Dear Dr. Justin,
I have three children, two of whom are twins. I came across an essay one wrote saying how he hates being a twin as people don’t see him as an individual. He feels his older sibling gets all the parental love and attention, whereas he has to share with his twin. We try to treat them all equally but I was really worried when I read this.
So, there isn’t perfect fairness and equality in your home. That’s OK! It is not our job as parents to make sure that everything is always fair, though we may want to. Instead, it is our job to make sure each of our kids feels unique and loved and special.
Unique challenges with twins
Experts in the study of twins argue that one of the greatest desires of twins is to be treated as an individual. This is something all kids need, but it seems particularly salient when a sibling is a twin. Twin parents can sometimes struggle to understand that twins have individual needs. It is easy to assume that because one twin has a need, the other does as well. For example, if one twin is hungry, it is second nature to make a snack for the other too. Though this is understandable, as your twins get older, this may make one feel that he is part of a package rather than an individual. Even though there might be different factors at play when raising twins versus raising single siblings, the goal remains the same – to make sure each of our kids feels unique and loved. So, here’s how we can do that!
Schedule one-on-one time
The parent child-relationship is the most important relationship in our children’s lives, whether a twin or not. Even though it may not always seem that way, our kids need us! Organise one-on-one time with each of your children to just chat (make sure to listen to!). Or do something fun! It really doesn’t matter as long as you are together. Make sure that it is an appointment that you keep. Children feel special when they see that their time is just as important to you as all your other appointments.
Ensure he has personal space
All kids, but especially twins, need space just for themselves. Even if your kids share a bedroom or a play area, you can help them find a way to keep their special and important things separate. Remind each of your children to respect their siblings’ personal space as well.
Help him find his unique strengths
It isn’t our job to make sure everything is fair, but it is our job to find each of our children opportunities to find their spark. This is the thing that lights them up inside, and gives them joy and feelings of excellence, competency and individuality. Whether they’re monozygotic (genetically identical) or dizygotic (fraternal – so their genes are as similar as non-twin siblings) there will be certain things that light them up, bring them vitality and life, and build their potential for excellence. Helping them identify their individual strengths (and encouraging non-competing interests, like on playing guitar and one playing piano) can be so vital to their wellbeing.
Be genuinely interested
You are probably not as excited about Fortnite (bigger kids) or Beanie Boos (littler kids) as your child is, but loving the things your kids’ love is an awesome way to show them how important they are. Listen with interest as they describe their newest creation, and help them foster their hobby. When they were three or four you got down at their level and played. Keep doing that, even if you’re struggling to be interested. Sharing their interests helps them feel supported, loved and important.
Encourage them to be themselves
The search for identity is a crucial developmental stage that must be achieved in order to grow to be a functioning adult. Twins, at some point, must go from being “we” to being “I”. Support your child as he tries on identities, hobbies, habits, and ways of being. As he grapples with who he is – and his relationship to others including his twin – and figures it out through trial and error, he’ll become stronger. There’s tension between our society’s pull towards independence and autonomy, and a twin’s innate sense of relatedness and interdependence. These ideas can help you find balance, and guide your twins to love each other but be themselves.