Encouraging individuality in twins

Many parents of new multiples wonder how their children will be able to develop individual identities when their early experiences and environment are so similar, especially if they look alike. Most parents have seen media accounts of adult twins who still live together and dress alike, who seem never to have become separate people with separate lives. These parents wonder what they can do to prevent this from happening to their children.

When parents call the twinline with concerns about individuality, we assure them that individuation is not something that parents do to twins. Twins, triplets or more are individuals already, by virtue of the fact that they have physically separate bodies and brains. Families can either enhance or obscure their multiple-birth children's individuality, but they need not create it. That has been taken care of already. (Incidentally, parents report that fingernail polish on one twin's big toe helps them tell their babies apart.)

Parents sometimes tell us they feel guilty that in the chaotic and exhausting early months, they are unable to give each baby much individual attention. Again, we reassure them that every time they change a diaper, feed or talk to the babies, they are giving "individual attention." Each child experiences these simple acts with his or her own sensory equipment, storing them away in each one's personal memory bank as feedback from the external world.

For the first year or so, then, it is not necessary to be concerned about providing separate experiences or otherwise promoting "individuation" for twins. Parents have their hands full just attending to the physical care of their babies. But what about the period between 18 months and three years when children are forming concepts of their individual identity, and beginning the two-decade process of separating from their parents? Is there anything parents can do during this stage to increase their twins' ability to establish individuality and develop separate lives as adults? YES!

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