Thursday, November 3, 2011

Holiday gifts for identical twins: the same or different?

Each year as the holidays approach, the same question appears on the online forums for parents of twins. Parents want to know whether they should buy identical gifts, matching gifts or different gifts for their same-aged children.
For certain items, it's obvious: if you buy a bike for one twin, you should buy a bike for the other.
For boy/girl twins, it gets easier as they get older thanks to social coding: a 7-year-old girl is likely to want Polly Pockets while a 7-year-old boy might want a Bionicle. But they will both probably want iPhones someday.
Some same-sex fraternal twins make it easy, too, expressing entirely different interests.
But identical twins present a different challenge.
As parents, we have to recognized that their shared DNA also means predominately shared brain chemistry. Their talents, skills and general interests tend to be the same or, at least, very similar. They also have the same body types, which might naturally lead them to similar physical pursuits.
At the same time, identical twins have choices about which talents, skills, interests and physical pursuits to cultivate. Those choices along with environmental influences help them develop as individuals with sometimes differing needs and wants.
So how does that translate into a holiday shopping list?
In the beginning, err on the side of caution. Babies are babies. They don't know how to share and they really don't care whether you want them to. Buy two of the same when it is appropriate to buy more than one of a particular item.
Don't do what we did.
We made the mistake of buying Matthew a yellow Animal Alley Good-Night bear for his crib when the twins were 4-months old. We bought Jonathan the blue Good-Night rabbit. The animals were equally soft and similar in shape.
We never thought they'd care.
We were wrong.
Four months old and already they were fighting over a toy. They both wanted that yellow bear in bed with them and they would scream and cry until they got it. An emergency trip to Toy-R-Us resolved the problem, but it was a long time before I made that mistake again.
By 16 months old, the boys had developed definite color preferences of their own. At this point, we could buy them the same toys, but in different colors. Jonathan got the blue dinosaur while Matthew got the green one. Matthew got the red truck while Jonathan got the orange one.
Everybody was happy.
There was no point in forcing entirely different toys on them. They wanted the same things and they were happy with the same things. We wanted to give our children gifts that they would enjoy, that made them happy. Receiving the same gifts in different colors made them happy.
But that stage doesn't last forever.
Even the closest of identical twins eventually differentiate, at least in the eyes of those who are paying attention. And that differentiation can make holiday shopping more challenging and more satisfying.
We are just beginning to see those changes in our guys at 4 years old.
Matthew and Jonathan still enjoy the same general things, like trains ... and more trains ... and more trains. Did I mention they like trains? And movies about trains? And train T-shirts? And books about trains? And anything at all related to trains?
But, this year, they want different engines.
Matthew wants 'Arry and Burt of the Thomas the Tank Engine fame while Jonathan wants Neville and Issobella. They both want the wooden Tidmouth sheds, so Santa will probably give that as a combined gift. They'll get some games they can play together and lots of books that each can call his own.
Jonathan might get a new basketball, his biggest sports obsession, but Matthew has no interest in that. Matthew would likely prefer more Legos.
And, well, that's probably about it for now.
They have plenty of different food preferences and they like different textures of clothing, but toys are for playing together at their age and they love playing together. So they tend to love the same types of toys.
And the holidays, for 4-year-olds, are all about toys.
I am anticipating more differences when gifts involve clothing, iTunes and Wii games.
Forcing identical twins to accept different toys will not foster individuality. Nor will forcing them to accept the same toys somehow make them inseparable. It's natural for them to lean the same way and it's natural for them to want to be a little bit different.
Gift shopping for identical twins is a challenge, but the challenge is simply one of concentration, of focusing on the minutia.It takes more energy to find those differences and similarities that make gifts for identical twins the perfect gifts.
But, otherwise, it is really no different than it is for other children.
And the thrill on their faces -- that thrill they share first with their twin as they rip off the paper and expose the treasure inside and then with their siblings and with us -- makes all that extra energy well worth the effort.