My husband Sam and I went away for a weekend when our twins were about fifteen months. We needed the break- the girls had been stealing, grabbing, and fighting over every. single. toy. They even fought over toys that we had two duplicates of, sometimes hitting each other over the head, often pulling hair, and always screaming and generally wreaking havoc despite our insistent requests to share, be soft, keep their hands on their own bodies, take turns, and all the rest.
When we got back, they would look at us with a pleading in their eyes, point to the other childs’ toy, and say “twooooo….” It turns out, she had taught them to count to five when they wanted the other child’s toy, and then put their hand out, palm up, to ask for the coveted toy. While this definitely sounds like something that would not work for twins under two, lemme tell you something: it worked.
To date, when they want a toy, and especially when they start fighting/grabbing for a toy their sister has, we remind them to count. Now they can both kind of count (though don’t worry, we’re pretty sure they don’t know their numbers yet even if they can recite the sing-song-y 1-2-3-4-5 in exchange for a toy), and they pretty consistently will give up their toy to their sister if she counts. Honestly, one of them will give up a toy about 80% of the time if she’s counted on, and the other will give it up about 60% of the time, and sometimes they still cry- but they will almost always hand it over. Sometimes they immediately start counting on each other again, but they do it. And truth be told, they’ve counted on me trying to get my Diet Dr. Pepper and they kind of think if they count on me when I have my cell phone I’ll give it up, and sometimes they try to get each others’ unfinished ice cream by counting, but you know, most of the time it still works. Here’s proof, with the coveted hose while watering the garden:
So, why’d it work?
Connection, rhythm, repetition.
When Meemo started this little intervention, they already were what I like to call, #meemoexclusives. She’d already done the work to know them and love them, she’d already spent the hours looking into their eyes at eye level and talking to them about their toys and feelings and routines. So, there’s that, and it’s really important. Because there was already a connection, she had something to build off of when she introduced the new concept… counting and then giving up a beloved toy.
Secondly, she sang. I mean she really just counted, but it was in a sing-songy kind of voice, that had some rhythm to it. So . no, they didn’t learn how to count at fifteen months, but they did learn to recognize how counting sounded, and they figured out that that song meant they were about to give up as toy to sister.
And finally, she did it all the time. She repeated and repeated. She made them hold out their palm, face-up and wait for a toy, every single time. She made the other one give the toy up, every single time. At first it was like 1-2-3-4-5, the child got the toy and within two hot seconds the other child was counting back, so and then again and again and again. It took a lot of do-overs and a lot of counting and some tantruming too, but eventually they got it.
And then Sam and I- and the others around the babies- got to reap the benefits. It wasn’t totally free, they still tamtrum about it sometimes. But we all do it enough, and again and again and again, and we all can count in one language or another, and we do. And they give up toys. It doesn’t work automatically if another person teaches your kid something like that and you want it to work for you too, but it does make things easier. You’ll have to build off of your own relationship, and you’ll have to be consistent and sing-song-y as well, but if the base is there, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, either. So forced sharing? It’s so necessary when you have multiple kids. It doesn’t work exactly as it should when you don’t want to share your wine or you cell phone, but everything can’t be perfect, so we’ll just be here, counting on each other for all the things. And if my kid comes to your house and starts saying “twoooooo, twoooooo…” you’ll know exactly what she wants.
The "What Meemo Said" series is written by Dr. Chelsey Hauge, about her mother Dr. Robin Hauge's advice on managing Chelsey's daughters. Robin's grandchildren call her "Meemo."