January 25, 2010

January 26, 2010 at 3:26 am 1 comment

Twins Have Their Own Temperament and Risk-Taking Style

by Susan Davis and Nancy Eppler-Wolff

Lizzie and Lucy are 6 year old fraternal twins. Both have thick auburn curls and  chocolate brown eyes, but that’s where the similarity ends. They are fraternal twins, and like all other siblings they have different personalities, talents and temperaments. They are especially close, as most twins are, since they were born together, and together they learned that a cry leads to mommy’s attention, smiling begets another smile, and anger engages – and pushes people away. They are each other’s almost constant companion. Lizzie and Lucy know one other better than even their parents know them. They are exquisitely sensitive to each other’s feelings, wants and desires  – and they can also push each other’s buttons like no one else can.

When Lizzie and Lucy’s Mom, Jessica, supervises them on a playdate with their friend, Emily, she’s amazed by how differently the girls approach a social situation.  Lizzie Immediately greets Emily’s Mom with a resounding, “Hi!”, runs up to Emily and dives into plans for the playdate. “Lucy and I brought our new poly-pockets and we want to play pet store!” Lucy, on the other hand, hangs back with mom, holding her hand and staying quiet. Jessica, a relaxed and confident parent, allows Lucy to take her time to warm up to the situation, and respects Lucy’s own pace. When Emily’s Mom comments, within Lucy’s earshot, “Wow she is so shy!”  Jessica casually responds, “ Lucy has her own style — as we all do”. Jessica then offers to walk Lucy upstairs to Emily’s room where the other two girls are already playing. Lucy says ok, and then happily joins her sister and friend; quietly at first, then with joyful abandon.

Lizzie and Lucy were born with very different temperaments and risk-taking styles. This gets played out in the girls’ choice of activities and approach to situations.  Lizzie gets energized by stimulation, while Lucy withdraws from loud, fast-paced situations. Lucy thoughtfully thinks through a situation before acting, while Lizzie can be impulsive, sometimes acting out in ways that get her in trouble. Lizzie is  fearless in her gymnastics classes, ready to fly through the air at a moment’s notice, while Lucy loves her ballet classes in which she works hard to perfect her plie and releve.

Lizzie is a natural risk-taker, but can be prone to sometimes taking a dangerous risk. Jessica went on more than a few visits to the pediatrician due to Lizzie’s falls in the playground when she, for example, insisted on hanging head-first from monkey bars before she was able to hold on with her bent knees.  However, as time goes on and Jessica uses each situation as a teaching opportunity, Lizzie learns to first think through her actions before doing them. In contrast, Lucy needs to be encouraged to take good risks, and she tends to err on the side of caution. Each semester, before beginning a new dance class, Lucy worries that it might be too hard for her, and that she may not know any of the kids in the class. With encouragement and each successful adjustment to a new class, Jessica helps Lucy take on new challenges. She helps Lucy learn to tolerate the strong feelings of normal anxiety that comes with trying new experiences. Jessica has learned that different children require different parenting strategies.

Jessica’s twin girls who were diapered, bathed and read to at same time, require different parenting. Jessica is keenly aware of her daughters’ temperamental differences, and her ability as their parent to influence their development. By the time Lizzie and Lucy are 16, instead of 6, there’s a good possibility that  Lucy will overcome some of her shyness, and be the one to walk first into a social activity or speak up in class; and Lizzie, who has learned to think before she acts, may be the one to caution Lucy about taking it slow with a cute boy who asks her on a date. That’s one of the great parts about parenting. When we know our children well, we can guide them to take the healthy risks that are necessary to become thoughtful, balanced and confident people.

Drs. Davis and Eppler-Wolff are Clinical Psychologists and co-authors of the book, Raising Children Who Soar. You can visit their website at http://www.raisingchildrenwhosoar.com <http://www.raisingchildrenwhosoar.com>

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