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Escaping the Comparison Trap

Natalie Lipski rolled over, crawled, and walked months before her twin sister, Abigail. Because their mom was concerned about their different developmental curves, she decided to have the girls, now 17 months old, tested. "The specialists didn't have any big concerns," says Juliann Lipski, a preschool teacher in Thomaston, CT. "Natalie just does things a little earlier than Abigail. But they're both within normal range."

When you're the parent of twins, triplets, or beyond, worrying about milestones  -- especially if one child is speaking in phrases while the other is still babbling in baby Klingon  -- is an easy trap to fall into. But to help curb the comparisons:

Find out what's normal. Before you assume a child is "delayed," read up on or ask your pediatrician what the typical age range really is. "Some children walk at eight months, some at fifteen months," says Claire Lerner, a child-development specialist at Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization devoted to healthy development in the first three years of life. "Both ages are normal." You may find out that one of your multiples is ahead  -- not that the other is behind.

Look for each child's strengths. While one child may be more adept at climbing, the other may be terrific at stacking blocks. "Because there's such a tendency to compare multiples," says Lerner, "parents need to train themselves to honor the differences among their children."

Be aware of your reactions. Make sure you don't subconsciously favor one child, advises pediatrician Alan Klein, M.D., coauthor of Twins! Pregnancy, Birth and the First Year of Life. Encouraging one child may create a self-fulfilling prophesy  -- that child has greater self-esteem, and thus makes greater progress. "If only one of your kids can toss a football at 3, try not to say to the others, 'Why can't you do that?'" says Dr. Klein.

Find something to praise. Right from birth, tell each child what makes him or her special. You might say, for instance, "Wow, Katie, you're a good kicker," while saying to another, "Michael, look how you can use both hands to hold that bottle!"

Watch  -- and wait. Just when you get used to your kids behaving a certain way, they'll change  -- and it happens faster and more frequently than most parents expect. For instance, the sedate one could turn into a pro at soccer. "And then it will switch again," observes Eileen Pearlman, Ph.D., director of TwInsight, in Santa Monica, CA, a support group for parents of multiples. "The watchword: Expect change."