Managing the Differences

One of the amazing things about twins is how they demonstrate differences in children, differences that are very evident in spite of having identical genes (as far as science has been able to discover) and very very similar upbringing and circumstances.


Mrini and Tara, as I’ve mentioned before, have different personalities and they periodically switch. The quiet one becomes voluble, the submissive one becomes aggressive, the still(er) one becomes a perpetual motion machine, the eager-to-please one starts pushing the limits…


But there is at least one facet of their personalities that they haven’t swapped for a very long time – almost never: their ability to focus and work on something they want to accomplish.


I still remember how Mrini learnt to walk. They were 13 months old when they came to us and neither of them was walking. Remember they were in the bottom fifth percentile for weight and height and – more worryingly – hadn’t increased in weight at the normal rate in the first year. But nobody had said anything about any developmental delays, so I wasn’t worrying about when they would walk. As I said often, by the time they go to college, I’m sure they’ll have mastered it. In a way, I was a little bit relieved that they weren’t walking yet – at least it was one significant milestone that we wouldn’t have missed out on.


They both enjoyed being held by the hand and made to walk, and we, of course, loved to do that as well.


One morning, Mrini decided it was the day she was going to walk. She practiced for a straight 15 minutes. For a 13- or 14-month old, that’s a lifetime. She stood up, shakily, and sat down with a bump; stood up, sat down; stood up, sat down. After this went on for a long time, she stood up and walked – a good 12 or 15 steps, from the living room of our former apartment all the way to near the fridge in the dining room.


This determination of hers to “practice” or to determinedly work at something till she gets it is still very much a part of her. A few weeks ago, she told me she wanted to write. I wrote out a letter of the alphabet for her in a random blank-sheet notebook and gave it to her. I expected her to copy the letter in the line below, but to my surprise, she traced over it. After that, she has filled up several pages of the blank notebook and shown considerable enthusiasm in buying a four-line notebook to continue her writing work. We bought her a four-line notebook and she’s used up several pages of that too, already. I never ask her to write – she’s always the one who suggests it and persists till I give in. (“Give in” because I have to stop whatever I’m doing and get up to get the notebook off from the highest level of the bookshelf.) She’s thrilled to do her writing work and tells me which letter she wants and works diligently at tracing over it until she has filled up one page. Then she puts it away until next time.


Some time ago, she started recognizing letters in newspaper headlines. “Mmmmm for Mini” is her favourite, I think. At any rate, it was the first she learnt to spot and the one she still asks for most often when she’s practicing writing. Yesterday, she was trying to read the letters in the logo on my T-shirt. I think she’s going to be stringing sounds together to make words, soon. Wow – she’s almost learning to read and spell. It is an exciting development to watch!


There are other things that Mrini works hard at too. She’s diligent at following Amit’s instructions at sport – tennis, football, and catch. The fact that she’s eager for approval and praise makes her an easy child to coach (and a difficult one to scold – she is apt to break into the most heart-rending sobs if she feels she is being wrongly chided; she also gets very seriously scared if she accidentally manages to do some serious damage which hurts someone or breaks something).


Tara, on the other hand. She used to be able to focus, albeit sporadically. Once in a way, she would set out to do something and work at it very sincerely for ten minutes. But not any more. She shows no interest in writing, like Mrini does, but doesn’t make up for it by being very interested in anything else. She won’t focus on any of the games that Amit tries to get them to play, so she doesn’t show any sign of promise. She doesn’t take well to being instructed, and seems to have not much desire to earn approval. She doesn’t give a hoot if we scold her, either. As far as I can tell the only activity she really likes is listening to and telling stories, and the only form of attention she wants is to sit in my lap (not something that I encourage a lot of).


Sometimes, when I praise Mrini for something she’s working seriously on, I have to simultaneously scold Tara for either being disruptive, or for being disobedient, insolent, or otherwise difficult. I do realize that when Mrini is getting attention for all the things she’s doing well, Tara might feel the only way she can compete for attention is by being naughty. But I wish she wouldn’t. I know that the best way to discourage negative attention-getting behavior is to ignore it, but often that is very difficult to do. Also, it can lead to an escalation of negative behavior till it becomes impossible to ignore. And not reacting to mildly irritating behavior then getting provoked by seriously irritating behavior is counter-productive because it teaches kids that if you push the right buttons long enough and hard enough, you’ll get the attention you were aiming for.


I don’t want to create any kind of dichotomy between the kids, of the sort that this one is such a good girl, that one is such a bad girl. I don’t want Tara to feel that she can never be “better” than Mrini so it’s not even worth trying.


And yet… to not praise Mrini for her work is not right; and to not discourage Tara’s disruptive/disobedient behavior is not right either.


Strangely enough, at school there doesn’t seem to be a problem. We went to pick up their report cards on Saturday and got equally glowing reports for both girls. If there were any kind of deficit in focus on Tara’s part, their teacher would surely have mentioned it. So it looks like it is a problem that is specific to home.


Here is one of the challenges of having twins. With siblings, the differences in abilities and attitudes of the two are less evident precisely because of the age difference, which offers an all-too-evident explanation of their differences – an explanation that is probably quite evident to the kids themselves. With twins, their own perception of their comparative abilities is much clearer. Even if we were to ignore Mrini’s efforts and hard work, Tara can see for herself how well Mrini does something that she, herself, can’t do. Even without any special praise for Mrini from Amit and me, she might still think, Oh, I can’t do better than that, why even bother trying?


A question that’s been on my mind lately: How can I help Tara find things that she likes to work on and motivate her to work on them for long enough so that I can give her attention and praise and work with her without having to discipline her every few minutes and without having her feel threatened by Mrini?


Another question I have often asked myself: How can “identical” twins be so different???

6 Responses to Managing the Differences

  1. supriya says:

    Though I haven’t read about the characterestics of identical twins, I have always thought that identical twins just look identical – and are perhaps closer than regular siblings can be. Other than that I think no two people can be really similar. Not even two people who are joined like laleh and ladin I think their names were.
    Having said that, I think with the right guidance all the disruptiveness in T can be channelised to achieve greatness in some field. Michael Phelps had ADD after all. His mom must have despaired of him when he was growing up. And T does have the sterling quality of caring for and sharing with her family. Not many kids have that. Both M and T will fulfil their destinies I bet. And take you both for the best roller coaster ride ever while they are at it. 🙂

  2. poupee97 says:

    Supriya: Roller-coaster ride, you bet! 🙂

    I didn’t know that about Michael Phelps. I don’t think Tara has anything like ADD, though. She just has to find something that interests her enough. Some people do make a career of giving and caring, so I suppose there are options for her. 🙂

    I’m sure they both will either fulfil their destinies, or make their destinies, whichever philosophy you subscribe to (I’m still making up my mind on that), but meanwhile, I still have to figure out how not to create any negative self perception in either of them.

  3. Prakash says:

    So similar but so different. Reading this and knowing the girls, it is just a personality difference. There are kids (and adults) who are dilligent and others do not spend time if they cant get it in first go. They cannot be bothered by it. It will come back to them when they are ready for it. I have seen many examples of people who seem to give up in one or two tries, but they master things their own way.

  4. Neeti says:

    Not an expert on twins, but understand exactly what you are saying cos my girls are sooo different too. A is like M, and C so much like T! To answer your question, you wrote that when you praise M, you have to “simultaneously” chide T for her disruptive behaviour – I think a lot can be achieved if you take the ‘simultaneously’ out of the situation. If you have to praise M and chide T, do it at different times, that will not lead them to think they are being compared or sized up against one another. Also, like you said, kids pick up a lot of cues from the way we conduct ourselves, so praise for M and lack of it for T may be something that T will pick up on, even though as a parent you do love them equally. So from time to time, it might help if you were to find an activity that might have the potential for T to earn praise for – even something as simple as helping you unpack the groceries, or fold clothes or whatever, and praise her for a job well done. Maybe just the experience of being praised will motivate her to find something that can earn her praise 🙂 Some kids do take some time to find their groove, and we just have to wait it out. Of course, it doesn’t help if we have another more accomplished sibling at hand who is doing everything right! For you it’s harder cos they are twins so you can make immediate comparisons. For us, we most often can’t remember when the first one started writing or walking or achieved significant milestones, so the comparisons are not so immediate and concrete. Take care!

  5. supriya says:

    It did read like I meant T has ADD. Didn’t mean to imply that. Just that her attention span seems to be a lot less than m’s. They better find something quickly for people like that-since a lot of us becoming like that these days. Times are such.

  6. Christina says:

    A very thought provoking post Anamika… And I really like what Neeti had to share… It made a lot of sense to me…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: