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.
Like 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.