grit resilience

Twins May Not Have Grit: How You Can Help

Grit. Resilience. You’ve probably heard these buzzwords in the past two years as the current culture of helicopter parenting has come under scrutiny. For me, helicopter parenting is the default — my kids are not yet four years old and I’ve had to hover over them for the first couple years of their lives. When they were infants and then young toddlers, it was my job to make sure their physical and emotional needs were met and to keep them from injuring themselves (or each other!). But now, I give them more room to run at a playground and I try to stay out of tiffs with friends over toys. But, again, because I had to be so physically close for the first few years, I have to fight the urge to be so…present.

I know that if I continue to hover, and then intervene, I will have failed to allow them to develop this important trait in times of trouble: grit. In Grit to Great: How Perserverence, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary, authors Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval examine how it’s being a hard worker (not simply gifted) that more often leads to great success later in life. How someone bounces back after a huge setback is the barometer for how much potential she has. So it’s important that we parents land the helicopters and sit back while our kids run and play and fight and make up and trip and skin knees and keep running. So not only do we need to let our kids fall, we also need to let them get themselves back up.

But parents of twins have an extra challenge. Even when they sit back, there is someone else there, trying to keep their child from falling and failing: her twin. Twin interviewees reported to me that they often did whatever they could to protect their twin siblings:  intervening in a schoolyard fight, helping a twin sibling cheat on a test, encouraging “the popular crowd” to include a twin sibling in an excursion, etc. And while these all sound like lovely displays of sibling loyalty, they prevent an opportunity for mental and emotional growth.

When twin children are constantly together, experiencing life with each other, each child is not able to develop his own strength and independence. Always being in what one twin interviewee described as the “eternal comfort zone” as a child hinders one’s ability to face difficult times as an adult. Thus, twin children need to have experiences that they go through alone so that they can learn how to navigate the world on their own terms. This will better prepare them for life as adults.

I have discussed before how separation of your twins counterintuitively helps them maintain a tight bond. Well, separation of your twins also helps them develop those essential traits of grit and resilience. Your twins’ failures today will lead to more successes in the future. So let’s start allowing them to fall, even if that means separating our twins so that they can fall (and get up) alone.


2 thoughts on “Twins May Not Have Grit: How You Can Help

  1. Thank you for this post. I think about this topic a lot, but had not thought about the negative side of twins standing up for each other. It’s a little like the older sibling in a non-twin family always taking over a puzzle or answering questions that were meant to positively challenge the younger one.

    Do you think it is important, as a parent, to be equally uninvolved when one’s own child is committing a wrong against another child, as when she or he is having a wrong committed against her or him? I am thinking of situations with non-siblings. Obviously, when it is just the twin siblings together, these two cases are one in the same.

    1. In reply to Tracye.

      Thank you for this thought-provoking question. I’m not sure, but I think age might be important here as with helping a child develop grit: there’s a time when you have to hover and there’s a time when you have to step back. In this case, I think I’d hover a little longer into the child’s development. For instance, with my kids at 3.5 years old, I step back and let them fall. But if I was present while they were committing a wrong against another child, I would intervene and create a teaching moment. I still find myself coaching the children on how to be kind to other children and how to be respectful to adults, and I imagine I’ll continue to do so for at least another couple of years.

      I’m not going to be present for all of their wrong-doings, but I do need them to know that certain behaviors are not representative of our family’s values so I do feel the need to intervene. Again, at some point (I’m not sure where that is), I’m going to have to let them “wrong” someone else and suffer the consequences of that wrong (and learn important skills like apologizing with sincerity and allowing the victim some space and time to forgive). I just feel more responsible at this point in their lives for their actions and omissions. I think it’s still part of the parenting manual to teach my kids behavior rules.

      What do you think?

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