I love but I’m resolved that this will never be possible. Having an emotionally disabled twin doesn’t help.

    At this point in life I’m happy and functioning fine. Life is hard. That’s simply a fact. You can’t feel sorry for yourself about such things because that’s a path that leads nowhere or only to harm.

    One thing I can do is share what it has meant, being a twin, with others, in hopes that in someway it can benefit some other boy or girl, man or woman. While I will forever be a twin yet I can always strive to be something… different and unique.

    PS on the allowing twins to be chosen by friends (where things may become lopsided) I totally understand your thinking. I also think, as a twin, that’s an incomplete way of dealing with the situation. Parents (and I do understand the difficulties in advising this) need to really force themselves to understand each child’s personality. ‘Normal’ childhood social activities may be a poor choice for one child.

    If your child were autistic would it be OK to always put that child in normal childhood social scenarios? No, you need to consider the child’s problems and adjust accordingly.

    Twins aren’t autistic, but they’re very different from single birth children. You as single birth parent may be incapable of understanding this and dealing with it completely. In such situations seek professional help, but many professionals who are likewise not twins may also misdiagnose or treat such a child.

    When all else fails seek an adult who is a twin with a similar background. They’re unlikely to be a medical professional but they may be able to share insights others won’t have.

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