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Karen Kerkman, PhD

Switching Roles

By Karen Kerkman, PhD

Role playing is a common twin behavior. One twin will become the leader and the other will become the follower. One may become the talker and the other, the listener. In some cases, these roles become permanent and the behavior associated with those roles become part of the child's personality. In many other cases however, these roles will be switched on a periodic basis, leaving their confused parents' heads spinning! This behavior can be found in other sibling pairs, but it is most pronounced with twins.

Twins also seem to know much more about each other and what the other one is thinking. Twins will typically excel at guessing games. Twins seem to be sensitive to both verbal and non-verbal clues. It is possibly this intimate understanding of one another, that allows them to switch their roles so quickly. There almost seems to be an unspoken understanding between the twins, "okay, now I'll let you lead for awhile." For the casual observer, this can be very disconcerting. Despite the stories that sometimes appear in magazines and tabloids, there is no evidence that this unspoken communication amounts to ESP or any other unexplained phenomenom.

When twins swap roles, it makes it difficult for others to maintain a clear idea of their separate natures. Lacking a clear division of personalities, it is more difficult for others to tell the twins apart. Hence, we are more likely to group the twins as a unit, rather than as separate individuals.

As twins grow older, they may increasingly dislike this grouping and strive to establish completely unique identies. Parents may want to help this process along is a healthy and beneficial way. You should encourage the aspects of each twin's personality that seems to be unique to him or her. The parent can be a great helper in giving the twin a sense of individuality without losing the special bond shared with his or her twin.

Peter Kuhlman, PhD

Twins and Talking

by Peter Kuhlman, PhD

Communication occurs long before speech. Babies communicate with their parents through crying, laughter, smilying and pointing. The attentive parent quickly becomes attuned to this "non-speech" communication. At some point, usually in the second year of life, babies will begin to add a single words to these acts of expression. A baby will point to a cup and say, "drink." The names "Mama" and "Dada" are among the first out of the baby's mouth.

As the child gets older, he or she will add new words to these expressions and will begin to use words in combination: "get drink me." The parents provide visually and audio feedback to the child, encouraging the development of the speech process. Through a process called "echoing", parents will naturally repeat what their child says, proving an important confirmation that what the child has said has been heard and understood.

With twins, the situation may be slightly different. Often parents cannot provide the one-to-one feedback that single children routinely enjoy. It may be that the one most often listing to the twin and providing feedback is the other twin.

While the other twin is usually a very attentive and eager audience, he or she can not provide the type of feedback needed for language development. Twins can not correct each other's mistakes in the use of words or grammar. Moreover, by communicating with each other, twins are necessarily decreasing the amount of communication they are performing with adults and older children. In some cases, twins become such good audiences for each other, they lose interest in communicating with their parents.

In rare cases, this one-to-one communication can progress to the point at which a shared language is created. The twins will come up with their own words, and in some cases, their own grammatical structures. The languages are unintelligible to anyone else but the twins. These cases are very rare, even though they are well publicized. The twin's secret language will usually disappear by age 4 or 5, as the children become more adept at using their parent's language.

What can you do to help you twins in acquiring language? The most important thing you can do is pay individual attention to each child. Easier said than done! Provide feedback to the child as he or she gropes with language. If you are feeding your twins, talk to one child as the other is eating. Then, when the first child is eating, switch to the second. When changing diapers, use the one-on-one time (one hopes) to further provide the audio clues needed for picking up speech.

As with everything that is twin-related, language acquistion requires some extra work on the part of the parents; but again with twin-related activites, the extra work is paid off in extra fun.

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