As parents of multiples, we’ve all been programmed to believe that our twins, triplets and quads should be best buddies and soul mates. And many are. So it can be very disturbing to watch our multiples go at it with each other. But fight they do and often. But why? The short answer? They’re siblings. All siblings fight. Period.
For twins, the fighting usually begins in toddlerhood with toy wars. Unable to effectively communicate with words (“May I please have a turn with your new Little People toy?”), twins instead freely grab what they want when the mood strikes and it’s usually from the hands of their cotwins. I’m sure you’ve seen the results to this strategy. Face clawing, hair pulling, hitting, biting, crying.
Yet it’s completely normal and actually healthy as it’s the beginning of their understanding of how to negotiate with one another. Although twins incorporate sharing into their lives sooner and more often than single-born children, it’s not instinctual. They have to learn the art just like every other kid on the block. But many toddler twins are simply not emotionally ready to share at such an early age. Thus the screaming, crying and hitting. Furthermore, experts say that intratwin fighting is merely a tool that each child uses in forming his or her own identity.
Rest assured this is just a phase and it will pass. I promise. In the meantime, try these proven techniques.
- Separate the offender. Remove the hitter, bitter, scratcher from the area of play with a short (about two minutes) time out and stern warning, “You may not hit.” Then offer comfort to the injured party.
- Try distraction techniques. If you see a skirmish about to explode into full-on warfare, step in quickly. “Hey, who wants to go to the park?” Or, “I think we have popsicles in the freezer. Who wants to go check?”
- Recognize the good behavior. On those rare occasions that your multiples do lovingly share with each other, make sure you notice and enthusiastically praise them for it (“I like how you shared your new Little People toy with your brother!”).
By preschool and early school years, however, the toy wars happen less often. Many twins by now have developed a close bond—they may share a classroom, many of the same interests and often friends—but that doesn’t mean that they won’t fight. It just takes on a different form, usually verbal bickering and tattling.
At this stage in their development, twins begin to reach out to friends beyond the twinship. Yet if one twin is reluctant to leave the comfort of their little twosome, it can cause friction between the pair.
Another culprit? Constant twin comparisons. You know what I’m talking about: “Who’s taller?” “Who’s the smarter twin?” and, of course, “Who’s the bad twin?” When twins are exposed to comparisons on a regular basis, it can lead to sibling rivalry as each tries to one-up his cotwin in an effort to become the “better” compared twin.
Furthermore, many school-age twins simply spend too much time together. Yes, they love each other. Yes, they are friends. But even best friends need time apart so that they can experience life on their own. Every twin deserves to have a solo adventure, a unique personal journey that doesn’t have to be shared with a cotwin. Twins who have spent their entire lives together may not realize that their bickering comes from too much familiarity with their cotwins. It’s a parent’s job, therefore, to put some space between their twins even if the twins resist at first.
Although this phase shall pass too, there are a few ideas to help calm the waters.
- Consider classroom separation. Twins tend to spend 24/7 with one another. Separate classrooms allows each twin a bit of breathing room. At the very least, separate classrooms eliminates some of the tattling. And when twins come together at the end of the day, they have lots to share and talk about with one another.
- Don’t insist on constant twin togetherness. For instance, if one twin gets invited to a birthday party or play date, resist the urge to pick up the phone and ask if his cotwin can tag along. Preschool is the time when twins will start getting separate invitations. Use that time to take the uninvited twin out for a little mommy-and-me alone time.
- Allow each twin to pursue a separate interest. It’s so much easier to shuffle both kids to the same lessons and after-school sports but if one shows an interest in soccer while the other would prefer to take tennis lessons, make the extra effort to encourage their different endeavors.
- Resist the urge to compare your twins. A no-brainer.
So what about your twins? What do they fight about and how do you handle it?