At times, parents of twins get so caught up in the twin relationship that they unknowingly lose sight of their bigger parenting responsibility. A few months ago a couple sought my advice about how to minimize the fighting and competitive behavior between their four-year-old fraternal twin boys. Mother explained that most of the family members were “afraid “of the feisty twin’s outbursts and tantrums. She told me that she often cautioned her other son to avoid his brother. Father added that he felt compelled to buy two of everything because his more aggressive son would snatch a different toy away from his brother. Mother chimed in to emphasize that this boy grabbed everything away from his brother under any circumstances – even if there were two of the same thing.

As is often the case, mother and father had different parenting styles. Father tried to avoid the confrontations and felt that the environment should be altered to minimize temptations. For instance, when his son attempted to pull down the curtains, father suggested replacing them with blinds. Mother, on the other hand, was more capable of being a disciplinarian even though it was not easy for her. Nonetheless, she worried that too many limits and punishments would crush her son’s lively spirit and damage his self-esteem.

As we know, there is no blueprint for parenting. Our own life histories and experiences will very much influence how we discipline our children. Frequently parents have difficulty understanding how consistent limits and expectations create a securely attached child. They feel as if they are being mean, bad, and unloving when they have to say no, mete out punishments, and deny or delay gratification. Parents worry that their children will stop loving them. Yet, once parents see the positive results of their limit setting, they begin to appreciate their child’s capacity to stay in control and be calm. Children want parental approval more than anything in the world – they need to be admired, loved, and cherished. As we all know, when our children are behaving in an unreasonable fashion, we certainly do lose touch with our more positive feelings. This applies to our partners, as well!

It is a daunting task to discipline two different children at the same time. The twins’ divergent temperaments and our particular bonds with each child make it even more challenging to feel secure about punishing one child and not the other. Having to deal with cries and protests that things are unfair, parents of twins may feel more inclined to give into demands just to keep the peace for a while.
Some parents feel that it becomes a bit easier to discipline their children as they develop more cognitive skills. Nonetheless, it is vital to remember that parents who maintain control and enforce limits make their children feel safe and protected. If you feel that your twins have too much power, it is important to sit down with your partner and reorganize your strategies. Once you are “back in the saddle,” so to speak, your child will feel safer and more socially equipped to direct his spirited energy toward more creative endeavors.

Dr. Joan A. Friedman is a prominent and well-respected twin expert who shares her passionate views and insights about twins and their emotional needs with twins and their families throughout the world. The fact that she is an identical twin and the mother of five, including fraternal twin sons, makes her ideally suited to this task. Her commitment to twin research and her treatment of twins of all ages demonstrate the breadth and depth of her skills and experience. She conducts ongoing groups for parents of twins and provides consultation on twin related matters such as school placements, developmental discrepancies, and behavioral issues.