Playing Alone: The Challenge of Always Having a Playmate

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For this weekend’s screen time, my 7-year-old twin daughters, M and J, requested 30 minutes each on a game on my computer. Everything went well during M’s turn. J worked on her knitting and waited her turn patiently while I cleaned the kitchen.

During J’s turn, things turned sour. M asked if she could watch J play, and she said yes, as long as M watched quietly. M simply couldn’t resist offering advice and J soon banished her.

“I’m bored!” M complained.
“Go play,” I suggested, still cleaning.
“I can’t play by myself!” M insisted. “I have no one to play with.”
“Read a book.”
“Clean your desk. Write a story. Draw a picture. Sing a song,” I offered. “Put on a puppet show. Make a necklace.”
“Mom! I cannot play with myself. I have no experience playing by myself. J likes knitting. I don’t.” M pulled her favourite complaint: “It’s not fair.”
“I agree that it’s not fair,” I countered, “to all the kids in the world who don’t have a brother or sister and have to play alone most of the time while you almost always have J to play with.”
“No! It’s not fair to me!” M insisted. “I have no experience playing by myself because I have a twin. That’s what’s not fair.”

This conversation wasn’t going to go anywhere. I just went back to my cleaning and let her rail.

Playing Alone: The challenge of always having a playmate from An hour later, I observed J back at her knitting while M composed at the piano. Clearly, she had no trouble finding something to do by herself when she felt like it.

Still, I couldn’t help thinking that beneath the silliness, she had a point. That common comment people make on seeing twins, “They’ll always have someone to play with,” has been completely true at our house. (I’m aware that it isn’t true for all twins.) M, more than J, struggles with the idea of having to be alone. She’s right. She doesn’t have much experience at this.

How do your multiples react to playing alone or having to be alone?

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That "playmate for life" thing

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We’ve all heard it. It’s right up there with “are they identical?” and “you’ve got your hands full.”  People simply love to see a set of twins and say, “ah, they’ve got a playmate for life!”  Of course, depending on the day I’ve had, sometimes I simply want to respond, “yeah, or a live-in punching bag!”

And yet… there might be something to all of that.

Believe me, my kids fight as much as the next set of twins, or really any brother-sister pair. They steal things from each other, they scream, they steal, they bite, they freak out at each other over almost nothing.  But having the constant company of someone roughly the same size and exactly the same age as you has got to have its perks. And one of those perks, for sure, is social development.


I remember when we had the Early Intervention folks came to evaluate my son (on a very random issue that turned out to be nothing) at 19 months. They were asking me about his interactions with other children, and I was already noticing that he was playing with his sister a fair amount, not just parallel to her as they say kids that age do. With barely a word, they would start rollicking games of chase with each other and make each other laugh before falling asleep.


Now, at two, they seem to make up even more games with their other twin-friends. They help each other climb up the slide (the wrong way, of course), they push each other on the swings. They bring each other toys, sometimes even without prompting (“here [you] go, Daniel!”), and generally entertain each other to no end. And yet, if a same-aged singleton friend is also there to play, he or she just doesn’t seem to join in as much, doesn’t seem to understand whatever game they’re trying to play.  That reaction, of course, is normal and age-appropriate! But noticeably different from the kids who have always had a 24/7 playmate.

So, for all the times that we worry about being behind the curve, whether physical development woes for preemies or the more-common-in-twins language delays… know that there’s at least one aspect of development where that twin thing really works in your favor.  Your kids will know how to play together, share, and take turns before just about any same-aged singleton!

In what way have your kids amazed you with their play?

Summer in the Midwest

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