by Dara Lovitz

I spent about 24 months interviewing adult twins because I wanted to learn what they liked and didn’t like about growing up as a twin. Why? Because I’m a mom of young twins and I wasn’t confident that I was doing it right! It seemed like it would be hard to always have a peer against whom you are constantly compared – by friends, by parents, by teachers. And I wondered how my kids’ twinship would affect the way they navigated the difficult challenges life presents them.

The interviews taught me so much about the kind of emotional support our twin children need. Today I’m sharing the top 5 pieces of advice that I learned and now try to follow. Although I wrote this advice specifically for parents of twins, you can easily apply it to any sibling relationship!

Don’t force them to share

Of course sharing is an important skill that young children must develop in order to succeed socially. That being said, each of your twin children should have things that are hers and hers alone–things over which she can rightfully assert jurisdiction. Having one’s own things is essential to helping a child develop her sense of self, which is particularly critical for a child who is a twin.

They are individuals; treat them as such

A common complaint among the twins I interviewed was that the world treated them each as one half of a set. Their parents would assume they’d like the same foods, clothes, and family night movies. But they didn’t always share the same preferences or skill sets and they wanted their parents to recognize and value them for the very unique individuals that they are.

Spend one on one time with them

In order to really discover each child, you will need alone time with him during which he can feel comfortable to confide in you, without commentary or judgment from another family member. Engaging in separate activities with each child will further help bond you to each child as well as help the child feel special and unique.

Many adult twins will tell you that they cannot recall ever having sat down for one meal with a parent without their twin sibling present! Take your twin child to his favorite restaurant alone, just the two of you. You’ll be amazed at how happy this will make him–and you’ll be amazed at how much he’ll open up and share.

Looking for more gentle parenting advice? Listen to our podcast with Michelle Kenney Carlson about Hand in Hand Parenting.

Don’t compare them to each other

How can you tell if your twin child is developing appropriately? Easy! Compare her to her twin sibling. Not so fast: twin interviewees told me that comparisons made them feel angry or resentful toward not only the one who compared them, but also toward their co-twin, to whom they were being compared.

Relieve the care-taking burden

Many twins feel personally responsible for the actions of their co-twins. As kids, a twin might feel guilty when his co-twin breaks an important rule. Parents may often reinforce this by blaming both children for the actions of one. And as adults, twins often feel the need to take care of each other. Of course there’s nothing wrong with two siblings caring for each other; however the line into unhealthy behavior is crossed when the care-taking burden is not reciprocal. Some of the twin interviewees mentioned that their relationship has become imbalanced. It’s always the same twin in the caretaker role for the more needy twin, building animosity and ill-will.

Raising Emotionally Healthy Twins

The above tips really are just subsets of this one larger and more general piece of advice for raising emotionally healthy twins: put yourself in your twin child’s shoes and see the world from her perspective. I promise the world looks different from the eyes of a twin. And recognizing this will help you carefully guide your children in their emotional growth.

Dara Lovitz Raising Emotionally Healthy Twins Dara Lovitz, of the Philadelphia area, is the mother of 6-year old twins and author of the parenting book, Twinsight: A Guide to Raising Emotionally Healthy Twins  with Advice from the Experts (Academics) and the REAL Experts (Twins), as well as the children’s book, Catching Falling Cradles: A Gentle Approach to Classic Rhymes. She works at a legal nonprofit organization and teaches as an Adjunct Professor at Temple University Beasley School of Law.