Thursday, January 20, 2011

Best Friends Or Just Brother And Sister?

When they're not bickering, they can
be so sweet to each other.
I have a good friend with boy/girl twins who are just 3 days younger than mine. when my children were less than a year old and still completely ignoring each other, hers were seeking each other out. Hers were the twins with the secret twin "language" that only they understood. In the middle of the night her son calls for his sister instead of mommy. There's a part of me that wished for my kids to be so close, to be so "twin-like". People ask me often if my twins like each other and I always reply, "yes, and they also fight like brother and sister". So many people forget that although twins are different from singleton siblings in many ways, they are, in fact, also just brothers or sisters (or brother and sister, as in our case). And what do brothers and sisters do much of the time? Fight. 

Now, I'm an only child and it's been difficult for me to handle what many people tell me is "normal" sibling behavior. My husband is one of 7, so he has a much different take on things when our son teases his sister by constantly touching something she doesn't want him to touch or when our daughter won't let her brother play with her no matter how hard he tries. It is so hard for me to sit back and let them solve these issues on their own because for me, all I hear is one child being mean to the other. I know that constantly stepping in to facilitate their problem solving isn't helping them. But underneath it all is just a desire to help them like each other! There is a paragraph at the beginning of the excellent book "Siblings Without Rivalry" that says:
"Instead of worrying about my boys becoming friends," I explained, "I began to think about how to equip them with the attitudes and skills they'd need for all their caring relationships. There was so much for them to know, I didn't want them hung up all their lives on who was right and who was wrong. I wanted them to be able to move past that kind of thinking and learn how to really listen to each other, how to respect the differences between them, how to find the ways to resolve those differences. Even if their personalities were such that they could never be friends, at least they would have the power to make a friend and be a friend".
I realized, after reading this, how much pressure we put on ourselves when we try to "make" our children be best friends. Especially those of us with twins because everyone thinks that twins must just automatically love each other! I really like this concept of not forcing sibling friendship, but instead, teaching your child how to make and be a friend.

For those of us with multiple children (whether they are twins or singleton siblings) it is not surprising that you might end up with children who have vastly different interests and temperaments. Here are some tools and ideas to help bridge the gap:
  • Avoid making comparisons. As Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish say in "Siblings Without Rivalry" "...Whatever you want to to tell this child can be said directly, without any reference to his brother. The key word is describe. Describe what you see. Or describe what you like. Or describe what you don't like. Or describe what needs to be done. The important thing is to stick with the issue of this one child's behavior. Nothing his brother is or isn't doing has anything to do with him."
  • Allow your children to own their own toys. Not all toys should be shared. Children who are given permission to own something are much more able to share. If your children aren't growing up with a sense that there is "not enough" or that, because of forced sharing, their sibling is going to take away what little they have, they are less likely to be possessive and will want to include their sibling in playing together.
  • Create "brag books" for each of your children. Make your children each a book about their sibling with pictures and stories about all the things the other is really good at. Include in your book constant reminders like "that is your brother who is such a good climber!" or "Your sister scored the winning goal in soccer class!" This reminds them that they can feel proud of their sibling. As an extra added bonus, try to get a few sentences from each child about what they really like about their sibling and include it in the quotes in the other's book. Just as we may not realize how someone else feels about us until they tell us, our children are the same.
  • The Kindness Tree. When the kids were about two years old, we began an ongoing project in our house called "The Kindness Tree". I created a large tree out of construction paper that we hung in our dining room. Each time one of the kids does something kind towards the other, they get a leaf on one of the branches with the act of kindness, and the date, written on it. We periodically read the leaves and show it off to anyone who comes to our house. Once the branches are full of leaves, we do something special to celebrate their kindness towards each other -- usually a special outing. I have saved all of the leaves and plan to make scrapbooks out of them to give to each of the kids to remind them of all the little ways their sibling has been kind to them throughout the years.
  • Spend alone time with each of them. I've written about this often (most extensively in this post) and believe that time apart actually allows siblings to build a stronger bond with each other. I'd get sick of even my most favorite person if they were with me 24/7! It's good to give them time away from each other, a chance to experience things without each other. Plus, in knowing that they get mom and dad all to themselves on occasion, your children are less likely to constantly compete for your attention. Oh, they'll probably still do it - but there will be less of a power struggle.
  • Give your children shared experiences. As much as time apart is vital to having siblings get along, so are shared experiences. Make family rituals, outings and customs a priority and you give your children a bond over memories they have in common. Photos and scrapbooks of these events keep the memories fresh and children love nothing more than looking at pictures of themselves!
  • Allow your children to express their feelings. This seems pretty obvious, but when a child says something like, "I hate my brother! He's so mean!", parents often respond by saying "You don't mean that!" Well, yes, he does mean it in that moment. And even if it's an exaggerated feeling, who wants their feelings negated? Let your children express their frustration about having brothers or sisters. Let them know you hear them and you get it. Sometimes it does suck to have a brother (or so I'm told).
Perhaps I am lucky. Because I have a son and a daughter, there is less competition to deal with. Boys and girls naturally gravitate toward different interests (usually). And my children's personalities don't seem to clash as of yet. But I am aware of my own deep desire for them to be "best friends" and that when they fight or are angry with each other I recognize how distressed I get. Again from "Siblings Without Rivalry":
"I realize how relaxed I am. I realize how little emotional investment I have in the moment-by-moment 'temperature' of their relationship. I know that the differences in interests and temperament that kept them from being close in childhood are still there. But I also know that over the years I had helped them build the bridges to span separate islands of their identities. If they ever need to reach each other, they have many ways of getting there."
 As with so many things in life, one must remember that when something upsets you all you can change is your reaction to it. I am trying to just roll with the (figurative) punches and trust that I am giving my kids the tools they need to discover for themselves how lucky they are to have each other. 

And how about you? What has your experience been with your children or your own siblings? Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach
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8 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

somethingsweetblog said...

Gina - Thanks for the good tips, I love the Kindess Tree idea. What a great way to celebrate and encourage their goodness! At 2 1/2, my twins have really just started playing with each other and it's so precious to watch. Until my son pulls his sister's hair because she considered playing with one of his favorite toys. oy!

Mia said...

I love this post! I read and loved Siblings Without Rivalry while I was pregnant with #2 and recommend it all over the place. I think I may have to print out your cheat sheet and put it on the wall. So much easier than rifling through the book!

Christina Simon said...

Great topic! My kids fight and a few minutes later are acting like best friends. I never know what's going to start an argument or end it!

Dana said...

My boy/girl twins, now 4, never had that special twin language and I don't think they have a particularly intense bond. They love each other, absolutely. And seem to be the dearest of friends with great empathy for one another. But they never lost sleep when we put them in separate bedrooms (around age 3). They're in the same preschool class but at drop off they head to different toys and on the playground, they play on different equipment. Their relationship seems more on par with their relationship with their other siblings. All four of the children are close in age and play well together.
My only take-away is we're either doing something right (in that they're both independent and have their own interests) or very, very wrong.
As with everything parenting related: WHO KNOWS?!!

Linia said...

At 11 months, I'm starting to hear the twin language. My b/g twins sit and look at each other and have full on "conversations" that I can only wish to be a part of or understand. But it sure is adorable to watch. I also see them seek each other out. My girl is much more independent than her brother, so she leads the way, crawling around the house. But she frequently turns to make sure he's following her - and does he! If she goes too far ahead, he gets upset. I sometimes feel like they'd rather be with each other than with mommy or daddy!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let you know your blog post was shared with me by a mom friend, and I have passed it on to other mom friends... we all love it! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

My identical boys are 11 and they are best friends but when I try to give them time apart they complain. They are also at the age of where they think making fun of each other in front of their other friends is funny. I am struggling with this and I know it is part of growing up. I speak to them and they just say "Mom we are fine". I worry about them thinking it is accetpable to say hurtful things to one another because they always get over it so easy.

Gina Osher said...

Anonymous, I have a few thoughts about this. The first is about giving your boys time apart. I would try to get some information from them about why they don't want to be separated. It may, in part, be that they are so used to it and it somehow serves their personalities to be together always (ie: one is more outgoing or sticks up for the other etc.) I often tell clients that our children don't always know what is best for them and it is up to us to make decisions sometimes that the kids may not, at first, agree with.

If you feel confident in your decision, you will look past the complaints. That is, you know feeding them fresh fruit & vegetables are good for them and even if they complain you still do it. You acknowledge their complaints, but you still give them the healthy food. The same goes for creating time apart for them...it's good for them. You have to be confident in knowing that. If you haven't read Dr. Joan Friedman's book, Emotionally Healthy Twins, I recommend it. It might help give you the strength to know you're doing the right thing.

Once you get them to go on a separate outing, try to point out how nice it is, how you really enjoy getting to know each of them separately, point out things you couldn't do if they were together, point out how they have something they can share with each other when they see each other again etc. It doesn't have to be anything huge at first. Even a meal between you & one of them at a time would be a great step.

As for the teasing, my suggestion would be to talk with each of the boys separately about what makes a good friend, how they know someone is their friend, how they like to be talked to etc. Then ask why they feel it is ok to tease their brother & how it makes them feel to be teased like that. They may be unwilling to admit to being unhappy about it in front of each other, but if they are just with you, it might be different. Try to relay to each of your boys how important it is for family to take care of each other & stick up for each other. They may seem to be getting over things, but no one likes to be teased.

I would suggest trying to talk to the boys at night when they are getting ready for bed. Or when you're driving. Boys tend to have a much easier time opening up when they don't have to look someone right in the eyes so driving is a great time to get "deep". Bedtime tends to just make children more vulnerable, so it's a good time to try talking more.

I hope some of this helps. Let me know if you want to talk further! You can always email me as well. :)
- Gina

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