Twins may look identical from the outside, but the same observation cannot be applied to their personalities.
WHEN we talk about twins, most of us will immediately think of two people who have the same physical features, dressing exactly alike, and finishing each other's sentences. Not only that, they would naturally have the same likes and dislikes and react similarly to each other across all situations. However, this assumption is rarely accurate.
If you are the parents of twins, be careful not to harbour this distorted perception as more often than not, twins may appear to look alike on the outside, but they long to have their own separate identity. As they are often seen by people as "a package", these expectations may result in a variety of difficulties while growing up.
For instance, they may often feel that they have less freedom in acting and making decisions on their own. This is made harder by the fact that they are constantly compared to each other, which will make them feel as though one twin is better than the other. Thus, it is important for parents to realise that their twins are two separate persons.
Aren't twins supposed to look and be alike?
There are generally two types of twins – fraternal and identical twins. Fraternal twins, also known as non-identical twins, are not alike, neither physically nor genetically. This is because fraternal twins occur when two separate eggs are fertilised by two different sperms, producing two different zygotes.
Identical twins on the other hand, occur when a single egg is fertilised by a single sperm divides and breaks into two genetically identical zygotes.
However, it is important to realise that just because twins share the same birthday, it does not mean that they have identical thoughts and feelings. As parents, you are encouraged to raise your twins as individuals at the earliest time possible. Bear in mind that your role is to enhance their personality and skills, not to create them.
Try to help your twins be more aware of themselves, as individuals, from a young age so that they can go through the various developmental processes to differentiate and develop the ability to optimally express themselves as individuals. Here are some tips to help encourage individuality in your twins.
Avoid comparisons. Firstly, for your twins to be raised as individuals, you need to avoid comparing them. Comparisons are a big no-no as nobody likes to be compared, including your twins. Just like other children, your twins may develop at their individual pace and time, each with their own talents. Show your support to your twins by honouring their differences. By doing so, your twins feel appreciated and will not be afraid to express themselves.
Don't conform. Just because other people may see your twins as carbon copies of each other, this does not mean that you should do that as well. "Stereotypical" twin parenting, such as dressing twins exactly alike, may seem cute at first, but the novelty may gradually wear out and disrupt your children's development. When you treat your twins as one and the same, they will naturally assume that they should act the same.
Thus, don't assume that your children will be similar. Offer them options so that they can learn to understand themselves through their choices.
No labels. When talking about them, refrain from referring to them as "the twins", "the girls" or "the boys" in your conversation. They would think you see them as one entity. Most twins get irritated when referred as such, especially by their parents.
Also, avoid labeling them, especially in public. There is no such thing as "the bad twin" or "the good twin". Labeling them as such could lead them to think that they are indeed the "good" or the "bad" twin, which restrains them from developing their own unique personality.
Find out their interests. As parents to your children, no one will be able to better understand your child than you. Use this to your advantage. Observe what each of your twins' likes and dislikes and encourage them to pursue activities that they enjoy.
If one of them likes to read, bring him to the bookstore more often and if the other twin is into sports, encourage him to practise more. It is alright for each of them to pursue their own interests. Do not force them into the same activities just because one twin likes it. Besides allowing them to explore what they like to do, this will also allow them to meet and interact with other children.
The highs and the lows
The struggle for individuality between twins may lead to fights and rebellious behaviour. In order to prevent this from happening, nip it in the bud by supporting and promoting your twins' individuality from young.
● Cheong Sau Kuan is a clinical psychologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association's Positive Parenting Programme.