Many parents of twins ask me about buying gifts for birthdays and other special occasions. They want to ensure that they treat their twins fairly and let both children know they are loved equally. Buying identical gifts may seem like the perfect way to do this, but parents should realize that their attempt to be equalizers may send twins unrealistic or unhealthy messages. Most of us naturally give our nontwin children presents that reflect their talents, skills, and interests—but in our pursuit for perfect balance for our twins, we may not think to follow the same philosophy and buy a different gift for each twin that reflects his or her individual predilections.
Putting special care into gift giving reflects a desire to encourage each twin to enjoy his or her uniqueness. We know that, just like snowflakes no two people are the same. Choosing individualized gifts for our twins tells them that, even if they look very similar, we don’t expect them to be the same and we understand that they are two distinct people whose differences we want to celebrate.
For twin infants up to two years old, consider buying different variations in the same category of gift—for example, two different stuffed animals, like a teddy bear and a plush rabbit. Keep in mind that the two stuffed animals should be of equal size, however, so each child is reassured that both presents are of equal value.
In the toddler years, you can begin differentiating the gifts so they match each twin’s interests and personality. But again, size is important, because twins will instinctively compare their presents. Books that reflect each child’s interests would be wonderful presents—say, one book about dinosaurs and another about trains. The keys are noticing what attracts your twins’ attention, recognizing the differences in what fascinates them as they explore the world, and buying a gift for each that complements his or her particular interests. The more you do this, the better you know each child and the qualities that make them individuals.
Three- and four-year-old twins have a more defined idea of what they like. By this age, children have developed strong preferences for specific items. Some may be drawn to television and video characters; others may be enthralled with dolls and action figures. This is the best stage to begin buying from two different gift categories but be prepared for the fallout that may occur.
Parents should not be surprised if one twin is not happy with his gift. Perhaps he won’t get what he wanted, or he will want what his sibling received while the other child is content with his present. One twin may try to take the coveted gift away from the other to assuage his frustration.
Not getting upset if your multiples are disappointed with their gifts is vital. Try not to feel guilty or self-deprecating if you don’t “get it right.” In fact, if you’ve never bought different gifts for your twins, encountering resistance and negativity the first few times you introduce this new practice is expectable. The best response is to say, in a calm, soothing voice, “I’m sorry that one of you is disappointed. I did the best I could. I really thought you’d enjoy this gift. I hope I do better next time. I wanted each of you to have your own present.”
Equally vital is not insisting that the contented twin share his gift with the discontented one. Each child should handle the situation in his own way. The twins will decide between themselves how they want to address this perceived imbalance.
Instead of attempting to avoid this scenario by giving identical gifts, remember that you are sending an important message to twins about life. Multiples who are always treated the same often go through life expecting that they must maintain equality between themselves. This unspoken pact interferes with their freedom to be separate. The societal expectation of equality and sameness needs to be discussed by twins and their families and replaced by the concept of multiples as individuals.
Parents of twins have enough challenges with raising two children of exactly the same age without taking on the additional burden of making each twin feel exactly the same. Parents can’t make their children’s lives the same; they can’t even make their kids exactly equal. What we can do is encourage each child, at every age, to develop his or her uniqueness.
The long-range goal is to view buying different gifts for your multiples as one of many ways to give yourself and your twins the freedom to appreciate their differences.