Parents of twins, triplets or more face a challenge as their children begin school: should they be together or separated?

Some schools have a policy based on the separation of multiples. Such a policy doesn’t allow for input from the parents nor the children themselves. Not all multiples want to be together and some do well together and need to be able to at least catch a glimpse of their co-multiple across the room to be the best they can be. The important thing is for them to develop “mature dependence.”

In order to assist Educators, the following offers a brief overview of both points of view, i.e. together or separate, and provides additional research material at the end of the article.

Reasons for Separation

While there is no substantial evidence to support the policy of separation in order for each child to grow and develop as individuals, sometimes circumstances exist which would indicate that separation is advisable. It is helpful to recognize that some behaviours may be an issue one year and not the next.

  • Their constant “togetherness” is hindering the development of social skills in one, both or all;
  • A “division of labour” exists;
  • Insensitive comparisons by others have led to feelings of inadequacy in at least one multiple;
  • A child’s problems are attributed to the fact that he is a multiple;
  • The multiples form a “power unit” causing disruptive behaviour;
  • Multiples exploit their multipleship to cheat or play tricks;
  • One multiple appears to resent the lack of privacy resulting from sharing a classroom;
  • One multiple proves to be a constant distraction to the other(s);
  • There is (excessive) competitiveness between the multiples;
  • In opposite-sex multiples, the female is overprotective of her male co-multiple(s);
  • In skill grouped classroom activities where the abilities of one multiple are above that of his co-multiple(s);
  • The multiples WANT to be separated.

Reasons for Not Separating

  • Major emotional upheavals have occurred within the family – i.e. death, divorce, move, new siblings, etc.
  • Only one classroom is available;
  • Unequal education due to different teaching styles of the educators;
  • Multiples are at or near the same skill levels in a skill-based classroom;
  • The multiples do NOT want to be separated. Forced separation, with all of the other “firsts” children face, especially in their first year of school, can add undue stress, regression and affect self-esteem.
  • Separation in the first year of school should not be an automatic decision. The added stress of separation with all of the other firsts (e.g. leaving Mom, rules, increased noise levels, schedules, new friends, etc.) might actually reinforce their need to be together.
  • Allow multiples as much independence as they are ready to handle. They flourish when allowed to separate on their own timetable.
  • Encourage them to choose separate classes as they gain confidence in the school situation.

Tips for Teachers of Multiples

  • Encourage them to sit apart for different class activities if they are in the same classroom. This assists you in identifying who’s who and discourages them from completing each other’s work;
  • Look for differences in the multiples, not sameness, e.g. voice differences, left/right handed, birthmarks, hair growth. Being able to address each multiple by their individual name, assists them in recognizing that they are individuals;
  • Refer to each child by their own name. This helps you identify each child and sets a good example for their peers to also address them individually;
  • Expect differences in test scores, neatness, behaviour but don’t be surprised if they are very similar;
  • Avoid insensitive comparisons, e.g. “You are not doing as well as your twin.” This sets up both multiples to have poor self-esteem;
  • For parent/teacher interviews, compare each child to their peer group and not to each other;
  • if you are having difficulty in telling the children apart ask the parents to dress them differently. This helps everyone recognize their individuality.
  • If one multiple (especially monozygotic [identical] multiples) is markedly behind his co-multiple, investigate the cause:
    1. Check to make sure that each multiple is doing his/her own work.
    2. Plan a conference with the parents to explore the situation.
    3. Don’t rule out the possibility of a learning disability in one of the multiples.

Recommendations Regarding School Placement

It is best if each set of multiples is evaluated each year to ascertain which is the best situation for them, i.e. together or apart. The final decision as to which it will be needs to be made by the parents, the teacher, the principal and at some stage, the children themselves.

Compiled and adapted from “ Placement of Multiple Birth Children in School, A Guide for Educators” a publication of National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs, Inc., 1991

Additional Resources

Multiples in School , booklet by Multiple Births Canada,www.multiplebirthscanada.org
Multiples in School Support Kit by Multiple Births Canada http://www.multiplebirthscanada.org
Twinline Services, “ Twins in School: Together or Apart”, Berkeley, CA, 1983

Website

www.twinsandmultiples.org, Educational Web Site for Multiples in School, Pat Preedy, Ph.D., M.Ed., B.Ed. (UK) and Professor David Hay (Australia)

Books

  • Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples , Christina Baglivi Tinglof, 2007
  • The Joy of Twins , Pamela Patrick Novotny, 1988
  • Twins, Triplets and More , Elizabeth M. Bryan, 1992
  • The Art of Parenting Twins , Patricia Maxwell Malmstrom and Janet Poland, 1999

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