Twins pose a particularly difficult challenge in several ways:
- Twins often move in opposite directions at once, both physically and emotionally.
- Twins may develop at different rates.
- Twins must accomplish a double separation process: they must separate from parents as well as from each other in order to create their own identities.
- The twin relationship often leads to many confrontations which require limits set on aggression, often at a much earlier age (8- 12 months) than with a single child-before the twins have reached the cognitive and linguistic level needed in order to understand rules about not hurting others.
- Once the twins have reached the age of "the quest for justice" (over four years old), limits set in response to each twin's needs, as opposed to a group rule, often lead to complaints and struggles about "fairness." Since children's concepts of justice and fairness are simplistic, parents often must agree that something is not "fair" (that is, you are not treating the twins exactly equally), but it is right.
Limit setting ought to be done in a manner that is accepting, age appropriate, consistent and firm.
- "Accepting" means recognizing that it is inherent in the development of a toddler that she try to master leaping from the top of the dresser, while not allowing her to do it. It also means realizing that she may throw a tantrum when you take her down from the dresser. It is very hard for parents to maintain the distinction between accepting that a certain behavior is natural or common and allowing it to go on.
- Age-appropriate limit setting means knowing what "fits the age" in terms of behavior, cognitive ability and language. Thus, a 16-month-old twin knows the meaning of the word "no," but does not have the self control to stop himself from trying to pull the lamp down over his head. The situation is just too enticing, the impulse to pull too strong to resist.
- Finally, limit setting must be consistent and firm: all adults in the family must agree to the same "rules" and stick to them, with gradual modifications as children mature.
Taming Temper Tantrums
Temper tantrums, starting at around 18 months, are toddlers' most common response to frustrations and limit setting. It is important to realize that tantrums are an integral part of the process of developing independence while remaining within the rules set by the parents. Tantrums should be handled by helping the child to verbalize the anger ("I know you are angry because mommy took away the scissors, but you cannot have them because it is not safe") and staying with the child, helping her to calm down by talking and holding. Keep her and others safe- hold her if necessary and don't let her throw objects, or bang her head on the floor. Later on, after the storm, teach the words she needs to express her feelings such as "mad", "angry", "sad", "upset."
Finally, don't give in! Don't change the rule or let her have something you took away just to stop the tantrum. Distractions and humor (acting silly) can often shorten the duration of a tantrum.