Parents of twins and other multiples often feel pressured to instill a sense of individuality in their children. They may be dissuaded from doing anything that elevates their multiples' unity -- such as naming them with similar names, dressing them alike or keeping them together in the same class once they start school.
It's my opinion that most multiples will create an individual identity for themselves as they grow up, whether their parents like it or not! We can't control our children's sense of self, but we can encourage it. And certainly we, as parents, want to do as much as we can to support them as individual children. With that goal in mind, here are some suggestions for cultivating a sense of individuality in each of your multiples.
1) Spend one on one time with each child.
Without a doubt, children of all ages and stages love to have their parents' exclusive attention. When children within a family are of different ages, it seems easier to meet that need. Opportunities are built into the different routines of each child's life stage: eldest children have the spotlight until a younger sibling is born, but as they spend more time in school and activities, the younger children take the floor.
However, twins and multiples are forced to share their parents (and grandparents!) time and attention for much of their lives. Parents have to craft opportunities for one-on-one time. It's time well spent, however, as an opportunity to get to know each multiple on an individual basis. (More tips on finding one-on-one time.)
2) Don't refer to them as a "unit."
Whenever possible, avoid labeling your children as "the twins" or "the triplets" As you recognize that they are individual children, so will they. It's a challenge; it takes double -- or triple -- the effort to call out their names separately. Gently discourage others from referring to them as a single unit.
3) Reward/punish individually
When I talk to adult twins about their childhood, I often hear a common theme of resentment when they remember being punished for a crime committed by their twin. As parents of multiples, we realize that it's just far too easy to mete out punishment on an all-for-one/one-for-all basis. But we have to remember that that although they often act like a twin tag team of terror, it's vital to recognize and address each individual's role in their antics.
4) Select individual activities.
As my daughters have gotten older, I have strongly encouraged them to seek out individual activities and interests. One plays basketball and takes art lessons, while the other takes dance and does karate. It's not that I prevent them from participating in activities together; they both compete on the same swim team and are in the same Brownie troop. But I think it's vitally important for each multiple to pursue an interest that is unique to them. While it may make for some complicated carpool scheduling, the benefits are invaluable, offering them an opportunity to develop individual talents and explore new relationships.
5) Encourage individual friendships and separate playdates.
Multiples are often each other's best friends, and that special relationship should be celebrated and cherished. But it shouldn't be an exclusive relationship. Encourage your children to develop their own friendships in a healthy way. Set up playdates for each one; we find it works well to schedule them concurrently -- one twin invites a friend to the house while the other visits a friend's house -- so that no one feels lonely or left out.
Read on for more ways to foster twindividuality!