I have a good friend with boy/girl twins who are just 3 days younger than mine. when my children were less than a year old and still completely ignoring each other, hers were seeking each other out. Hers were the twins with the secret twin "language" that only they understood. In the middle of the night her son calls for his sister instead of mommy. There's a part of me that wished for my kids to be so close, to be so "twin-like". People ask me often if my twins like each other and I always reply, "yes, and they also fight like brother and sister". So many people forget that although twins are different from singleton siblings in many ways, they are, in fact, also just brothers or sisters (or brother and sister, as in our case). And what do brothers and sisters do much of the time? Fight.
Now, I'm an only child and it's been difficult for me to handle what many people tell me is "normal" sibling behavior. My husband is one of 7, so he has a much different take on things when our son teases his sister by constantly touching something she doesn't want him to touch or when our daughter won't let her brother play with her no matter how hard he tries. It is so hard for me to sit back and let them solve these issues on their own because for me, all I hear is one child being mean to the other. I know that constantly stepping in to facilitate their problem solving isn't helping them. But underneath it all is just a desire to help them like each other! There is a paragraph at the beginning of the excellent book "Siblings Without Rivalry" that says:
"Instead of worrying about my boys becoming friends," I explained, "I began to think about how to equip them with the attitudes and skills they'd need for all their caring relationships. There was so much for them to know, I didn't want them hung up all their lives on who was right and who was wrong. I wanted them to be able to move past that kind of thinking and learn how to really listen to each other, how to respect the differences between them, how to find the ways to resolve those differences. Even if their personalities were such that they could never be friends, at least they would have the power to make a friend and be a friend".
I realized, after reading this, how much pressure we put on ourselves when we try to "make" our children be best friends. Especially those of us with twins because everyone thinks that twins must just automatically love each other! I really like this concept of not forcing sibling friendship, but instead, teaching your child how to make and be a friend.
For those of us with multiple children (whether they are twins or singleton siblings) it is not surprising that you might end up with children who have vastly different interests and temperaments. Here are some tools and ideas to help bridge the gap:
- Avoid making comparisons. As Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish say in "Siblings Without Rivalry" "...Whatever you want to to tell this child can be said directly, without any reference to his brother. The key word is describe. Describe what you see. Or describe what you like. Or describe what you don't like. Or describe what needs to be done. The important thing is to stick with the issue of this one child's behavior. Nothing his brother is or isn't doing has anything to do with him."
- Allow your children to own their own toys. Not all toys should be shared. Children who are given permission to own something are much more able to share. If your children aren't growing up with a sense that there is "not enough" or that, because of forced sharing, their sibling is going to take away what little they have, they are less likely to be possessive and will want to include their sibling in playing together.
- Create "brag books" for each of your children. Make your children each a book about their sibling with pictures and stories about all the things the other is really good at. Include in your book constant reminders like "that is your brother who is such a good climber!" or "Your sister scored the winning goal in soccer class!" This reminds them that they can feel proud of their sibling. As an extra added bonus, try to get a few sentences from each child about what they really like about their sibling and include it in the quotes in the other's book. Just as we may not realize how someone else feels about us until they tell us, our children are the same.
- The Kindness Tree. When the kids were about two years old, we began an ongoing project in our house called "The Kindness Tree". I created a large tree out of construction paper that we hung in our dining room. Each time one of the kids does something kind towards the other, they get a leaf on one of the branches with the act of kindness, and the date, written on it. We periodically read the leaves and show it off to anyone who comes to our house. Once the branches are full of leaves, we do something special to celebrate their kindness towards each other -- usually a special outing. I have saved all of the leaves and plan to make scrapbooks out of them to give to each of the kids to remind them of all the little ways their sibling has been kind to them throughout the years.
- Spend alone time with each of them. I've written about this often (most extensively in this post) and believe that time apart actually allows siblings to build a stronger bond with each other. I'd get sick of even my most favorite person if they were with me 24/7! It's good to give them time away from each other, a chance to experience things without each other. Plus, in knowing that they get mom and dad all to themselves on occasion, your children are less likely to constantly compete for your attention. Oh, they'll probably still do it - but there will be less of a power struggle.
- Give your children shared experiences. As much as time apart is vital to having siblings get along, so are shared experiences. Make family rituals, outings and customs a priority and you give your children a bond over memories they have in common. Photos and scrapbooks of these events keep the memories fresh and children love nothing more than looking at pictures of themselves!
- Allow your children to express their feelings. This seems pretty obvious, but when a child says something like, "I hate my brother! He's so mean!", parents often respond by saying "You don't mean that!" Well, yes, he does mean it in that moment. And even if it's an exaggerated feeling, who wants their feelings negated? Let your children express their frustration about having brothers or sisters. Let them know you hear them and you get it. Sometimes it does suck to have a brother (or so I'm told).
Perhaps I am lucky. Because I have a son and a daughter, there is less competition to deal with. Boys and girls naturally gravitate toward different interests (usually). And my children's personalities don't seem to clash as of yet. But I am aware of my own deep desire for them to be "best friends" and that when they fight or are angry with each other I recognize how distressed I get. Again from "Siblings Without Rivalry":
"I realize how relaxed I am. I realize how little emotional investment I have in the moment-by-moment 'temperature' of their relationship. I know that the differences in interests and temperament that kept them from being close in childhood are still there. But I also know that over the years I had helped them build the bridges to span separate islands of their identities. If they ever need to reach each other, they have many ways of getting there."
As with so many things in life, one must remember that when something upsets you all you can change is your reaction to it. I am trying to just roll with the (figurative) punches and trust that I am giving my kids the tools they need to discover for themselves how lucky they are to have each other.
And how about you? What has your experience been with your children or your own siblings? Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!
Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach
Gina Osher is a former holistic healer turned SAHM to boy/girl twins, parenting coach and author of the popular blog, The Twin Coach. There she writes about everything from how Halloween candy clued her in to the meaning of life, to tips on what to do if you cant breastfeed your infants. One part friend who's been through it all. One part mom of twins trying to figure it out. One part mentor willing to share. Gina's work has appeared on blogs such as The Mother Company, Rookie Moms and A Child Grows. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter!
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