How to Foster Individuality in Twins
Fostering individuality in twins is important and allows children an opportunity to develop their own interests, show sides of their personalities that may be hidden when with a twin, and establish their own identities separate from a sibling.
But once given the chance to be with Mommy or Daddy alone, Jonah morphs from a boy who usually lets his sister bask in the spotlight, to a boy who engages me in wide ranging conversations, oftentimes dotted with lengthy monologues he’d never get away with if his loquacious sister was around. On her own, Abbey no longer feels the pressure to be as aggressive as she typically is with her brother. She’s much more reserved and quiet. She curls her fingers around my hand and practically purrs with contentment at being the sole focus of my love and attention without requiring her to do a thing.
After noticing these stark differences, Scott and I wondered aloud why we hadn’t thought of this sooner, why we hadn’t enrolled them in separate activities and taken them out individually on a regular basis. Well, the answer was obvious. As babies, the idea of taking them out into the world was daunting, never mind finding the time or energy to take them out one at a time. But once they hit toddlerhood, I think they would have benefited from time alone.
With a little bit of hindsight and a lot of advice from other parents of twins and other child developmental experts, we’ve adopted several different ways, in addition to spending time alone with our kids, to not only recognize Jonah and Abbey’s individuality, but to make it clear that Mommy and Daddy value them just as they are, not simply as a member of a team:
Time apart: This is the biggie. Try to build separate, alone time with each twin into your family schedule so you can get to know your twins as individual people. Whether it’s just an hour or so running to the grocery store or the post office, make time to venture out with just one kid. You’ll likely notice things you never would have had your attention been split in two, and the child won’t feel as though he or she has to work to get your undivided time.
Nix “the twins”: Sure, you’re well aware that they have two different names, that one son likes red and the other blue, that one favors “Blue’s Clues” and the other “Bob the Builder.” But to the outside world, they will simply be one multi-limbed unit if their parents refer to them as a unit. Whenever possible, try to use their names and refrain from invoking the phrase “the twins.”
Different clothes: This is a contentious area among parents of twins. Some parents love to dress their kids in either identical or similar clothing (same style, different color). That’s fine when they’re babies, but once your kids get a bit older, you might want to keep matching outfits to a minimum, especially if you’re trying to accentuate individuality over twinness. True, my kids get many matching clothes or the same style clothing, like sweatshirts in different colors, but that doesn’t mean that they have to wear the sweatshirts at the same time.
Birthday dilemma: This can get a bit tricky, particularly if you have twins who are identical or of the same gender and may share the same friends. You might not want to go through the hassle or cost of having two separate parties for each kid. When the children are young, you can get away with having one birthday party, as long as it’s clear that you’re celebrating a special day for two separate kids.
• For Jonah and Abbey’s first and second birthdays, we had one giant party for them and one big sheet cake. But for their third and fourth birthdays — when they were a bit more cognizant that they were separate beings — we made them their own birthday cakes whose themes they got to select on their own. At the parties, they each had their own set of candles to blow out. As they get older, I suspect that we’ll be doing a gradual split, like one party with two different themes and two cakes. And, when they finally make truly different friends, we’ll have different parties and different themes along with a mongo bottle of Tylenol for Mom’s tension headache.
Separate activities: Whenever possible, try to figure out what your children’s interests are, free from the influence of their twin. If one likes soccer and the other likes swimming, see if you can sign the two children up for separate classes. If one child has a flair for crafts and the other likes to read or visit the library, be sure to take the opportunities to stoke the children’s interests on an individual level. To force both kids to partake in an activity that one likes and the other doesn’t simply because it’s more convenient schedule-wise will likely make the one who isn’t so keen on the activity feel bored, resentful or even force them to suffer from inevitable comparisons of how the two children fare against one another.
It’s a lot of work, this promoting individuality thing, but in the end, it’s well worth it.
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