Kids fight over toys. Period. This pastime is in no way exclusively limited to twins. However, having two children of precisely the same age in the house can pose a challenge that might not be present with a six-year-old and a one-year-old running around.

When our boys were young and we hadn’t yet ascertained what kinds of toys each of them liked, we’d often find something we thought they’d both enjoy and buy them each one, perhaps in different colors. Or we’d buy one a puzzle with fish and the other one with farm animals. We rarely bought the exact same toy for both boys. My rationale was that in real-world situations, it would be highly unlikely for them to enter a classroom, for example, in which there were exactly sixteen red guitars with the Wiggles on them. I didn’t believe that it did anyone any good to create a world in which there was enough of any one thing to go around all of the time.

My friend Mollie, on the other hand, believed exactly the opposite. She believed that as long as each boy had his own toy, which was exactly the same as his brother’s, there would be no room for fighting.

To some degree, we were both wrong.

If you buy toys that are completely different, one kid always wants the one the other has. If you buy toys that are mostly alike, one kid always wants the one the other has. If you buy toys that are exactly alike, one kid always wants the one the other has. It never fails. In fact, one child can find a toy at the very bottom of a toy box that no one has cared about or played with for eight months, and suddenly, everyone in the house, including the much older sibling, is fighting over that toy.

Kids truly epitomize the theory that forbidden fruit tastes sweeter (a philosophy that adults can also subscribe to, illustrated by the fact that when I was pregnant with the boys, all I wanted was beer, and I despised beer?until the boys were two and it became a necessity). Even if two kids are holding a yellow Fisher-Price school bus, each is convinced that the other kid’s is better. If, out of frustration, you swap the exact same school buses for one another, you’ll roll your eyes endlessly as the crying ceases because your children are convinced, for the moment, that they’ve each got the “better” yellow Fisher-Price school bus. It’s absurd.

Mollie had one other strategy in addition to buying her boys the exact same toys in the exact same colors. She labeled everything. And I mean everything. All of Kevin’s toys had a “K” on them and all of Tommy’s had a “T.” She took this all the way down to puzzle pieces. If she bought the boys the same Elmo twenty-four-piece puzzle, each of Tommy’s twenty-four pieces had a “T” on the back of it. There was simply no debating whose toy (or puzzle piece) was whose because the owner’s letter was on it. While they didn’t learn what letter the symbols represented until much later, they learned what “their letter” looked like quite early on (before they were two, according to Mollie).

When Tommy and Kevin turned four, David and I gave them Elmo toys that are sort of like Mr. Potato Heads but instead of a potato, the main piece is an Elmo. Each one came with about twenty-five different appendages that could be stuck on to make Elmo look silly. As somewhat of a joke, I labeled each and every piece with a “K” or a “T.” But I was pretty well put in my place when, four minutes into playing with their new toys, there was an ownership dispute over the elephant trunk Kevin was holding. Kevin looked at it, saw a “T” and gave it to Tommy. Well, he sort of threw it at Tommy in disgust, but he knew it belonged to him and that there was no getting around it.

Barb and Tim took an approach somewhere between mine and Mollie’s. If the girls got any kind of a “big gift,” such as a keyboard or a large kitchen set, it was given to them as a joint gift and they just had to figure out how to share it. Early on, Olivia adopted the color purple and Kambria the color pink. If the girls were given, say, play telephones available in purple and/or pink, life was easy because Olivia wanted nothing to do with any color other than purple and Kambria felt the same way about pink. If the girls received generic gifts that were not available in purple or pink, Barb and Tim put their initials on them to make it clear to whom the toys belonged.

One school of thought dictates that this sort of irrational competition is indicative of twins trying to claim their own territory, to establish their own identities separate from one another. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I think all kids compete for toys, and that young kids especially want what they want when they want it, plain and simple. It doesn’t necessarily make any sense to the adults nearby or, most likely, to the kids either. It’s likely primal in origin and, therefore, probably best to work through however you can until they are old enough to handle it peacefully on their own (which, I apologize for informing you, does not appear to be a solidified skill even by the time kids turn four).

So, take any approach you’d like on this front. Buy two of everything (and label them—or not), buy the same toy in different “varieties,” or buy two completely different toys. In the end, kids have to learn to share, to ask for a turn, and to accept that sometimes their sibling (or another child) is going to say “No.” It’s frustrating, and it’s a fact of life.