They shared a womb. They probably shared a crib for a while. Twins are kind of programmed to share, right?
Sadly, no. Having twins presents a unique set of issues when it comes to sharing. These are not just siblings close in age who, for example, like the same toy. They have the EXACT same desire for the same thing at the same time. They will have the same level of meltdown and neither one can be expected to be the more grown-up one in the situation. So what can you do to encourage your twins to share?
How to Encourage Sharing Between Twins from an Early Age
Introduce the idea of turn-taking early on, so that it becomes routine. There are so many opportunities to model and talk about this during the day. At bathtime it can be as simple as saying that it’s your sister’s turn for a shampoo first, then it will be your turn. My girls love to take turns in my lap for stories. Certain books lend themselves really well to turn-taking as well, such as the Dear Zoo and Spot “lift the flap” books. Games that involve turn-taking are great practice too. There are games made specifically for toddlers like Roll and Play that introduce rolling a die and taking turns to complete tasks.
Provide shared and individual toys
Birthdays and holidays can be complicated enough, but then you have to decide – is it better to have one toy that they both share, two of the same, or similar but different toys? With certain items, it may only be feasible to buy one of something, and in many cases this actually works out well. We have one Peppa Pig playset that the girls learned to share. Playsets with multiple characters are great because it helps in the transition from parallel play to associative play. Initially, they both played with different characters and didn’t interact while playing with the same house. Now they work together to come up with stories about what’s going on, and all the characters are involved. For smaller toys that each twin would find very special, I feel that it’s good to get two if possible. After all, if they weren’t twins it wouldn’t even be a question that they would have some toys of their own, so it seems only fair.
Give positive reinforcement
As a former elementary school teacher, I’ve seen how valuable it is to point out great examples of sharing and offer praise when someone is kind. The other day one of my girls ran out of her favorite color in her paint box, and her sister let her share. I commented on what a great job she did sharing, and soon they were both sharing colors whenever they ran out. On the other hand, sometimes the opposite happens, things are grabbed and feelings get hurt. This usually results in a toy being put away for a while until they show me they can share again and be kind to each other.
Use favorite colors as a way to talk about sharing
I’ve heard from many other parents of twins that each twin “has a color.” As a parent, it makes it easier – the one who likes red gets the red bowl. Naturally, each twin thinks their favorite color is “their” color for a while, and they might demand that only they can have it. This can actually be a good jumping off point to talk about sharing. “I know your favorite color is blue. But, your sister likes blue too, and sometimes she’d like to play with the blue car.”
Let them have unique but similar “jobs”
There are so many little things that kids could potentially fight over. For a while, there was a race to turn on the light switches in the morning. This is a perfect time to divide up responsibilities so that each child gets to contribute. When we head out of the building, one twin is in charge of the down button and the other presses the up button to call the elevator. When we get in, one twin shuts and locks the front door, and one shuts the kitchen gate. They each have a role that is special to them and they don’t have to fight over who does what.
Discuss the concept of fairness
When you get beyond the concept of turns, you can start to talk about fairness. Fairness is related to qualities such as kindness and empathy, and at my house we talk about how it must feel to be left out of a game or have a toy taken away. Although they still fight on occasion, at 3.5 years old my girls are starting to get the concept. When they both want the same thing, I hear less crying and more reasoning like, “No, don’t fight, we’re twin sisters. I just want to play with it a little!” Fairness is also a concept you can incorporate into cleanup time. “Can you help your sister clean up since you were both playing with this?” Or, more realistically, “Is it fair for Mommy to pick up all the Duplo toys if you dumped it out?”
Remember that each twin is an individual with preferences
….and sometimes that preference is to play by herself for a while. Your kids might get tired of doing everything together, and that’s okay. When you’re caught up in the daily routine, sometimes you have to stop and think about the fact that twins have to share EVERYTHING. Sometimes they want individual time with you, and if you can make that happen it’s nice to have those special moments where that child gets to do all her favorite things. This is especially important if one twin is more dominant than the other. When one of my daughters was at home sick this week, the games that she wanted to play were not the ones that we usually settle on, because she tends to go along with her sister’s suggestions. Having that alone time gave me a better idea of what she’d enjoy doing, which I don’t always see when the girls are together.
If you encourage sharing early on through modeling, positive reinforcement, and opportunities to talk about it, your twins will benefit. Just remember that twins are expected to share a lot, and it’s okay for them to want their own things, time, and attention.
Lakshmi Hutchinson lives in Glendale, CA with her husband, fraternal twin girls, and tuxedo cat. In her spare time, she likes to go to concerts and her dream is to have time to read books again.