Twins Develop Differently Than Single Children

Parents of multiples often call me in a state of panic or confusion. “My twins are so different from the other children at school and in the neighborhood. They rely on one another so intently. And then they fight like cats and dogs. What is wrong with my twins? What am I doing wrong?”
I am not surprised by concerned phone calls, which seem normal and understandable. I always say calmly, “Twins do develop differently than single children.” Then I hear, “Why are you the only one who gets this? The pediatrician and teachers are very concerned with their dramatics and intense relationship to one another. But I am concerned about how angry they can be with each other.”

Here is what I have learned because I am a twin and a psychologist and author of three books on twins. Because I wanted to know if my relationship with my twin was normal for other twins, I did research and consulted with twins for more than thirty years.

Twins do develop differently because they share a deep and primary attachment. Often young twins can feel inseparable. Alongside closeness, twins and triplets also have to share their parents’ attention. Vying for attention from mom and dad creates competition and intensifies their fighting. So, as much as twins love, need, and rely on one another, they are equally vulnerable to feeling “less than” the other twin and angry that they are not the favored child.  

Twins and triplets are born married and share a special way of communicating both verbally and nonverbally. Multiples get comfort and a sense of stability from being together. Twins understand each other without words and think that other people will be able to understand them as their twin does. The comfort twins receive from each other makes them rely on one another and causes them to suffer from intense separation anxiety at different times in their lives. Forming relationships that are nontwin-like can be very difficult for twins of all ages.

Fighting between twins can be very exasperating for the twins, parents, teachers, babysitters, nannies, and relatives who have to live through these explosions. Trying to understand what the fighting is about and helping settle disputes as fairly as possible is seriously important. Twins need to learn to disagree and get over their disappointment with each other. When too much fighting goes on between twins in adulthood, there is an erosion of their bond.

Parents can help by:
1.  Seeing each child as unique and developing a special relationship with each child, which might include special interests, games, stories, and trips to visit friends or relatives.
2.  Give each child their own space in your home. If you can’t give them their own bedrooms then make clear what spaces are not for sharing.
3.  Give your children separate clothes and toys that belong to only one of them.
4.  Make rules about sharing and stick with these rules.
5.  Pay attention to each child separately so they do not feel as competitive with each other. While this may seem like it is impossible to do, the extra effort will reduce fighting among the pair.
6.  Learn each child’s strength and limits and work on these separately but with the same conviction.
While twins rely on one another naturally, still be aware of too much sharing and caring. Too much closeness limits their interests in socializing with other children.
7.  Don’t worry that your twins are developing differently than other children―because they are―and that is normal and OK.     

Teachers can help by:
1.  Seeing each child as an individual in their own right.
2.  Avoiding comparing the twins in any way.
3.  Valuing each child’s unique learning styles.
4.  Trying to understand why the children may be fighting.
5.  Encouraging separate social experiences at school and after school.
Remember to be patient with twins when they are upset because they are used to instant understanding and take misunderstandings more seriously than nontwins.