Last updated on September 28th, 2021 at 01:26 pm
Are your needy twins driving you batty? Understanding why your twins are so needy might help you manage their neediness and give you a bit of peace!
Twins: double the work and double the children clinging to your legs while you are trying to get it all done! Am I right or am I right?
Clingy and needy twins- what is up with that and how do we cope with it? Let’s look at how to meet our needs while understand and meeting the needs of our needy twins.
It is always important to dig into the “why” behind our children’s behavior. Bear with me while I get a little bit geeky. I’ll give you some developmental attachment and brain science to support our understanding of our children’s development and needs.
A quote from a favorite developmental attachment scientists:
“The key to activating maturation is to take care of the attachment needs of the child. To foster independence we must first invite dependence… to help the child separate we must assume the responsibility for keeping the child close. We help a child let go by providing more contact and connection than he himself is seeking. When he asks for a hug, we give him a warmer one than he is giving us. We liberate children not by making them work for our love but by letting them rest in it. We help a child face the separation involved in going to sleep or going to school by satisfying his need for closeness.”
― Gordon Neufeld, Hold Onto Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers
It is important to understand that beyond hunger, contact, and connection is the preeminent need of the child (and all humans really). A baby is born completely dependent compared to other mammals. There is so A LOT of neurobiology and brain wiring dedicated to attaching to a caregiver because our survival depends on it. Without someone to feed us, keep us warm and safe away from sabretooth tigers (back in those cavemen days) we were toast! Our brains are smart and know that we NEED to feel the contact & closeness of a caregiver to be safe.
It’s just in their nature
If we don’t feel this closeness, if we feel our attachment is threatened or if we are facing lots of separation from our caregivers (i.e. overnight to sleep, child care, or school)- the primitive alarms in our brain go off. We are not safe! We work at a subconscious, reflexive, and instinctual level to preserve a sense of safety. Humans are moved to preserve attachment. We are moved to preserve our contact and closeness. We are, by nature, needy beings. That’s where needy twins come into the picture.
Sometimes culture interferes with our natural and biological needs. Right now we live in a world and current climate (especially in Western society) that places an extreme value on independence. But from a biological and evolutionary perspective, we are socially connected creatures. We are meant to have some dependence on others. Relationships keep us safe.
It is through inviting dependence that our children grow, mature, and feel confident in separating from us. Independence is born from complete dependence. “Dependence” is not a dirty word. It is normal that it feels like your child NEEDS you 24/7.
Alright, but now what? The reality is we have stuff we need to get done, and having *two* tiny humans that need you is exhausting!
The following is a list of things to consider for your needy twins:
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Shift your perspective on “needy twins” and “dependent twins”
Sometimes we may not be able to change a specific behavior at all, but how we view it can help us feel so much better about it. Your kiddo is supposed to need you, being away from you is hard. Ditch our cultural norms that force independence and know this isn’t something you need to TEACH your child. By meeting their need for dependence on you, they mature into their independence when it is appropriate to do so. Take that weight off your shoulders.
Go above and beyond
That first quote says, “When he asks for a hug, we give him a warmer one than he is giving us”. Children shouldn’t have to work for our love, they should rest in it. If our child asks more and more from us, we need to go above and beyond what they ask to meet their need.
Take charge by noticing when your child is in need of that extra connection. Say something like, “I love snuggling with you. I need to finish the dishes now, but I can’t wait until bedtime when we will read books and have a big cuddle. Tonight is a good night for an extra-long cuddle!” Read your child’s needs and let them see how you are taking the lead to meet those needs.
Hold firm and loving limits when there is a non-negotiable item on your agenda that needs to get done without needy twins climbing onto your back. Fill their connection cup with some undivided attention before your task. Let them know when and how you will connect again when you are done.
Attachment relationships are not meant to be linear. We must step into our caregiver/leader role to inspire our child’s instinct to depend on and follow us. We embrace our caregiver role by holding loving boundaries and limits. Kids need to know where the boundaries are. If we are intentional in meeting their need for connection, there are times when it is of course completely appropriate to say “I need to get ______ done, and then we will play Lego after!”
Focus on connection in your daily care routines
We can’t be connecting and attuned to our little one 24/7. That would be exhausting. Sometimes a great place to start, especially for our younger twins, is in our daily care routines: feeding, diaper changes, getting dressed, bath time, etc.
Skip multitasking other chores during this time and just be with your littles. Add a favorite song, play a little peekaboo, add in lots of touch and cuddles, eye contact, and smiles. Fill the connection cups during these routines and ditch the guilt when they get the independent time to play without out you the rest of the day while you do what you’ve got to do to keep the family going.
Bridge all separations
Over time, our children learn more sophisticated ways to feel connected to us when we are apart. In those early days and years, being without you overnight, in childcare, in school, or when we go on a business trip- can be very hard for them. A simple shift can go a long way when we say our “goodbyes”- focus on the next connection rather than the fact we are separating.
“I can’t wait to see you after school- we are going to go to the park!” vs “You have to go to school, I need to go to work right now!” Or “I am going to miss you while I am away, I can’t wait until you meet me at the airport and give me a big hug” or “I’m going to be dreaming of you all night, when we wake up tomorrow morning we can cuddle on the couch!” Leave their brain thinking about connecting with you again, instead of the fact you will be apart.
Be your child’s compass
This is also one of Dr. Neufeld’s strategies and I love it. Wake up an extra 5-10 minutes earlier and spend this time starting your day with a snuggle and a few moments “orienting” your child for the day. “This is what we are doing today….” “ This is where I will be…” “Here is what I have in mind for us this evening..” “This is who will be taking care of you…” “Only three more days until…” Acting as a child’s compass point engages the attachment instincts, helps them feel connected to you which will ease their needy twins tendencies.
Use visuals for connection routines and to help hold boundaries
Our brains love patterns and predictability. There is just something about having visual support for routines that helps all children thrive and supports the patterning and predictability their brains need. Your schedule can show when connection and one on one time are coming. So if they are trying to get up in your business while you are scrubbing a toilet you can all check the schedule together- “oh look, right now the schedule says it’s quiet playtime. When playtime is done it is time to read books and cuddle mama, I can’t wait!”
In pandemic times and working from home, a visual timer (like The Time Timer) can be an amazing way to help kids understand the time and help you hold a boundary with needy twins. For example, “I need to do some work on my computer, and then we will all have lunch together. I’m going to set the timer and when the red is all gone, you hear a ‘beep’ and it will be time for lunch.” They can “see” time, since time is such an abstract concept for our littles, and learn that their time with you is coming and know exactly when to expect it!
Don’t be too hard on yourself
Go easy on yourself and your little ones when life is crazy and you are faced with big changes. Life changes and stress (like going to daycare, starting school, moving, a new sibling, a pandemic, etc.) come with an increased need for contact and connection. These types of changes can make your laid back little ones into needy twins in a flash.
Order take out, eat super simple meals, skip the dishes until the kids have gone to bed, hire a cleaning lady if you can, etc. for a couple of weeks and really focus on that 1:1 time and connection. This is going to help them feel safe and give them the energy they need to adapt to the new situation. This phase won’t last forever.
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Use your words with needy twins
Tell them how much you cherish the mundane moments and show them you love when with a gentle caress of their cheek as you walk by while they watch TV, a smooch on the cheek while they play with their blocks, or a quick hug “just because”. Tell them “I love watching TV with you” “I really like when we do puzzles together” “I love watching you splash in the bath.” Give that positive reinforcement outside of the “good jobs” and “oh wow- look what you did’s!”. Send them the message that they are invited to exist in your presence just as they are and they are loved unconditionally. Let them rest in your love.
It is okay for your child to need you. It is okay to hold loving limits. Trust that you are the best parent for your children. Trust that you don’t need to know all the answers, you ARE the answer. You’ve got this!
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Jennifer Russell is Mom to a small girl gang of three, including her twin toddlers. She is a pediatric occupational therapist on a mission to empower caregiver confidence and connection in everyday life and daily routines. Her mono-di twin pregnancy turned high risk, and her girls are Twin to Twin Transfusion Survivors. Baby B also had severe selective intrauterine growth restriction (Baby A did not like sharing that placenta, and still does not like sharing toys or food to this day!). The pregnancy ended with a preemie and NICU journey causing Jen to cross the line from health care provider to health care receiver. She knows first hand that supporting your child’s development can feel beyond daunting and overwhelming. Jen is a firm believer that you can support your children’s development in your everyday activities and through play. You can find her on Instagram @otmomdiaries or check out her website www.moveplaylovegrow.com- You’ve got this!