Twins Fighting: How to Manage Squabbles and Maintain Sanity
Yay, you made it through the newborn stage! No more nighttime feedings for hours on end; no more diaper changes around the clock; no more crazy spit up and diaper blowouts (x2). But now that you no longer have newborn twins, you have… (drumroll please) toddler twins… which also means twins fighting! And you thought things were going to get easier — HA!
If your twins are anything like mine, one minute they are best friends — playing nicely together, hugging, sharing toys — and the next, it’s like they’re battling for World Boxing Champion.
It’s not just physical fighting. When my girls are upset with each other, they jab with verbal blows too: “I don’t LIKE you anymore!” “You’re a MEAN person!” “I don’t want to play with you EVER AGAIN!”
Cue the tears. (Mine and theirs.)
Whether it’s not wanting to share a toy, wanting what the other one has, wanting the attention the other one’s getting from Mom/Dad (or any other caregiver), there are several reasons twins squabble with each other (and sometimes, there’s no reason for the fighting at all… toddlers aren’t known for their calmness or logic).
But listen up, twin parents: as frustrating and exhausting as it is, some fighting between your duo is normal and simply bound to happen (you know, with two same-aged kiddos sharing the same space, toys and parents and all that…).
We’re going to discuss some of the reasons why twins fight, and how you can help them learn to work through friction and go back to playing nicely(ish) together.
Shout out to all our fabulous twin parent readers who offered their awesome tips and tricks for this piece. Parents of twins everywhere — myself included — thank you!
Why Twins Fight
Any parent of twins can attest that the “twin bond” is a very real and beautiful thing. Though my duo are complete opposites, they are also the very best of friends and can get lost for hours together in their joint imaginative play. It’s absolutely heartwarming and adorable, until…
“MILA! You took my Barbiiiiiieeeeee! Give her back… I was playing with that!!!!”
“NO GRACIE!!!! She’s MY Barbie… not yours!”
Inevitably, one of them yanks the other one’s hair, the other retaliates with a hard shove, and both wind up in my arms in a heap of tears.
Of course it’s not just twins who fight — all siblings argue. However, twins have the unique experience of being the exact same age. They are going through similar physical, mental and emotional developmental milestones and, quite likely, spending an inordinate amount of time together — far more than siblings of differing ages — starting in utero! Not to mention, twins, whether identical or fraternal, are constantly being compared and stacked up to one another, setting the perfect storm for sibling rivalry to fester.
So keeping those things in mind, here’s a rundown of some of the most common triggers for twin fighting, followed by ways to help resolve (and possibly prevent) them.
Negotiation for Space and Place in the Family
When you have twins, the house — and the family — simply gets more crowded. Where (literally and figuratively) does everyone fit?
Many twins share… everything: a bedroom, bathroom, play space, and so much more. Not to mention, they are likely using these various spaces at the same exact time — sleeping at the same time; brushing their teeth/going potty at the same time; playing, etc. Can you imagine having someone in your space 24/7? No matter how much you love that person, some bickering is only natural.
On top of negotiating for physical space in the house, twins also need to establish their individual place and roles within the larger family.
Think about it, when you’re a twin, you’re automatically part of a unit: “The Twins.” You’re not always viewed (or treated) as an individual — no blame or shame intended here, parents… without being super aware of it, it’s easy for this to occur.
But it can take away from each child’s sense of self and individuality, leaving them confused about how they fit into the family and about their own identity — “who am I without my twin?”
Sometimes twins enjoy this constant closeness and sense of oneness (awww, twin bond!), and sometimes… they don’t. Cue conflict.
Negotiation for Toys & Shared Stuff
When I first found out I was having twins, my husband and I made a decision that we were not going to purchase two of everything. I thought of it as a perfect way to teach them to share and to respect each other’s belongings. Except… that didn’t happen.
I completely forgot that toddlers aren’t necessarily equipped for or thrilled about sharing their toys, and that their tendency to scream “MINE!!!!!” when another child takes something is, um… inevitable. And loud.
People are absolutely fascinated by twins and, as such, without meaning to cause any harm or hurt feelings, tend to constantly compare and contrast them to one another.
“Wow — Bobby is so much taller than Jimmy! Wonder what that will be like when they’re older?”
“Annie has so much more hair than Lily!”
“Why can’t you behave as well as your sister? She sits so quietly.”
“Why can’t you keep your room clean the way your brother does?”
I could go on and on… All of this creates sibling rivalry — an atmosphere of competition and jealousy — between twins.
Of course sibling rivalry is bound to occur whether people compare your twins or not. But imagine constantly being stacked up against someone else — never truly viewed for who YOU are, but rather, who you are in comparison to someone else. That’s bound to intensify feelings of frustration, resentment, anger and rivalry between your duo.
Some of it is out of your control. You can’t stop people from making comments (don’t get me started on how infuriating I find it when people comment on how one of my twins is “so much bigger” than her sister… future self-esteem and body issues, anyone??!) — but it will help to be aware of it and gently remind people that even though they’re twins (even if they are identical), they are still two separate, unique individuals.
Negotiation for Parent/Caregiver Attention
With all of this comes the inevitable thirst for parent (or caregiver) attention. All children want — make that crave, deserve and need — their parents’ attention. However with twins, this experience is amplified by all the reasons we’ve discussed; and with a same-aged sibling always present, a parent’s undivided focus is truly a scarcity.
I can’t count the number of times during a day when my twins fight for my attention. Like just 10 minutes ago, Twin A was trying to tell me a story, and Twin B was yanking on my leg for me to watch her do a trick. I looked down at Twin B for a nanosecond, and Twin A began yelling and crying, begging for my attention again. And when I looked up at her — to show her that I’m also focused on her — Twin B started screaming and yanking so hard on my leg I actually lost my footing (three-year-olds are strong!).
Is this a familiar experience? If so, know you’re not alone.
Of course no parent ever wants to neglect one child in favor of the other, but when you have twins, you simply cannot attend to both their needs at the exact same time (cue serious twin mom guilt). It’s a constant assessment of which child’s need is the most pressing in that particular moment, and responding to that kiddo first.
This is hands-down one of the hardest parts of being a twin parent, and in addition to the heartache it undoubtedly causes you (just remember: you’re a GOOD parent and you’re doing the best you can), it’s probably also going to lead to some tears and fighting between your twins.
Twin Fighting: How to Mitigate the Drama
So now that we’ve discussed some of the most common reasons toddler twins fight, what can you as a parent do to help them manage their squabbles and maintain a greater sense of peace in the house? Hopefully these nuggets (many suggested by you, our lovely readers!) will help curtail some of the twin-sib quarreling.
Think of yourself as Switzerland. Try not to jump in and place blame on one twin (even if you know that he or she is usually the instigator), while turning the other twin into the victim (even if he or she usually is). It is SO easy for twins (or non-twin siblings) to fall into these roles — this is most certainly the case with my duo. But at the end of the day, it really does (at least usually) take two to tango.
For instance, maybe Twin A got too close to Twin B, Twin B asked Twin A to move back but Twin A ignored him… and then Twin B got frustrated and smacked his brother.
More times than not, both kiddos have some fault in the matter.
How do you mitigate the situation? Try to sit down with your pair, go through the sequence of events leading up to the incident(s) (as best as you and they can), and determine what role each played in the problem. Rather than one twin taking all the heat for the situation (i.e. Twin B getting in trouble for hitting his brother), both can apologize for their part in hurting the other. Finally, use it as a teaching moment — an opportunity for both to learn from the experience. For instance, “See what happens when you don’t give your brother space? And did you see how sad your brother got when you hit him? Next time your brother doesn’t listen to your words, instead of using your hands, you can ask an adult for help.”
Teach your Twins Respect
House rules, y’all! Draft your House Rules together, as a family. For example: Be Kind, Be Gentle (no hitting, pushing, etc.), Be Respectful, Use Kind Words, Say Please and Thank you, etc. If your kids are too young to read, draw pictures (if they’re old enough, let them draw) to illustrate each rule.
This way, every member of the family is aware of the rules and can be expected to follow them. If your twins break a rule — i.e. calling each other mean names — you can simply refer back to the rules and say, “Remember that in this house, we use kind words and are respectful of one another.”
Create a Safe, Calm Space for Each of Them
Twin mama Sarah Pazdziorny says, “We had to institute a ‘calm down corner’ with cozy chairs, weighted blankets, stuffed animals, and fidget toys. They can sit quietly and calm down while feeling cozy and quiet. It’s not a punishment, but when one is fighting or causing hell, we often ask if they think they need a break. Sometimes they go on their own, which tells me it’s working!”
Because twins spend so much time together, offering them some physical space from each other can also really work wonders and decrease the tension.
Twin mom, Lizzie Frein, says, “My boys are 4.5 and it took my mom visiting to say ‘why don’t you have them play separately for a bit with one in their bedroom and one in the playroom?’ It never occurred to me! It almost always works to calm down the situation and they usually return to playing together quickly and calmly.”
Use a Timer
If your twins have trouble sharing toys, try using a timer to signal to them when it’s time to hand the toy over to their twin. In our house we use a timer like this and absolutely love it.
It not only beeps when the time runs out, but also offers a great visual cue of how much time they have left with a toy because the red disk disappears as time passes. Of course, any timer will do the trick — even just the timer on your phone.
Lizzie Frein adds, “we have used a timer for taking turns with toys and that has worked well because it’s almost always about just being in possession of the toy and not actually playing with it! The timer then adds a bit of fun and it’s also an outside ‘voice of authority’ (i.e. it’s not mom or dad) saying it’s time to switch.”
Put the Toys in Time Out
If the timer doesn’t work and your twins are still battling over their belongings, several of our twin parent readers suggested putting the toy(s) in time out. No one gets to play with the toy until it is done in time out.
Twin mom, Shelley Walden, says that “starting around age 2, we began putting toys in time out, which helped a lot (it is also a good threat if they are refusing to clean-up — if they refuse to pick-up a toy at the end of the day, the toy goes in time-out on a high shelf for a few days). They are 3.5 now and the toy timeout works really well at this age.”
Don’t Always Jump In
See if they can mediate their own squabbles. It may be tough at first, but once you teach them the tools, over time, they will learn to work through things without your constant intervention.
Twin mama Katie O’Connor Battey is a fan of teaching her twins the skills they need to problem-solve and work through things on their own. She says, “Instead of the word ‘share,’ we use ‘turns’ and help one ask the other ‘can I have a turn?’ We then help the other say ‘in two minutes,’ then in two minutes, she hands the thing over and feels so proud with our positive reinforcement of this behavior. We have been at this for 5 months now and 50% of the time they can do this on their own without us!”
Similarly, twin mom, Jade Marie, says, “I leave mine to work things out together. If I intervened every time they argued over something, it would be exhausting. Pick your battles. It’s also how they learn for the future when socializing.”
Focus on Their Positive and Kind Behavior Instead of the Fighting
Twin Mom Stacey Haught says, “We have shifted to more positive behavior reinforcement. We have ‘kindness jars’ for each kid; anytime they are caught doing something kind (specifically in regards to a sibling), they get a marble for their jar. When their jar is full they get to pick a special thing (i.e. going out for ice cream, having movie night at home, etc.). My kids are super competitive so they are motivated to do something kind when another gets a marble. Not that this is a cure all — there is daily fighting/arguing — but it gives us a chance to reinforce the positive instead of just playing referee during the bad times!”
Likewise, Maria DeFiore rewards good behavior instead of giving attention to the negative behavior. “My B/G twins will be four in April. We just started a reward chart with them where if they do good during the week and earn enough stars for good behavior they can pick out a new matchbox car on the weekend for $1. Working like a charm!”
Leave the House
Go to the park. Take a walk. Head to the library. Take a field trip to Target. It doesn’t matter where — just go somewhere. A change of scenery can really help.
Spend Time with Them Individually
This can be hard, especially if your twins aren’t your only children, but it’s SO important and can make a huge difference in the long run!
It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate — though if you want to plan an entire date with him or her, you certainly could! But really, it can be as simple as taking 10 minutes out of your day to color, play a game, read a book, take a walk, or even just cuddle on the couch with each child.
It’s really not about what you do, as long as you’re spending quality time together. I can’t stress enough the importance of this: it will make each child feel valued, special and loved. And as parents, isn’t that our ultimate goal?!
Your twins are going to fight. It’s just part of the deal. But along with the squabbling comes this incredibly wondrous and beautiful connection that no one — not even their parents or other siblings — can truly understand. And like every other parenting struggle, this too shall pass. Yes, the fighting is temporary, but the twin relationship is forever.
And, as a parent of twins, you get the exciting and unique experience of helping your duo nurture and grow that loving, special connection — even when they’re at each other’s throats!
In the meantime, solidarity, parents (seriously, can we get our “twin parent” signal already?!). Know that I’m right there with you, in the throes of it. We’ll get through this stage of life together. And just think, in a few years we’ll have teenage twins, and that will be soooo much easier… wink, wink.
In the meantime, you may need a reminder of what’s so amazing about having twins. It’ll make you smile.
Cheers to a more peaceful household!
As an identical twin myself, who has fraternal twin boys, I would like to add to this, when it comes to possession and identity.
Let your twins OWN their own things, be it toys, clothes, whatever, and allow them not to share if they don’t want to. The thing about being a twin and having to share since day one is not having the individuality to own our own possessions, including owning our own identity is crippling. Giving the opportunity to own possessions as an individual and have that be OKAY I would say is important. We
That, and two birthday cakes, sing happy birthday twice.
Thank you SO much for these amazing suggestions — you certainly have experience, being a twin and raising twins! I really love your notion that each child should have his/her own possessions, birthday cakes, etc. Thank you!
This article was insightful and helpful, thank you! Looking p forward to creating the kindness jars and ensuring I spend 1:1 time with each more often.
Awesome! So glad you enjoyed it.
I have made it a priority to individualize my boys, but I never really thought about having 2 birthday cakes and singing twice! We have always referred to them by their individual names and not, “the twins.” They are 11 now and the sibling rivalry is so frustrating. It seems they make it a priority to push each others buttons which then leads to something physical. Any thoughts or insight from anyone else?
Thank you for taking time and truly explaining this article topic. My girls are sixteen months old, and we are in the first stage of squabbles. I admire each parents’ method mentioned. Especially the “calm down corner.” I encourage my girls to hold hands or hug frequently throughout the day. Reminding them how much they love each other, and saying, ” awe, you love each other.” It’s our way of taking a step back and seeing the other one individually without any distractions. I look forward on this twin journey to applying some of these techniques. I greatly appreciated reading your blog.
My twin boys are 9 and just had a huge epic fight that ended with me throwing my phone on the floor in anger. I Googled “stress meltdown twins fighting” and came across your article. The “There can only be one” meme made me laugh out loud. I needed that—thank you!
You are welcome!! Good luck (I need it too 😉