Twin Mom Carrie talks to mother of twins and parenting coach Gina Osher
Hello, Gina! Thank you so very much for taking some time out to talk with The Twin Source. It is a pleasure to have you. On your blog, The Twin Coach, you consistently provide a perspective on parenting that is both honest and informative.
Thank you so much, Carrie. I'm a big fan of The Twin Source and am very glad to have a chance to connect with your readership. And thank you for the compliment on my parenting perspective. My goal in being honest about my own parenting struggles is to help my readers know that they aren't alone and that they don't have to be perfect in order to be a good parent!
We can't wait to hear your thoughts on some of the biggest conundrums that twin parents face. But first, tell us about your role as The Twin Coach and your own parenting philosophy.
When my children were born six years ago, I really didn't have a parenting philosophy at all except that I knew I would love and take care of them. But I have always been an information junkie and a researcher. So I tackled parenting like anything else I am interested in: I researched! Doing this introduced me to the most amazing parenting advocates and helped me begin to be more mindful about my parenting. [Editor's Note: Check out this list of parenting resources compiled by Gina for The Twin Source!]
Over time, my philosophy about parenting has been greatly shaped by what I learned about attachment theory, Magda Gerber's RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers), and ultimately the concept of connecting with children through respect and empathy. Additionally, I've spent years working on my own triggers so that I can really be present for my children as a better version of myself. It's definitely not the easiest thing to look critically at yourself, but it's invaluable when it comes to parenting.
Before my twins were born, and before I became a parenting coach, I had a small wellness center in Los Angeles. My experience as a holistic healer, using energy work and talk therapy with my clients, gave me a great foundation for working with parents. Although I started out focusing on parents of multiples, I quickly realized that having support in learning how to parent respectfully is something that every parent needs. So, although I especially love working with parents of twins, my blog and my parent education sessions are for anyone who wants to be a happier, more mindful, and more connected parent.
As you know, parenting twins comes with a unique set of challenges. Let's first talk about achieving a healthy parenting dynamic. When two babies arrive at once, there is obviously extra strain placed on new parents. How can they prepare for this, and what should they remember as they tackle the twin experience?
Before the children are born, it's important to sit down together and discuss things like how you are planning to share responsibilities. It doesn't need to be 50/50, but resentment is going to build quickly if you don't have a plan. Additionally, discussing any preconceived notions you might have about twins ahead of time can be really helpful. Sometimes a parent has negative associations with twins they once knew or has fantasy ideas about how twins will be telepathic and should always be together. It's better to talk about these so you can try to be on the same page and clear the air prior to the birth.
Once the babies are here, be sure to make time for each other. Two babies can be so overwhelming, and it is very easy to forget that the reason those babies are even here is your love for each other. Make time to keep that love strong! Remember that putting an emphasis on your marriage or partnership doesn't make you bad parents. Your relationship is your children's first model of what a loving partnership looks like. It creates the foundation from which they will go out into the world to seek their own partners. You want to model a healthy, respectful, loving relationship. If you occasionally need help from a therapist or counselor of some sort, get it! Invest in your partnership as much as you invest in your parenting.
As twins grow from infants into toddlers, they begin to form their own identities. How can parents nurture each child's strengths and individuality?
The single greatest thing you can do is allow your twins time apart. Time apart helps your children to be seen as individuals by others and to see themselves as more than just part of a set. Give them the room to have their own play dates, go to extracurricular classes without the other one, spend time with Daddy alone, even have their own birthday parties. It is amazing what you will learn about your children when their true personalities aren't overshadowed by their need to compete with their co-twin.
One-on-one time with your children doesn't have to be anything spectacular. I remember one of my first outings with our son was to get the car washed. He was beside himself with joy to spend an hour alone with me—even at the car wash! If there's no way to spend one-on-one time with your children because you are single parenting or don't have extra help, even setting up time in the house when your children know that this 10 minutes is my alone time with Mom makes a difference. However you can capture it, make sure to tell your kids it is your special time together.
Additionally, although you want to support their strengths, you have to be careful not to put labels on your children—or allow others to do it either. Our daughter happens to be an amazing artist and gets a lot of attention for it, but our son has plenty of confidence in his artistic skills. We encourage both children to try their best at whatever activity they get involved in, but we don't make "being the best" a priority. Twins will often polarize themselves in order to find an identity ("She's the artist, so I am the athlete"). The danger is that one child may not try an activity because they believe they won't be as good at it as their co-twin. Complimenting their efforts at whatever they are trying helps each child gain confidence in their abilities without making either feel less accomplished.
Two articles on my blog—Getting to Know You and Nurturing Individuality: A Conversation with Dr. Joan Friedman—explore the idea of encouraging your twins' individuality.
What are some ways parents can guide twins to share with one another as they grow, whether it's sharing toys, attention, or something else?
The best way to help any child learn to share is to model the behavior yourself. Being mindful about how you are sharing your food, your lap, a book, or even your time ultimately is the most effective way to teach your children to develop this skill.
Although I think it's very important for kids to have some autonomy and not arbitrarily place constraints on when (or if) they share, it is equally important to teach them what is expected of them socially. When children are very young and they are asked to share, it actually feels to them as though they will never get their coveted item back. It can be helpful to model the idea of giving and returning. As they get older, one of the best methods I've found is to use collaborative problem-solving with children.
Twins are experienced with having to share a parent's attention from day one. That doesn't mean it's easy. When asking one child to wait because I am busy with the other child, I always say, "What you need is very important to me. I have to help your sister right now, but I want to hear your story. I promise I won't forget and I will come back to you as soon as I am done." Also, recognizing that one may be getting the short end of the stick at times is helpful: "I know I have been spending a lot of time lately with your brother. He has been having a hard time. Does it feel like I am ignoring you? I am sorry. I would love to have a special date with you this weekend. Would that be nice?" Small efforts like this make a huge difference. Coupled with spending one-on-one time with your children and getting to know each one individually, these are a few ways that we can raise children who have an easier time with sharing attention.
These articles from my blog discuss the issue of sharing and sibling rivalry:
Handling tantrums can be difficult for any parent. But parents of twins often must manage another child as well during those intense moments. Can you provide insights on tempering tantrums—or at least getting through them?
I often refer to twin tantrums as having to experience tantrums in stereo. It's overwhelming at times!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to remember that when children are "acting out," it is because they need our help regulating. Children have tantrums because they don't know a more adaptive way to get what they need. They are having huge emotions and need our help navigating them. Sometimes all that needs to be done is to be empathetic: "You are so angry! You really want to stay at the park and Mommy said it was time to go. It is so hard for you because you were having so much fun. I will stay with you and help you with your big feelings."
Once, my daughter was throwing a particularly huge and embarrassing tantrum at a play date and kept hitting me and telling me to go away. I took a deep breath and said, "I won't leave you alone with your big feelings." She stopped, looked at me curiously, and fell into my arms weeping. In that one sentence, I had let her know that her feelings were okay to have, that they wouldn't drive me away, and that she had a safe place to let it all out.
When only one child is having a meltdown and the other is old enough to be left alone, it helps to remove the upset child and stay with him or her until the feelings pass. But when children are very young or if you are alone with the two of them, I would suggest sitting near the child with the tantrum and telling her that you love her and will be here to talk when she's able to calm down. At the height of a tantrum, kids' capacity for hearing is diminished drastically. Try to notice when your child is beginning to "come down" a bit. Then gently offer a hug, ask if she wants to sit on your lap, or suggest a distraction. Once she has calmed down, you can talk more effectively.
Teaching children how to express themselves is a big key to taming tantrums. Even for younger children who haven't yet developed many language skills, it is still worth doing. Here are some tips:
- Give your children language for what they are feeling. Use all sorts of words, not just angry and happy. Try to label whatever you think might be going on for them. When you verbalize what they are feeling, they feel connected to and almost instantly the emotional explosion lessens.
- Express your own feelings when the kids are around: "Mommy is getting frustrated," "I feel my frustration in my tummy" (helping the kids to begin to notice where they feel things in their body so they can be aware when those sensations arise), "Mommy feels so relaxed now" (as if that ever happens, ha ha ha), and so forth. Don't forget to express good feelings!
- Help your children learn deep breathing. Deep breathing is an amazingly effective tool for calming not just their bodies but yours as well!
- Help them calm down by creating a "cool down" place. When your children are getting really worked up and headed toward a tantrum, try to catch them and say something like, "I notice you are having a hard time. Do you feel like you need a cool down?" Make an area and decorate it so it is comfortable and welcoming. Have things like books, paper and pens, a "calm down jar"—anything that is comforting. Go with your child, if it's possible, and just sit together and let them chill out. When they're ready to return to the group, usually the big feelings have passed.
I've written a lot about helping parents handle their own emotions when things get tough, and I think that's a big part of staying calm when the kids are melting down. Check out Triggers, Tantrums and Time Outs (Or, When Mom Is Losing It) and Keeping Calm When You Want to Explode on my blog.
Most parents' ultimate goal over the course of this wild ride is to create kind, well-mannered adults who contribute positively to society. What are some commonalities that you have found when working with parents that could be applied and shared?
There's a quote I love: "We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today." Focusing on who your children are in the moment and where they are at emotionally means your children feel connected to. When children feel connection, they are able to learn. To me, focusing so much on behavior modification or discipline in an effort to mold our children into perfect citizens means you are missing the boat entirely.
I often tell parents that the best way to teach a child is to be what we want them to become. In other words, if you want kind children, model kindness. If manners are a goal, model good manners. If having your child become involved in helping others is important to you, make acts of charity something you do together as a family.
Let's talk your own twins! Your fraternal boy/girl twins are 6 years old. What is the best part of raising twins?
Yes! I can't believe they are already 6 and ending their first year in elementary school. There are so many aspects of raising twins that have been amazing for me. One of the coolest parts has been watching how wonderfully different the two of them are! I constantly marvel at the innate differences between boys and girls and how two children who are the same age and ostensibly parented in the same way can have such completely different personalities. It constantly keeps me on my toes and has made me so much more flexible and creative in my thinking. I have learned more from my children than from any parenting expert out there!
Gina, thank you so very much for taking the time to share your expertise with The Twin Source!
Thank you so much, Carrie. It's absolutely my pleasure.
Gina Osher is a former holistic healer turned parenting coach and mother to boy/girl twins. She is also the author of the parenting blog The Twin Coach, where she writes about working her way through her own imperfect parenting moments with a focus on parenting with connection, empathy, joy, and respect. Her passion is helping others build a deeper connection to the children they love!
Gina lives in Los Angeles with her husband; their 6-year-old twins; their 100-pound chocolate lab, Atticus; and Ivy, a cat with thumbs. To reach Gina for parenting consultations, e-mail her at
. You can also find and connect with her on several social media channels.
Kids In The House: www.kidsinthehouse.com/expert/gina-osher