Ash1019 asks:

Twins that just won't listen

I have twin 2 yr. old girls and am going through a divorce. i can't for the life of me get these children to listen to me. I've tried time outs, i've tried taking away a favorite toy or movie. nothing seems to work. I think the thing that gets me the most is that, I'm the only one that has these problems with my children. They behave beautifully with everyone else. What should I do?
In Topics: Parenting / Our Family, Communicating with my child (The tough talks)
> 60 days ago



Jul 9, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

Hello and I can feel your frustration.  Let me try and be of help to you and your girls.

First, having twins is difficult when there is a stable home environment.  You are undergoing a divorce at the same time you are parenting children at a trying age.  You are most likely working on shear exhaustion and emotional "overdrive".  

Here is what I would do. First, please refer to the references listed below by a fellow writer.  Also, note that twins are at higher risk for attending disorders and you may wish to consult with your local school district early intervention team to assist you.  They can meet with you, observe your children and determine if there are other developmental issues that are interfering with their attending to your requests or attainment of developmental milestones.  Chances are that many of the problems can be helped with positive reinforcement and changes in behavioral management, however, it would not hurt to have another set of "fresh eyes" observe your girls.  The school district also could help you with information about how to use behavior modification in the home, as well.

Also, keep in mind that you are out numbered.  Try and have a mother's helper, friend, or relative come and give you a bit of respite.  This person can play with the children and keep them engaged while you recharge yourself which would allow you to be better able to handle them when you are not drained of energy.

Lastly, when your girls are in the throws of their tantrums, etc. try and remain calm.  I know this is VERY difficult, but it is essential.  Give them no visible cues that they are upsetting you.  The more angry or upset you become the higher the probability that the outburst will continue longer and become more intense.  A calm, firm and clear approach to parenting is needed.  Be consistent.

Parenting is hard.  However, I commend you for asking for help.  I


Louise Sattler
Nationally Certified School Psychologist
Owner of Signing Families
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Additional Answers (3)

CreativeRac... , Child Professional, Teacher writes:
I'm so sorry about your disciplining frustrations.  I can understand how hard this situation must be for you with the added stress of divorce.  The two's can be challenging as babies learn to say "no."  Be patient with the time outs.  Continued effort with the same concept of time-out may instill the knowledge in your toddlers that you mean business. has some great time-out reference articles which may give some insight as to what you can do differently from your previous time outs.

   In addition, children know who their mother is, and usually test your boundaries. I know it's difficult, but remain kind yet firm.  

Good Luck,
> 60 days ago

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Hand in Hand
Hand in Hand , Teacher, Caregiver, Parent writes:
Dear Ash1019:

You're in a challenging situation, and it's good you're looking for help! Having parents split up is a huge trauma for young children--their entire world is upended. They know you are under tension, and they can't find the sense of safety they need in order to function well.

Children's minds need a fairly constant sense of connection with a loving person in order to function well. You've had a real challenge with twins from the start! No one person can fully meet the attention needs of two infants! So they've got some experiences of "attention deficit" in their emotional memories, no fault of yours! But those moments when they needed someone and there wasn't enough attention to go around have left emotional memories, which are stored in their minds. Those memories cause trouble. When you answer the phone, for instance, they see that you're not available, and that's not a crisis for a two-year-old, but it felt like a crisis when they were infants, and that feeling can get triggered by something like your momentary phone call. So although you get right back to them, you could easily have two children who now feel like they can't get enough attention. They can't feel what you're giving, because their emotional memories have been triggered, and they are flooded with that feeling--"I'm not getting enough!"

When they can't feel enough of a connection, their minds become filled with emotion. They feel scared, and become edgy, separate, revved up, or perhaps they sink into thumb-sucking or other self-soothing behavior. In this state, they're easily upset. Their behavior is clearly out of whack. You set a limit, and they can't comply. Appealing to the reasoning center of their minds--the prefrontal cortex--by setting up rewards and punishments just doesn't work because while their behavior is off track, the reasoning part of their brains doesn't function. They literally can't think, can't make sense of anything you say or of anything you ask of them. They are, during those times of feeling disconnected, governed by their feelings.

Here are two things to do. If you do them, things will get better, I guarantee.
First, Special Time. With twins, you'll need some help with this! Find a friend or set up staggered nap times or take quick advantage of accidental one-on-one time. Somehow, find separate time for each. It doesn't have to be much. Tell your child that it's her Special Time, and that for X number of minutes, you will do whatever she wants! Any kind of play is OK. Turn off the phone, tell others in the house that you won't be talking to them for the next x minutes, and devote your full attention to her, doing whatever she wants, and showering her with warmth, closeness, eye contact, and interest. Set a timer for this. When the timer goes off, tell her you loved being with her, and when the next Special Time will be. Don't make it dependent on anything--no saying, "When you get your teeth brushed, then you can have Special Time." She gets it because she's your precious daughter, not because she earned it.
This kind of time, done once or twice a day, can help a child feel more connected to you. It helps her feel more emotionally safe. But, let me tell you also, that after Special Time, the emotional tension she carries, that gets her into trouble time and time again during the day, will be closer to the surface. She  may throw a tantrum because Special Time ended. Or shortly thereafter, she may have an emotional crisis because jam is falling off her toast. That's when you use this second "Listening Tool," that does the work of helping her get rid of the stored upset that's in her way of being her loving, relaxed, playful self.
When she finds a way to get upset, move in close, put your arms around her loosely, and offer eye contact. If you have to set a limit, do it with warmth. "Sweetie, you can fix the jam on your toast yourself. I'm not going to do it for you." or "No, I'm not going to make a new piece and cut it into rectangles. I'm going to stay here so we can look at the triangle toast."
You move in, set the limit, and then, listen. Don't talk. Don't explain. Don't give a lecture. She needs to pay attention to the feelings she has that are erupting. And she needs you to connect with her, offer warmth and safety, and stay with her while she pours out all her upset. It will be "ugly,"--screaming, crying, stamping, throwing herself down, flailing , sweating, going wildly out of control. Contrary to everything you've ever been taught, this is GOOD. This is how bad feelings get out of children's systems. If you can hang in with her, and tell her, "I know it's hard, honey. I'm here. I'm going to stay with you while it's hard." and "I'm going to hold you so you stay safe. I'm not going to leave you while you are feeling so upset." and "I know you can lick up the jam." or "I know the triangle toast is good to eat."
She expels the feelings. You pour on the connection and the warmth. That's what her system needs for her to recover her ability to think. Her brain needs the bad feelings out of the way, and a strong sense that someone is keeping her safe and loved, to restore her ability to think and act with good sense.
We call this Staylistening. There's much more about it, and many anecdotes from parents who have used it, at the site listed below. It meets a child's deep inner need for closeness, and their need to have a big "emotional poop" often enough to keep their minds humming and their spirits cooperative and loving.

With twins, you've got more to do than one person can do. The above "Listening Tools" will work, but you'll need to find ways to have another loving person on hand at times.

Your children love you, and want to feel close to you. They want that more than anything else in the world. The website below will give you more resources to learn how to help them offload the emotional tension that's clouding their behavior, and how to set up some emotional support for yourself, as well.

All the best to you,

Patty Wipfler

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Loddie1 , Parent writes:
I am sorry about your twins not listening and your recent divorce. Divorce is very hard on a family and affects each member differently. In addition, I feel like your main issue has to do with the age group (2yr old) and developmental growth more than anything. While you are going through a divorce and trying to emotionally readjust yourself, the twins are being the typical 2yr olds. They call this time "The Terrible Twos" and since you have two kids that are two it is double! Some things you may want to do is come up with a predictable daily routine. This will help you along with the kids. Try to maintain a schedule of events for the day. During these years, children are exploring every avenue around them. They are trying to learn about their world and often have tantrums and do not mind. I posted some links below. I hope all goes well with you and remember, these years are some of the most trying for parents and you are not alone. :)

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