How to nur­ture ac­tive 5-year-old twins


Q: My twin boys will turn 5 soon. They’re great, bright, nor­mal kids (backed up by their preschool teach­ers), but in my mind, 5 feels like the tran­si­tion from tod­dler to kid, and I’m afraid I’ll start ex­pect­ing too much of them. For ex­am­ple, they aren’t es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in learn­ing their let­ters, which I’ve been fig­ur­ing they’ll come around to when they’re ready, but I’m afraid that when they’re 5, I will start wor­ry­ing and push it too much. Can you give me an over­view of what to ex­pect from ac­tive 5-yearold boys?

A: I have never raised twins, but from what I have heard, you have made it through a pretty tough (but ex­cit­ing and fun) cou­ple of years. Two tod­dlers throw­ing tantrums, two tod­dlers whin­ing, two tod­dlers run­ning in op­po­site direc­tions, two tod­dlers giv­ing you sticky kisses and two tod­dlers to cud­dle. And now they are in preschool! De­vel­op­men­tal changes are afoot, but I am not sure why you are pan­ick­ing now. Is it be­cause this feels like “real school”? If that is the rea­son, I don’t blame you. Schools in the United States are mov­ing to­ward more rig­or­ous stan­dards in the younger grades, which can re­sult in un­rea­son­able learn­ing ex­pec­ta­tions.

In gen­eral terms, 5-year-olds are com­ing into their own. You may find that your boys are more em­pa­thetic and kind to oth­ers, but may also ac­cuse oth­ers of cheat­ing if they lose a game. Chil­dren this age love to play and use their imag­i­na­tions, but these imag­i­na­tions can also scare them. You may find that your boys are shar­ing their newly found opin­ions of­ten and loudly, and that they can­not be fooled or ma­nip­u­lated into mov­ing on from a sub­ject or place eas­ily. With this stub­born­ness, you also can get de­fi­ance that does not dis­ap­pear with pun­ish­ments; in­stead it wors­ens. Par­ents also find that their 5-year-olds en­joy potty hu­mor, and sto­ry­telling can be imag­i­na­tive, funny and (some­times) bound­ary-push­ing. Five-year-olds love to have real work that means some­thing to the world and the fam­ily. And be­cause their at­ten­tion spans can last a bit longer, they can fo­cus on more com­plex projects and in­struc­tions.

Even though your twins may ap­pear to be ma­ture at times, 5-year-olds still have tantrums, re­sort to vi­o­lence and call peo­ple names. If the school days have been long and their ner- vous sys­tems are taxed, you will find a 5-year-old re­gress­ing into 3-year-old be­hav­iors. This is com­pletely nor­mal.

As for what to ex­pect from ac­tive lit­tle boys, our cul­ture loves to think that boys and girls are op­po­site, but their brains are not as dif­fer­ent as peo­ple imag­ine. Boys’ brains tend to ex­cel in vis­ual-spa­tial in­te­gra­tion, while girls’ brains ex­cel in read­ing so­cial cues.

What does this mean for your twin boys? It doesn’t mean that a girl can­not be co­or­di­nated and that your boys can­not be highly ver­bal. In­stead, it can show how, if a boy’s brain ex­cels in spa­tial is­sues, his body longs to jump, climb and test out the space around him. It also tells par­ents of boys to do (at least) two things: Let the young boys move fre­quently, and use emo­tion­ally ex­pres­sive lan­guage with them.

Be­cause 5-year-old boys typ­i­cally love to move, most ed­u­ca­tors and par­ents fo­cus on get­ting them out­side and into ac­tiv­i­ties such as soc­cer and karate. I en­cour­age more move­ment for all chil­dren, es­pe­cially dur­ing school hours. But just be­cause boys’ brains quickly as­sess spa­tial re­la­tions doesn’t mean they don’t have a need for us to model and use pro­duc­tive emo­tional lan­guage with them. Par­ents cansay things like “I felt re­ally frus­trated that I got stuck in traf­fic to­day, and be­cause of that, ev­ery­thing got tough at work. I was an­gry about it for a lit­tle while, but I took a walk and cooled down,” or, “You’re sad that we ran out of cook­ies; I am, too. It re­ally stinks, doesn’t it?” This has a huge im­pact on all chil­dren, es­pe­cially boys. Even the sim­plest show of emo­tions can help a 5-year-old ex­press and reg­u­late his feel­ings.

Re­mem­ber, de­vel­op­ment is not a steady climb up­hill; it comes in fits and starts. For in­stance, one of your boys may be­gin eat­ing like a horse, nap­ping again or act­ing more ag­i­tated, and you may think, “Wow, Ralph is get­ting sick,” or, “Ralph is re­ally be­ing out of con­trol.” But what is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing is that he is in a growth spurt. Like be­ing in the eye of the storm, you can­not see the whirl­wind around you un­til you are out of it - or in this case, un­til you go to your pe­di­a­tri­cian and the doc­tor says, “Ralph grew three inches!” It’s not easy hav­ing two boys around the same age with their own de­vel­op­men­tal road maps. So be kind to your­self. Prac­tice ask­ing, “What is this be­hav­ior re­ally about?” when you find your­self stumped.

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