Angela and Amy are fraternal twin sisters. At their fourth birthday party, their mother bought festive birthday balloons inscribed with their names. As the colorful balloons floated merrily announcing “Happy Birthday Angela!” and “Happy Birthday Amy!” Amy cried hysterically in her aunt’s arms. Why? Her balloons had fewer letters than her sister’s balloons and that wasn’t fair! Or was it fair but not equal? Dr. Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin, author of “Twins 101: 50 Must-Have Tips for Pregnancy through Early Childhood from Doctor M.O.M.,” (and mother of twins herself!) shares essential tips for parenting multiples, including why you should aim for fairness, not equality.
Children often equate fairness with equality, and one of the most important lessons to teach our children (and remind ourselves) is that fairness and equality are not always synonymous.
Crucial Survival Tips
Like many other well-meaning novice parents of twins, I tried to do everything the same because I wanted to make sure that one child did not get preferential treatment. I was afraid that treating
one differently would produce one well-adjusted and one maladjusted child. To ensure that each baby had an equal chance at succeeding in life, I felt I had to make things perfectly equal.
Faith and Hope taught me very quickly that they were individuals with differences, even as babies. For example, Faith initially had more gastrointestinal problems and needed to be held more often,
while Hope was able to contently interact with me from her bouncy chair. If I forced equal arm time with Hope, Faith would cry and upset Hope, resulting in two crying babies.
The following month, their needs completely reversed. Through instances like these, I learned that I had to give up my strict adherence to everything being equal and instead embrace the joy of
doing what was right for each baby. It’s important to teach our twins this important difference as they mature.
By instructing them that fairness is not always the same as equality, they learn important lifelong lessons:
- It will encourage them to explore and rejoice in their individuality. “Mommy and Daddy don’t treat me exactly the same as my sister because I’m a unique and different person.”
- By showing them that treatment that is right for one person is not always right for another, we teach them perspective taking, empathy, and social tolerance. “Mommy has to hold Faith more
right now, because Faith is sick and I’m not.”
- Reward positive behavior. By learning that positive behaviors result in differential treatment, your twins are more likely to understand why negative behaviors are also to be treated
- Encourage individuality. Knowing that people are unique builds tolerance for differential treatment based on individual needs.
- Encourage sharing. Having a generous spirit will reduce their desire to have everything equal.
- Model fairness by catering to individual needs and not wants.
- Give your children choices. Learning that there are choices in life will build their understanding of why you may choose to treat each child differently.
- When disciplining a child, consider giving him or her two options. Since your child made the choice, he or she will be more likely to feel the treatment is fair.
- When your child says something is not fair, explain why you are treating your children differently. It may not immediately satisfy him or her — but over time, your children will grasp the
concept that there is a reason for your actions.
- When your twins become old enough, let them work out some of their conflicts over fairness on their own. It will teach them that positive actions and attitudes often result in preferential
positive treatment — fair but unequal treatment. “I get to play with Legos an extra fifteen minutes while Billy goes to bed because I did my homework quietly while Billy threw a tantrum over
The next time you feel that twinge of parental guilt because you think you aren’t treating your twins the same or you hear that oh-so-familiar outcry, “It’s not fair!”
remember that fairness and equality are not always synonymous—and they shouldn’t be. We are doing our children a lifelong favor by teaching them early how to differentiate between the
Excerpted from Twins 101: 50 Must-Have Tips for Pregnancy through Early Childhood from Doctor M.O.M., by Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin, MD, M.O.M. Copyright © 2009 by Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.