My twins are really good at sharing…except when they’re not. When they decide that they absolutely have to have sole possession of whatever the coveted item of the moment is that the other has, then all bets are off. When that happens, the fights between the two of them can be pretty epic. I imagine that the fighting between boy/girl twins (like my two) may not be as intense as the conflicts between same sex twins, but when two little people who typically and heart-meltingly hold hands sporadically, or sleep best when their feet are touching, begin to push and shove and snarl at each other, it is very disconcerting.
I remember a time when they were both newly mobile. They didn’t know many words, and had just started to realize that playing with each other instead of just beside each other could be pretty fun. Their favorite toy was this monkey/ball popper/music thing that they played with constantly, but that was really great when you were the one that put the ball into motion to go through the maze and make the contraption sing. They were still too little to truly fight over who got to maneuver the ball, but they very clearly preferred to be the one with ball in hand.
One day as they were playing with the “monkey toy” I noticed that there was only one ball in the rotation, and it had started out with five. At some point, one of them (still don’t know which one) had snuck the balls away from the play-zone and put them into speakers that were in the room – never to be retrieved. That had to be quite a feat when getting to point B from point A was not in any way stealthy for my new walkers, and when they probably didn’t realize that keeping it from their sister/brother meant they couldn’t have it either. That was when I first recognized that play-time with these two would not always be idyllic and sweet.
When they were very young they would snatch things from each other and employ the full-body tackle to get what they wanted. In those situations the “Redirect” seemed to be the best tactic. One good thing about 1-year-olds is that they are easily distracted! When a skirmish would break-out between my two at that age, a true “fight” could be avoided if we just caught their attention with something else, and all would be forgotten. “Oh look, here’s another book,” car, doll, etc., was the best way to head off a clash between my two in the early years. Even if they both then became interested in whatever the diversion was, they still forgot that they were really mad at each other and would begin to play together again most of the time.
When they were a bit older we implemented a sticker chart to help with potty training and bedtime behavior (those toddler beds were a difficult transition). We soon learned that the “Reward” of a sticker for a job well-done could help curb lots of bad behaviors. That began phase II of dealing with sharing issues and fighting. Anytime they would voluntarily share with each other, or we would notice one doing something extraordinarily nice, we would give them a sticker on their chart. The “Reward” strategy worked great… until it didn’t.
As they got older, and more adamant about what they did and did not want to share, we had to adjust. The fights over who got to have “tech time” on the only fully charged Kindle, could no longer be settled with praise and a promise of ice cream after 10 stickers. When they began to quarrel more vehemently, our primary parenting technique became to simply “Remove” the object, or choice, or activity. You may have to deal with some whining at first, but if you opt to watch the news instead of letting them choose a show as promised once they start bickering, and you really stick to it – then I have found that they are in a much more agreeable, sharing spirit the next time they have to decide between getting something or nothing!
My children are now 5 years old, almost six. These days another “R” word is the strategy of choice – “Reprimand.” My two know that they are supposed to share, and NOT supposed to fight. Now, if they lose control, and are unable to figure out a way to work it out, they are admonished and put in “time-out” or sent to their rooms to think about better ways to communicate with each other. These days this works, but only because we have had more than 4 years to teach them that lashing out at each other and being selfish and possessive will never get them what they want.
Kids will be kids, and siblings will squabble and have trouble sharing no matter what. However, as I have found to be the case with a lot of parenting dilemmas, if you make getting along and sharing nicely a “non-negotiable” it is more likely to become a non-issue!
Shellie Fossick is “mom” to 5 year old boy/girl twins who started Kindergarten this year! She is also the Development Director for a non-profit organization that provides high quality early care and education for more than 400 low-income children in Middle Tennessee. She lives in Nashville, TN with her husband and two children.