Encouraging Individuality in Twins and Multiples

Ten Tips to Ensure Your Twins Have "Twindividuality"

twin girls with balloons
Encouraging individuality in twins. TonyAnderson / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Parenting is challenging enough, but when you're a parent of twins or multiples, the challenges multiply. In addition to meeting the day-to-day demands of same-age siblings, twin parents often feel pressured to instill a sense of individuality in each their children. They may be dissuaded from doing anything that elevates their multiples' unity -- such as naming them with similar names, dressing them alike or keeping them together in the same class once they start school.

It's my opinion that most multiples will create an individual identity for themselves as they grow up, whether their parents like it or not! We can't control our children's sense of self, but we can encourage it. And certainly we, as parents, want to do as much as we can to support them as individual children. With that goal in mind, here are some suggestions for cultivating a sense of individuality in each of your multiples.

Spend One-on-One Time with Each Twin

Without a doubt, children of all ages and stages love to have their parents' exclusive attention. When children within a family are of different ages, it seems easier to meet that need. Opportunities are built into the different routines of each child's life stage: eldest children have the spotlight until a younger sibling is born, but as they spend more time in school and activities, the younger children take the floor.

However, twins and multiples are forced to share their parents (and grandparents!) time and attention for much of their lives.

Parents have to craft opportunities for one-on-one time. It's time well spent, however, as an opportunity to get to know each multiple on an individual basis. (More tips on finding one-on-one time.)

Don't Refer to Twins as a "Unit"

Whenever possible, avoid labeling your children as "the twins" or "the triplets" As you recognize that they are individual children, so will they.

It's a challenge; it takes double -- or triple -- the effort to call out their names separately. Gently discourage others from referring to them as a single unit.

Reward and Punish Twins Individually

When I talk to adult twins about their childhood, I often hear a common theme of resentment when they remember being punished for a crime committed by their twin. As parents of multiples, we realize that it's just far too easy to mete out punishment on an all-for-one/one-for-all basis. But we have to remember that although they often act like a twin tag team of terror, it's vital to recognize and address each individual's role in their antics.

Help Twins Select Individual Activities

As my daughters have gotten older, I have strongly encouraged them to seek out individual activities and interests. One plays basketball and takes art lessons, while the other takes dance and does karate. It's not that I prevent them from participating in activities together; they both compete on the same swim team and are in the same Brownie troop. But I think it's vitally important for each multiple to pursue an interest that is unique to them. While it may make for some complicated carpool scheduling, the benefits are invaluable, offering them an opportunity to develop individual talents and explore new relationships.

Encourage Twins to Have Individual Friendships and Separate Playdates

Multiples are often each other's best friends, and that special relationship should be celebrated and cherished. But it shouldn't be an exclusive relationship. Encourage your children to develop their own friendships in a healthy way. Set up playdates for each one; we find it works well to schedule them concurrently -- one twin invites a friend to the house while the other visits a friend's house -- so that no one feels lonely or left out.

Here are five more parenting tips for fostering a healthy sense of self in your twins or other multiples.

Adjust Standards and  Expectations for Each Individual Child

Parents of multiples have to remember that their children are individuals. While we want to be consistent in the way we treat each child, it's important to avoid imposing an unfair double standard on twins. Even though they may look and act identically, they are different people, with different needs, strengths, and weaknesses.

It's not easy to maintain this attitude. Early on, when one of my babies learned to crawl several weeks before the other, I thought, "What's wrong with her? Why isn't she keeping up with her sister?" Years later, I still find myself imposing unfair comparisons between the two, and I constantly remind myself to keep my expectations in check with their individual needs and issues.

Point Out and Praise Unique Characteristics About Each Twin

It seems that people are infinitely curious about how twins are alike and different. Use that curiosity as an opportunity to point out and praise unique characteristics of each child, giving each child a chance to share the spotlight. By focusing on their good, but different, qualities you build their self-esteem about themselves beyond the context of their twinship.

Celebrate Individual Achievements

Last year, one of my twins won a writing contest at her elementary school.

While I was bursting with pride at her accomplishment, I was very concerned at how my other daughter would react to her sister's success. I felt strongly that we should celebrate the award, despite the possibility of jealousy and hurt feelings. It was a good lesson in how to manage competition between the girls.

We learned to validate each child's feelings about the situation, and when the time came, we celebrated the other's individual success with equal enthusiasm.

Preserve Individual Memories for Each Twin

Many adult twins report a regrettable lack of individual pictures of themselves, especially as infants. As a parent, I know how difficult it is to get one photo moment captured, much less separate shots of each child. It can be even more of a challenge to identify "who-is-who" once the pictures are developed. But everyone deserves their own set of baby pictures and their own baby book. Take the time to record each child's memories through photographs and writings.

Clearly Identify Posessions - His, Hers, Ours

Beginning with the womb, twins share so much in common. Parents can help strengthen a sense of individuality by making sure their children's possessions are clearly identified. Each multiple should have something to call their own, whether it is toys, books or clothes. This need increases as twins grow up, and parents can help by creating and enforcing rules that respect individual privacy and property.

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