My twin boys are the best of friends, yet the battle for Top Dog has taken a turn for the worse. Twins fighting is a common problem, but as I wade through the tribulations of the ‘terrible twos’, is there anything to be done? Why are they fighting and how do I stop them from getting hurt?
The Twins’ bossy behavior started when they turned one, and I wrote here on the blog about Twin Escalation Syndrome (TES) and their new competitive streak. A year ago, the twins fighting was generally expressed with a toy-tug-of-war or by shoving or squashing each other. Although it resulted in lots of fuss and tears, it rarely caused any actual bodily harm.
Since then, the boys are bigger, heavier and more coordinated; and the fighting often results in a nasty bruise and we’ve even shed blood. They have learned the effectiveness of hitting each other with hard objects and a short stint of biting has returned with a vengeance.
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Where does this aggressive behavior come from?
Too often we forget that aggression is a fundamental part of a young child’s social development… Human beings show the highest levels of aggressive behaviour towards their peers between the ages of 2 and 4. As children grow, they learn how to manage their emotions, communicate with others and deal with conflict. (Stéphane Paquin, ‘Aggression in childhood: Rooted in genetics, influenced by the environment‘)
This is not what I want to hear Stephane, another two years of this is going to send me crazy! But it’s good to know their aggression is ‘normal’ and age-appropriate because as always it’s easy to blame our own parenting skills.
Toddlers also become aggressive in order to release pent-up anger, to control a situation, to show power or to protect their turf in a toy squabble. Toddlers often perceive aggressive behaviors such as biting and hitting as communication tools. (Dr William Sears, Parenting.com)
I have previously written about my boys’ dominant and submissive roles in the twin relationship, but it seems over time Arthur has grown tired of sitting at the bottom of the food chain. He’s decided it’s time to fight back, and the best way for him to communicate this claim to the throne is to growl, shout, bite and hit. The Twins often stand nose to nose, George determined not to budge, with Arthur snarling like a wild animal to break him. Unfortunately for George, this tactic is working, and the snarl/growl often brings him to tears.
When to Stop Twins Fighting
The shouting I can handle, and a lot of the time I’ll allow them to work things out among themselves with little intervention. But the biting and pushing is upsetting for all and could be dangerous. This week alone George has received several bites that have broken the skin, and he retaliated today with a horrendous bite to Arthur’s cheek. The poor boy was shaking from head to toe and whimpering on my shoulder for some time, and he has a big purple war wound to show for it.
At this point, I need to reinforce what is acceptable behavior. They are at an age where they understand the concept of rules… they know they have to hold my hand when we get out of the car. They know they are not to take food off each other’s plates. They know hitting and biting are not OK.
There was a short period about six months ago where both boys tried biting me to get my attention. We quickly put a stop to that with an angry face, a stern “no biting” at eye level, followed by turning our back to ignore them for a moment. They found the telling off very upsetting and the biting abruptly stopped. Unfortunately, stopping the twins fighting each other is more difficult. With the power struggle in the mix, the temptation is just too great.
5 TIPS to Stop Twins Fighting
1: Supervise Sharing Activities:
More often than not, my twins are fighting over a toy or desirable item. I had to just stop writing this to break up a fight over a lion costume… yep, we’re live in the action.
Any activities that require them to take turns can help. My boys love stickers and they know while we’re playing they take turns to take a sticker from the pad. Our speech therapy flashcards also require them to take turns, and they really enjoy watching their brother celebrate with a high five.
2: Teach Cause & Effect
When children are very young, they don’t necessarily understand that actions such as shoving and biting cause pain. There’s a lack of understanding of cause and effect. “Oowee, that hurt!” with a sad face is often the natural thing to do if a child accidentally hurts a parent, and the same applies when toddlers hurt each other.
When it comes to biting, I always mimic the biting action with my mouth when telling off. I have also heard pressing the biter’s arm gently against their teeth can help them understand biting hurts. If you’re struggling with biting in particular, there is some fantastic information here from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
3: Be Aware of fighting Triggers
If there is a single new toy around or they find Mom’s phone, be prepared for a fight! Although they will always find something to argue over, eliminating triggers can make life easier. For example, I would never leave my boys alone with their sticker book… I know this would result in the twins fighting.
Similarly, I know if the Twins are tired, they are more likely to fight. Staying close by and removing trigger items during peak tired times will help avoid a double grumpy bedtime meltdown.
4: Get Out & About
For us, fighting only happens on home turf. Some days are just bad days for squabbling, and the best thing you can do is get out of the house and do something fun to diffuse the lingering bad energy.
Boredom can be the ultimate culprit for twins fighting, so even if you can’t get out, change up the day’s activities to occupy their minds. When my boys are in a miserable mood, pottering about aimlessly adorning the ‘Perma-Whine‘, it’s surprising how quickly they perk up and get along when I say “Do you want to do some drawing?” They love it!
5: Lead By Example
The more we ‘fly off the handle’ the more our children get the message that life is often an emergency. They build a brain that is geared for self-protection, which makes the child more aggressive. (Laura Markham, Peaceful Parent Happy Kid)
Although aggression is natural during these Terrible Twos, toddlers are also learning fast by watching how we as parents react to negative situations. By remaining calm (I am not good at this!), and being consistent with reprimands and modeling kind behavior, our children are more likely to appreciate the benefits of a caring, sharing relationship with their twin… maybe not all the time but we can but hope!