Multiples in School

Pat Preedy became interested in school issues around multiple birth children in 1992 when nine sets of twins showed up at her school in Solihull, West Midlands, England to begin primary school. This brought the number to ten sets when added to the set already enrolled.

Pat Preedy, Ph.D., Key Note Speaker, Multiple Births Canada Conference, Ottawa, 23rd May, 2003, Submitted by Lynda P. Haddon

Pat began working with Professor David Hay of Australia and together, luckily for parents of multiples worldwide, created an important resource Web Site,, for parents asking the important question: should they be together or separated? Taking their research even further, Pat and David have also provided important feedback for educators in assisting each co-multiple to be the best they can be.

Pat began her talk by explaining that she and David had identified three main categories of multiples: Extreme Individual, Mature Dependent and Closely Coupled. Here are the traits as they identified them:

Extreme Individual

  • likes own friends, doesn’t share friends
  • plays mostly alone
  • opts out of the interaction if his co-multiple is successful
  • polarises his/her behaviour, goes to extremes (angel/devil)
  • is excessively competitive
  • dislikes co-multiple(s)
  • refuses to dress alike
  • tries to dominate

Mature Dependent

  • shared and separate friends
  • are happy either separated or together
  • supportive of co-multiple(s)
  • has developed as an individual with own identity
  • may choose the same or different interests from co-multiple(s)

Closely Coupled

  • unhappy when separated, want to be together most/all of the time
  • respond to each others’ names/group name, e.g. “Twinnie”
  • cannot recognize his/her image in the mirror
  • uses twin “language” (cryptophasia)
  • each slows down/speeds up to keep together, especially in school
  • few or no individual friends
  • combines to form a unit
  • dress and behave identically

Pat presented some ways to assist and support multiples in becoming individual thinkers, both by parents and educators alike

  • make individual eye contact so that each child is aware that you are speaking only to him/her.
  • use the child’s name at the beginning of the sentence, followed by your request or instructions. This gets his/her attention and there is no confusion for the children as to whom you are addressing.
  • ensure that each child speaks for her/himself and that the other does not do all/most of the talking/responding.
  • if you are having difficulty in “getting through” to one, both or all of the children, use play to engage them in conversation. Through playing a game with them, the parent or educator can create scenarios and engage a child, asking how they might respond, or what they might be feel if such a such a situation were to arise. When done through play, most children will let their guard down and express what they are thinking. A play situation vs an actual situation permits relaxed feedback from the child.

Pat reminded us that one of the “problems” experienced by multiples is their lack of privacy from each other. Pat cited an example: if the parents send one multiple to camp, they are usually sending two or three. Hence multiples do not have the same experience as if only one child was going to camp. Sent together they do not have time away from each other, are not encouraged to make individual friends or develop individual interests. They are inadvertently set up to continue to rely on each other and hence experience a lack of privacy from each other.

Pat stressed that both parents and teachers have the ability to assist multiple birth children in becoming the best they can be. Both need to be aware of the categories of twins as identified above and into which category each set of multiples may fall. When it can be determined as to how the multiples may be linked, both parents and educators can be properly assist and support the children reach their full potential. Pat advised that failure to recognize the challenges that multiples face from either being together or separate in their early schooling years is “unconscious incompetence.”

Pat’s talk was well attended by 100+ delegates, mostly parents, whose children are at or near school age and whom want to make the right decisions regarding their children’s class placement. Even though advance notice of Pat’s presentation was made several times to the local School Boards, including those up and down the Ottawa Valley and Eastern Quebec, attendance by educators was disappointing and pretty well limited to those with multiple birth children.

Schools don’t yet realize the part they can play helping/supporting multiple birth children and their parents with placement challenges. Nor do they recognize their important support role in assisting multiple birth children in making the transition into school and in separating from each other. The lack of representation for Pat’s Key Note and Workshop presentations from daycares, educators, principals and School Boards reinforces for me, that Boards underestimate and may not recognize the importance of their roles in class placement decisions, in being informed regarding the issues around multiples in school and therefore indeed function in an “unconscious incompetence.”

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