TWINS – Behavioural Genetics

TWINS – Behavioural Genetics

Featured - August 8, 2015


Watching a video of twins clinging to and stroking each other as they were washed after birth re-enforced for me that twins have a bond like no other. Whether they are identical or not, twins have shared their environment for nine months and are used to having each other around. But does this mean that we should treat them identically? In my opinion the answer is a resound no, but there is no formula that fits all.

As a Pre-Primary Principal for many years, I have known numerous sets of twins and a couple of sets of triplets. Each needed as much individual management as do single children. They need to develop their own personality and to have their specific needs met.

Twins are very hard work for parents when they are tiny as they are unlikely to wake, feed or cry for attention at the same time. Don’t be afraid to let one twin cry a little, they seldom wake each other up and you cannot keep rushing to prevent this or you will exhaust yourself. Things get easier as they begin to sit up and take notice of the world around them as they have each other for company and entertainment. Toddlers are always a handful but if sensible boundaries are in place from the start, ‘twin chaos’ is unlikely to happen. Supernanny techniques work just as well with twins. Establish a good bedtime routine as early as possible and attend to one child at a time so each gets your attention and affection.

Get out with your twins so they meet others and you all have a break from home. If they are walking, use reins or a leash to prevent them wandering in different directions while you shop, or take one child at a time if you have a nanny or partner to leave one with. This also has the advantage of giving each child more individual time.

I think it wise to dress identical twins differently, or at least buy the same clothes in different colours. If you do this from birth there will not be a problem when a teacher requests different clothing/hair styles to tell them apart. I have known this request to cause panic in the children and the Mom! It will also help relatives, friends and their peers to treat them as individuals, not clones. Once they are in school uniform they will simply look like the rest of their peers. When old enough, let them choose their own clothes, from a selection you have made if necessary, and decide what to wear each day. Give them their own cots, beds, and plates etc. to demonstrate their individuality.

Twins and triplets attract attention from others but in my experience what they really crave is individual attention. Parents should try, from the beginning, to identify their differences and encourage them to grow up with their own personalities. From two years old, let them mix with others on their own, not just as a pair, so they can make their own friends. If they have to constantly rely on their twin, they will find it difficult to separate. There is usually one twin who is more dominant than the other. If left to their own devices socially and emotionally, it can lead to one dominant and one submissive twin and situation is unhealthy for both.

Twin language

About 40 to 50% of twins communicate with each other in a ‘language’ that outsiders do not understand. This could be because they have had insufficient adult language modelling. Ensure that you talk to your twins about everything and everything from birth. If they persist with their own language, be aware that it could be because of phonological delay. If they are unintelligible to adults by 24 months, be sure to seek the advice of a speech therapist. Twins and multiples do present with more language difficulties than single children. If your twins are less verbal, compared to others, seek help. Early remediation with speech difficulties is important.

The good twin and the naughty twin.

In order to get the attention, children resort to different types of behaviour. This is their ‘language’ and we need to interpret what they are trying to say to us. Usually it is a cry for attention, even if it’s negative attention. The ‘good’ child is also trying to get your attention. Try not to react immediately to the child who is behaving badly as this reinforces the action. First compliment the child who is behaving well and then deal with the troublemaker. Spend some quality time with each child individually, doing something of their choice. If possible, let dad take one child and mom the other and then swap next time. Childhood is a time to build memories and nothing does this as well as special time spent with a parent. If their interests are different, read them different stories and buy them different toys and take them on different outings.

To separate or not to separate at school.

Starting ‘Big School’ is the same for twins as for other children, a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Your twins should have visited their school, know where the classrooms and bathrooms are and who their teacher is. If you intend to separate them for the first time, they should be accustomed to doing other things apart, such as play dates and outings.

Separation depends on many factors, not just the children. If you have a choice of school, try and select one with more than two classes per grade as this will give you more opportunities. For Playgroup and Grade 000/00/R the children will probably feel more secure if they are in one class but not if one twin is dominant or the other will not have the opportunities to develop. I worked with one set of three year old twins whom we separated after a month because the submissive child was not allowed by the other one to do anything on his own. Within a very short time this little man just blossomed and his dominant brother seemed greatly relaxed without the need to manage his sibling the whole day. For Grade 00/00/R, ask the advice of the teachers who already know the twins well and then in Grade 0/R separate them so that their individuality and talents can blossom. As their parent you will obviously discuss this with the teachers and Principal and together will choose the teacher who suits each child. If the opportunity to discuss the needs of your twins is not given, research the options and give your request in writing.

As the children move up the school, having them in different classes may cause you more headaches but it’s a small price to pay in order to have your twins educated as individuals and not constantly compared or referred to as ‘the twins’. Teachers make different demands about homework, projects etc. so you may have two different lots of homework to cope with. Please allow your children to choose the extra-murals that interest them.

There are situations where separating the children may not be wise. If there are extenuating circumstances at home such as severe parental illness, divorce or death, twins may function better by being together. If one teacher is known to be much better than another, opt for the good one for both children.

Once the taxing early years are over you can bask in the blessing of twins. After all, you’ve raised two children in the time it usually takes to raise one and may not need to repeat the process.