Involving the Twins in What We Were Doing, Giving them Advance Warning and Asking their Permission
"I was seriously surprised at how quickly the twins caught on to many of the things that we were communicating with them about, from around 3 months onwards I started to see real signs of permission and preference coming back"
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1. By engaging the twins in what we were doing in the same way we would adults, (a.k.a. "respectfully") we aimed to build up their independence, curiosity and confidence.
2. We also hoped that it would make it practically easier to get things done with the twins involved and happy, opposed to having to work around or even against them.
3. Whilst it seemed crazy at first to expect a new-born to understand what we were trying to communicate, do, and give permission, it was surprising how quickly we started to get some form of feedback from them.
4. This was practically useful to help avoid frustrating them, and also gave us confidence as new parents that we were doing right by the twins.
5. The twins wanted to be involved in everything! We did our best to let them as often as we could, tough as this could be with both at once!
6. We offered the twins options in terms of how we did things, so that they felt like they had some control over events, even if all options we put on the table were ultimately acceptable to us.
7. Now the twins are older, we find them trying to independently do pretty much everything and its second nature for us all to pitch into things like caregiving activities.
(TG = Twin Girl, TB = Twin Boy)
By giving the twins the opportunity to understand what we were doing, to give their blessing, and get involved in some way, no matter what their developmental stage, we hoped to build up their independence, curiosity and confidence. We also hoped that it would mean in time they would be keen to get involved in things like caregiving activities and chores, which would mean we could take more collective pleasure in those activates and spend more time with them instead of having to juggle the two.
It seemed crazy at times to ask a new-born for their permission when they couldn't answer you back, or to hold a nappy so they could be part of the changing process when they still couldn’t grip. But this built the habit so it feels like second nature now, and over time helped the twins to understand what is coming and be less frustrated as they had a role to play. As they understood more it also helped them signal earlier if something was wrong. This meant happier twins, less distress and misunderstandings because we didn't take the time to see where they were at, communicate intent and what role they could play before we started doing things "to" them.
Along with role modelling good manners, this also helped with language development as they associate what we were saying with the subsequent activities and context.
Respectful Parenting suggests that you check if you are being respectful by asking “would you do this to an adult". It was easy to see how often we might do something with/to the twins that we wouldn’t to do to an adult - I wouldn’t walk over to my wife, pick her up and walk out the house with her without warning, and yet it would be easy enough to do this all the time to the twins. It would be fine though for me to ask her if we were good to leave in 5 minutes (and of course in 5 minutes, go and pick her up and walk out of the house…🤣).
A great example of this was getting the twins into their highchairs - sometimes they really weren’t keen to sit, and would struggle and wriggle putting a halt to proceedings. My wife cleverly paused, told them what we were doing and why, asked permission, gave them options, (see below), and gave them a minute or so to get comfortable. Quite often they would then assess the situation and sit down without a struggle. Compared to other approaches to get them into the seat, ranging from bribery, distraction and something resembling a rugby tackle (or is this just me?) It was so much less stressful for everyone. Worth noting that at this point, the babies were about 7 months old, so it goes to show how quickly their understanding develops.
Giving the twins options so they can choose for themselves
As part of involving the twins and asking for permission, we added in some options as to how things could proceed. So, for example when talking to them about sitting themselves down in their highchair, we might ask “do you want to sit down on your own, or do you want daddy to help you”. The trick here is of course that both options get us as parents the outcome that we need (the babies sat down in their high chair in this case), but it gives the child the ability to remain in control and dial up their confidence and independence. Of course, with younger children who can't communicate, then ultimately our actions dictated which option they took, but the point is you are both now in the habit of offering and considering options, and it also encourages a pause and further observation from yourself as you wait for a response.
What went well?
I was seriously surprised at how quickly the twins caught on to many of the things that we were communicating with them about. From around 3 months onwards I started to see real signs of permission and preference coming back, even if just through a shift in a particular direction or a relaxing of the body. As a new parents this was reassuring and it helped us to have confidence that what we were doing was good with the twins. Getting children involved in caregiving activities was especially called out in RIE, but we found that anything that we did, the twins were desperate to copy, so we made this possible as often as we could and were often surprised at how much they could do for themselves. TB especially LOVES cleaning!
TB 💖 cleaning, TG 💖 jumpers, fact!
As they have gotten older and could move, gesture, speak a few words, etc it’s been really great to see them taking control of situations by expressing preferences. Also, whenever we do have some kind of mini tantrum or distress, quite often we remember we haven’t offered or properly talked them through options, and when we do, they become much calmer, or this helps us understand what their frustration is.
I am actually really looking forward to the next few months as their speech and comprehension improves and we will no doubt get into more “conversations” about what we are doing and how they can be involved - maybe ask me again in a few months if I am enjoying it!
What was hard and what would we do differently?
When we had the time, there was a real opportunity to educate in things like nappy changing and getting them dressed by involving them and letting them “help” (whatever that turns out to be!). This usually took longer than just cracking on ourselves though, and was tough to fit in around jobs, housekeeping, generally trying to keep everyone alive and sane. I do believe though that the effort we put in when the twins were younger, even if not perfect, paid dividends. Now they are older and this is just the normal way of doing things we see them proactively trying to get involved and do things for themselves, and it feels like time pressure is less of an issue as they are more self sufficient, which is helping to balance things out and even gives us a bit of time back here and there.