“Your twins are just siblings who share a birthday. Treat them as such.”
That was the information I received from a pediatrician early in my parenthood journey. And while that is certainly valid advice, I never really felt like it applied to my children. The truth is, my identical twins share a lot more than a birth date. While they don’t look the same, they do look very similar, especially to people who don’t know them well. While they are individuals, they do share many of the same interests and hobbies.
Unlike singleton siblings, they often want to be involved in the same activities and on the same sports teams. Not because they want to be with their twin, but because they just like the same things. Therefore, it becomes a little bit more difficult to foster my twins’ individuality. Some of the tried-and-true methods, like enrolling multiples in different activities, do not apply. I want to ensure that my twins realize that they are two unique individuals, while they also remain true to themselves. So, here are a few of the intentional steps I take to build their sense of self.
NOTICE POSITIVE DIFFERENCES, BUT DON’T COMPARE
It’s natural for people to look for the similarities when it comes to multiples. But all multiples have physical and personality differences, even if they are subtle. I make a habit of noticing the differences in my twins and encourage others to as well. I don’t dress my multiples alike, especially if I know they will be around new people, like at school or at a gathering with extended family. If my twins will be meeting new people, I encourage them to wear some sort of identifying marker, like a designated color. I also empower my twins to correct people when they are called by the wrong name. However, resist the urge to compare, as that can be detrimental. Model behavior that embraces the differences in your multiples, and others will follow suit.
CREATE INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES AND SPACES
Part of being an individual is having things that are just yours, or just for you. This can be difficult when it comes to multiples. They may share everything like clothes, toys, a bedroom, and even friends. So whenever possible, I try to provide two separate experiences even if it is within the same activity. Maybe you have one birthday party, but two cakes. Or they play the same sport, but in different positions. If they share a bedroom, make sure they each have their own area to decorate and express themselves however they see fit. Allowing all multiples to create their own experiences is important.
PRIORITIZE ONE-ON-ONE TIME
Separating my twins for one-on-one time is a struggle because they really love being together. But I know how important it is for all kids to get undivided attention. Taking just one child with you while running errands is great for everyone. They get some alone time and having just one with you feels like a vacation. I also try to find time with each child where they get to control the activity. Spending time with a child doing something that they really enjoy helps build confidence and self-esteem.
With a little bit of planning, you can embrace each child’s essence and foster the things that make them who they truly are. Have conversations early and often about differences in all types of people. Read developmentally appropriate books that reinforce this message. And seek out experiences that help your child learn more about themselves. Creating a culture of individuality with your multiples is possible no matter how similar your children may be.
by Ali Dunn, guest columnist
Ali is mother to identical twins born at 28 weeks’ gestation. She is the founder of Me Two Books and the author of four children’s books: I Was a Preemie Just Like You, I Needed the NICU Just Like You, One of Two, a Twin Story about Individuality, and The Career Explorer.