If you’ve been blessed with two babies on one day you best buckle up because, in addition to double the joy, twin parents face all kinds of child-rearing challenges (from breast-feeding conundrums to birthday-party-planning snafus) that the rest of us just don’t understand. That’s why we asked child psychologist Joan A. Friedman—a mom of twins and twin herself—for her professional and personal perspective. Here’s what she wants all parents of twins to understand.
1. They need separate alone time with their parents
Twins are besties, soulmates…right? After all, they shared a womb. Well, the expert tells us this common stereotype is actually quite problematic in that it creates an entire thought process that “interferes with the parents’ understanding that the most important bond is the parent-child bond.” After all, no matter how loving and wonderful the twin bond is, Dr. Friedman says it’s important to remember that it’s not a developmental one: “Twins cannot be surrogate parents for one another. They need an adult in their life who’s helping them develop emotionally.”
This might seem like common sense, but Dr. Friedman says that the twin dynamic and societal trappings that accompany it often cause parents to lose sight of the fact that it’s extremely important to bond with each child individually. In other words, it’s a natural phenomenon for twins to be treated like a packaged deal, but the onus is on parents to counteract this by carving out special one-on-one time. In fact, Dr. Friedman says this is the single most important thing that parents of twins can do, such that their kids don’t become “excessively involved and enmeshed with each other…[while] the parents feel left out.” (She even recommends investing in a single stroller, so the child doesn’t continue to receive unwanted twin attention when spending special solo time with Mom or Dad.)
2. They may not benefit from matchy matchy names (or outfits)
Your twins are adorable together, so it might seem extra adorable to dress them alike or give them rhyming monikers. Dr. Friedman says you should probably slow your roll, though. She’s not an advocate for dressing twins alike, and definitely doesn’t think it’s good to give them rhyming or alliterative names, since it continues to feed into society’s stereotype of twins as a unit, without distinct personality, and can even fetishize the duo as Mama’s little plaything. (Dr. Joan Friedman has a twin sister named Jan, so she speaks from both professional and personal experience.)
But what if Brandon and Brenda’s birth certificates have already been issued? Fear not. Again, what matters most is nurturing each child’s individuality. That said, it’s never too late to ditch the matching outfits which, let’s be honest, didn’t help your mother-in-law tell the kids apart anyway.
3. They need to be celebrated individually on their birthday
If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re on the right track. Twins are too often viewed as a two-fer and the message often comes across by way of small gestures that have a big impact. For example, Dr. Friedman says that it doesn’t occur to most parents to sing the happy birthday song twice, but on your kids’ big day, this seemingly minor oversight can really sting: “You have to sing it twice because there’s two different people having a birthday on the same day.” And while we’re on the topic of birthday parties, Friedman also wants parents to know that it’s best not to get twins the exact same gift. The reason is as simple as it is hard to miss—namely that one kid will open the present faster and spoil the joyful surprise for the other.
4. They need to be taught how not to share
Parents put a great deal of effort into teaching their children how to share—and for good reason, since most kids start off as egomaniacs who would sooner die than give their brother a turn with the iPad. However, the same rules don’t apply to twins—primarily because their lesson in sharing started in utero and really never stopped. As such, ownership is a more important concept to teach them, which is why Dr. Friedman recommends that each twin have several toys that are just for them and don’t need to be shared. (You know, so at least there’s something sacred.)
5. They benefit from being separated at school, but only if you’ve laid the groundwork
One particularly significant challenge crops up when it comes time to enroll in school. Should they share a classroom or is it OK, maybe even desirable, to separate them? This one’s a little tricky. Per Dr. Friedman, separating twins at school is a wise choice because it allows both children to pursue independent friendships and learn how to socialize without the “security blanket” of their twin. Indeed, some twins who don’t separate well in the preschool days can experience “delays in their social and emotional development.”
Don’t rush to break up the pair, though. Dr. Friedman emphasizes that twins cannot and should not be split up until they feel comfortable being separate, because it can constitute an emotional trauma for one or both when done prematurely. So what’s the solution? Basically, to start some of the above measures to gently separate them in the years leading up to their first solo classroom experience.