“Congratulations, I’m having twins! Let’s go shopping and find two of everything for these two babies. They should have the same things!”
I can still recall this initial thought when I discovered I was having my boy/girl twins. Buying two of the exact same things is usually the first idea that comes to mind for most parents when finding out that they are expecting multiples.
Although, I always wanted my twins to have their own identity, I could not help, but to put them on matching sets during the holidays or give them similar names.
For some parents, when they have multiple babies that are born within minutes of each other, it’s sometimes difficult to treat them differently instead of individuals with their own uniqueness.
Most parents start off treating their twins similarly before they are even born by naming their twins similar names, buying matching clothing or even encouraging their twins at some point to have the same interest in certain activities. But they are separate individuals!
They each have their own habits, their own strengths, their own talents and their own personalities. So, how do you treat twins as individuals and how do you make sure people on the outside respect their differences?
A local psychologist, Zenobia Kindle-Davis, LMSW of Lenora’s Light in Warren, says there are many reasons twins tend to be treated similarly.
Why it’s important
“Many people assume that twins have the exact same interests and personalities, others sometimes have trouble honoring their differences or uniqueness,” she explains. “Many people do this, and few consider that this may not be healthy for the twins overall, but especially when it comes to their development and relationships.”
Kindle-Davis says, many parents, especially during this COVID pandemic are strained, so their multiples are treated the same.
“They are often working with limited resources and time, so treating twins, similarly is often times easier and automatic. This is not something to necessarily judge or shame, it’s more so something to be aware of and adjust,” she says. “Twins have a special bond oftentimes and those on the outside may also be afraid of being excluded or coming off as disrespectful, so seeing them as a ‘unit’ in some cases seem safer.”
Research from Psychology Today in 2011 explains that twins should not be compared — instead, parents should treat them as individuals.
“Parents, family members, and friends often fall into the trap of calling them “the twins,” “the boys,” or “the girls,” Cathy Cress stated in this study. “While this may seem natural, it can leave twins feeling very unappreciated as individuals.”
Twins need to be able to have their own identities starting around 4-years-old, Kindle adds.
“Sometimes as a society, we can be extreme or binary-focused where on one end we can’t treat twins the same or assume they have similar interests, then on the other end of the spectrum, twins are expected to be opposites,” she explains. “However, considering twins often do not have the privilege of not having to share things like those born from one single birth, it is important to celebrate their unique interests and allow them separate parent bonding time when appropriate.”
How to treat twins as individuals
As children develop, their personalities and interests become clearer, this is no different for twins.
Allowing them to explore and embrace their own identities helps them have a sense-of-self outside of their twinship, which on one end can actually make life easier for parents or guardians and on the other end, sets the twins up for success as they reach high school and head towards their adult years.
“The more they understand themselves as individuals while celebrating their unique twin bonds, the less they will compete or sacrifice joy and goals or dreams to protect the other twin from feeling left out,” Kindle says.
Cress explained, “Comparisons of children-like who got the first tooth, which walked first, who is the bigger baby, don’t support twins’ individual natures and can lead to future ‘I Hate You” stories.’”
According to Kindle, here are some tips on how to encourage twin’s individuality:
- Attempt to decrease or refrain from having one constantly speak for both of them.
- Attempt to (while it will be hard at times) create separate bonding times with them.
- Encourage (not force) them to have space to themselves at times.
- Try not to compare (this applies to all sibling relationships however, often times siblings are compared in general)
- Ask them in what ways they want to be treated similarly or differently.
- Encourage expression and open communication.
- Attempt to build a balanced relationship with them individually and as a twinship, instead of attempting to break through the relationship (this may be hard for some as jealousy is taboo but a very natural emotion).
Darlene A. White is a metro Detroit mom to one set of twins.
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