As parents of twins or triplets, we anxiously await the day when our multiples play together for the first time. From the moment they arrive home from the hospital and we place them together in the same crib, we watch and wait, dreaming of the day they’ll become close companions.
Play Develops In Stages
We hope they’ll happily share toys, patiently take turns, all the while laughing at their great fun. Yet, a child’s ability to play develops slowly in stages. Most children actively engage with each other in imaginary play or other games when they’re about three, and multiples are no exception.
“In the beginning, I thought, ‘Having twins is boring. They don’t even like each other,’” joked Heather Utile of Galt, Calif., and mother to Macie and Emily, 13-month-old fraternal twin girls. “I guess I thought my babies would be best friends from the beginning.
But babies in general don’t interact until after the first year anyway. It’s just another stage in their development, and being twins doesn’t change that. I don’t know why I thought it would be different.”
Twins Are Aware of Each Other From Birth
Your little twins may seem unaware of each other at first, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be great buddies later. In reality, they actually are very conscious from infancy that their cotwin is nearby, though they neither may show it.
Most children under the age of two don’t have the verbal or social skills to interact with each other to any great extent. Instead, they sit side-by-side, each one occupied with his own toys but taking comfort in knowing their sibling is close by. One may offer the other a toy or occasionally look over to see what the other is doing. Or one may follow the other if she crawls or walks to play in another part of the room.
Parallel Play in Toddlers
But don’t expect ongoing or consistent intermingling in young twin toddlers. Psychologists call this “parallel play,” an important phase of development as children slowly begin to understand their sense of self and others, and where they fit into the world.
As twin toddlers grow, however, their interest in each other blossoms as well. Now the real fun begins. They move from parallel play to “cooperative play,” usually by age three. First glimpses into this next stage of play are exciting—it’s the real beginning of twins’ lifelong friendship.
“One day they were sitting back-to-back doing their own things, and all of a sudden they were facing each other playing together. It was amazing and heartwarming,” said Kim Monroe of her 4 1/2-year-old twins, Emily and Max. “I took a picture of it just to remind me of that special moment. Most people look at that picture and see two kids playing. To me, I see my kids really bonding for the first time,” said the Hamilton Square, New Jersey, mom.
Although it’s entertaining to watch twins gleefully interacting with each other, there’s actually more happening during cooperative play than meets the eye. Twins are learning important social skills and the subtle nuances of group play. Through cooperative play they learn the art of negotiation and sharing, discovering that others have thoughts and feelings.
Twins Have Social Advantage Over Singletons
This leads some twin experts to speculate that multiples have a social advantage over their singleton counterparts. Twins have continuous practice—a built-in playmate at home—and as a result, some become more socially aware and confident than single-born children of the same age.
And what imaginations they have as their “pretend” stories grow more complex and certainly more interesting! You can encourage your multiples to build on their friendship through cooperative play (expanding their use of expressive language in the process) by keeping handy a supply of everyday objects that your children use in their imaginary world—an old telephone, empty cereal boxes, plastic dishes and bowls, dress-up clothing.
Multiples may learn the art of sharing and cooperation a bit earlier than singleton children do, but it doesn’t mean that all twins and triplets will be seasoned pros at these relationship-arts. Learning to share toys and treats is hard work! parents of multiples can help guide their children to be thoughtful playmates by using a variety of tricks and techniques.
“I encourage them to hold hands while on walks, jumping on the trampoline, or dancing,” said Elissa Martino, who believes it helps her girls learn to appreciate their sisterhood and their twinship. This Seattle, Wash., mom to 19-month-old fraternal twins Mia and Eva, also steps in immediately to head off intratwin toy fighting. “when they aren’t sharing, I usually intervene and give the toy to whomever had it first, and find something else for the other.”
In a similar vein, Laura Woods acts to head off potential toy tantrums before they start. This Chicago, Ill., mom tries not to duplicate toys and instead explains to her two-year-old identical twin boys, Aeddon and Bennett, that each boy must wait his turn with the toy. “If one of my sons grabs the desired toy from this brother, I always make him give it back,” she said. “When the other person is finished playing with the toy and gives it to his brother, I make a big deal about how patient he was for waiting his turn.”
Teach Twins to Take Turns
A useful tip for teaching twins to share: Organize a simple game of catch. Throw a big, soft ball to one child and shouts, “It’s your turn to throw it!” and encourage that child to throw the ball to her co-twin. when the other twin catches the ball, cheer him on as he gives someone else a turn. And so on. Another method: When offering snacks to your children, give the snacks to one twin and suggest that she share with her brother.
“Sharing is a never-ending battle, but luckily with twins, learning about sharing starts very early,” noted Kim Monroe. “When it gets bad, I separate them for the day. Max will eat in the kitchen. Emily in the dining room. Max will play in the den, Emily in the living room. By the end of the day, they’re apologizing to each other and want to do stuff together again. I think the separation helps them learn to appreciate each other.”
Introduce Twins Friends Early
Continuous give and take, sharing and exploring enable twins to become each other’s first friends and best friends. But eventually, your children’s social circle will widen, and it should. Parents can help introduce new friends into their twins’ lives.
Most twins and triplets have plenty of practice interacting with their siblings, so new social situations are less scary or intimidating. yet, some twins will continue to hold back in unfamiliar social situations with new people, preferring to hang out with just his or her co-twin. That’s where parents can step in and help.
Children need to “practice” becoming friends with other children outside the family. So it helps to invite a variety of children over to your house for play dates. (Many local twins clubs host weekly playgroups.) Or take your multiples to the park where they can interact with other children their age. They’ll benefit from activities where they have a chance to meet a variety of other children.