I love visiting my sister and her twin girls. Not only do I get to spend quality time with my nieces but I also get to learn a lot about twins.
The latest visit was a bit different though. My sister was worried that one of her girls was struggling with bad behavior. She had started skipping school, was defiant, and she seemed not to really care about her grades anymore. Her teacher called her parents to talk about these recent developments and she revealed that the girl had started hanging out with the wrong crowd at school.
This wasn’t the first time my niece got into trouble and my sister felt she had the situation under control. She already had a chat with her daughter and discussed rules and consequences. She also found a therapist and they were working on the underlying issues together. What worried her most, however, was the influence the teen had on her twin.
Having been through this before, my sister knew that her twins usually influenced each other. Whenever one teen misbehaved, the other would emulate her. While it didn’t happen all the time, she knew she had to nip things in the bud before her troubled teen’s behavior rubbed off on her sister.
Is Bad Behavior Contagious Among Twins?
Twins influencing each other is nothing new to parents of multiples. It often starts in early childhood and has been referred to as Twin Escalating Syndrome (TES). You might notice that if one twin baby starts crying, the other might decide to join in, only louder. Each twin then tries to outdo the other until you end up with a cacophony that will try the most patient parent.
This behavior can carry on through the twins’ lives. The most worrying aspect if you are a parent of twins, is that if one gets into delinquent behavior, the other might end up copying them. A study of participants drawn from the Quebec Newborn Twin Study revealed that twin siblings contribute to the spread of problematic behavior or substance use among their sisters or brothers, especially in adolescence.
It’s important to note that TES isn’t necessarily a given. With some twins, the opposite happens. Instead of joining their twins in misbehavior, other kids try to compensate by being very well-behaved.
Diffusing the Situation
Dealing with a troubled teen can be challenging for parents of twins. You have to help your struggling teen while ensuring that the other twin doesn’t fall into the same habits, situations, or mindset.
Here’s what you can do:
- Reduce competition between the two.
TES and other instances of twins negatively influencing each other might be down to competition. The well-behaved twin might feel that you’re spending so much time catering to their undisciplined sibling that they start acting out too.
To avoid this, find ways to manage twin rivalry. You can alleviate competition by spending ample one-on-one time separately with each child, acknowledging their differences, avoiding comparisons between the two, and also helping them learn to appreciate themselves.
- Set firm consistent limits.
Involve your teens when making rules and consequences and take their input into account. Ensure that the consequences are relevant to each twin’s personality and once they’ve been set, be consistent about enforcing them. Don’t allow one twin to get away with something while the other one doesn’t.
- Avoid the blame game.
Twins can be quite good at playing the blame game. They can blame each other for their actions or accuse you of favoring one of them. Though it can be difficult, resist giving them labels such as the good or bad twin. This will only reinforce their behavior. Instead, whenever one of the twins messes up, assign consequences accordingly without lumping them both together.
- Discipline the Twins as Individuals.
Each twin has a different personality and their interests also differ. This means that disciplining both, in the same way, won’t work. If one twin likes TV and the other prefers video games, withdrawing TV privileges will only punish one of them. The best approach is to learn each twin’s needs and likes then tailoring your discipline technique according to their personality.
- Encourage their Individuality
Sometimes one twin can end up being dependent on their sibling, looking to them for cues on how to dress, socialize, behave, etc. When this happens, they might copy their twin’s behavior even when it’s negative. In order to prevent or stop this, help your twins to develop their own sense of identity, and encourage their individuality. You can do this by supporting their individual talents, interests, and opinions.
When raising multiples, there’s a possibility that a troubled teen’s behavior might rub off on their twin. Taking preventive measures beforehand can head this off at the pass. Trying to help one twin while preventing the other from picking up their bad habits is a delicate balancing act. However, it’s a necessary one to ensure both twins grow up to become well-behaved, well-adjusted individuals.
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Tyler is a proud husband and father of four. He has worked with families and youth for nearly 10 years and enjoys camping and hiking in his spare time. Tyler values family above everything else and hopes his experiences and research can help other families work through challenges and form strong, lasting bonds.