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Multiples in School

To separate them or not? Parent Tips.

 

A concern of raising multiple-birth children is whether or not they should be together in the same class or separated and which would benefit each child’s personal development.  In some schools there may or may not be enough classes of the same grade to facilitate each child being in separate classes so the decision is moot.  Also some school systems have the blanket rule that all multiples must be separated.  In order to assist you in making the decision regarding placing your children, the following offers consideration for both separating the children and leaving them together.

Pros to Separation

Although there is no substantial evidence to support the policy that multiples must be placed in separate classrooms in order for them to grow and develop as individuals, there are some circumstances which would indicate that separation is advisable.  Here are some examples when separation may be in the best interests of each child:

  • constant “togetherness” is hindering the development of social skills in one or more;
  • a “division of labour” exists;
  • insensitive comparisons by teachers or peers have led to feelings of inadequacy in one or more of the multiples, “your brother can do his math, why can’t you?”;
  • the multiples form a “power unit” which is causing disruptive behaviour, won’t stay in their seats, throw objects at each other, constantly talking to each other;
  • the kids use their status to exploit, cheat or play tricks, e.g. bullying, exchange places, blame their sibling or others;
  • one or more of the multiples appears to resent the lack of privacy resulting from sharing a classroom “She won’t leave me alone,” sullenness on the part of one;
  • one multiple proves to be a constant distraction to the other;
  • in opposite-sex multiples, the female (usually) is overprotective or “mothering” of the male co-multiple;
  • in skill-grouped classrooms where the abilities of one multiple are far above those of his co-multiple; and
  • the multiples WANT to be separated.

Evaluations/observations of multiples’ behaviour and development need to be regularly as well as annually monitored as issues can be evident in one year and absent the next.

Cons to Separation

Sometimes there are valid reasons for keeping multiples together:

  • major emotional upheavals may have occurred within the family, e.g. death, divorce, moving house, illnesses, etc and the presence of their co-multiple can be a calming factor;
  • only one classroom is available;
  • unequal education due to two different teachers employing different teaching methods and each multiple’s learning abilities; and
  • multiples are at or near the same skill level in a skill-based classroom.

Recommendations regarding school placement:

  1. It is not recommended to separate multiples who want to be together. Forced separation can damage self-esteem, inhibit language development and delay learning.
  2. It is not recommended to automatically separate multiples in their first year of school. There are many firsts in primary school: lining up, waiting your turn, noise levels, day run by a clock, away from Mom and Dad, new routines, etc. so why should they also be separated from each other at such a young age? Separation can add to the stress of starting school and may actually increase the multiples’ need to be together.
  3. All multiples need as much independence as they are ready/able to handle. Multiples flourish when allowed to separate on their own timetable. Together or not can be evaluated each year. As the multiples grow older, they will have input as to whether or not they should or want to be together.
  4. Encourage multiples to choose separate classes and preferred activities as they gain confidence in the school situation.
  5. Decisions as to whether or not the children should be together needs to be made by a team approach: the parents, teachers and principal. Educators need to realize that parents know their children best and for an easier transition to school, a parental opinion needs to be considered.
  6. If multiples are in the same classroom, they can still be in separate settings within the classes.
  7. Especially if your children look alike, make it easy on the teachers and students and dress them differently so that they are easily recognized and seen as individuals;
  8. Parent/teacher interviews need to reflect how each child is doing as compared to the other children in the classroom and not in comparison to each other.
  9. You may wish to indicate you would like an interview per child. Sometimes teachers expect one interview to talk about the multiples together and that can be confusing and unfair as comparisons tend to be to each other rather than their peer group. When compared to each other, one or more is usually presented as “better” than the other(s).
  10. In middle school, I didn’t point out that my girls were twins as they were in separate classes and wanted them be evaluated on their own merits across the board. In a phone conversation with a teacher, my inner voice was letting me know it felt uneasy about the way the conversation was progressing. I felt the need to say, “You do realize that she is a twin?” (my girls do not look or act alike at all). “No,” she said, “I just assumed one failed. That explains a lot.” Without my speaking up, my one twin’s file would have reflected her as “Failed” for the rest of her school journey. Recognize when to speak up and when to let things be as normal and individual as possible.
  11. It is recommended that class placement in classes be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, reevaluations occur on a annual basis and that parents, teachers and principals are included in the decision-making. As the children get older, it is also recommended that they have their input considered as well.

 

Pat Preedy (UK) provides this important note for Parents:  “The critical thing is developing “mature dependence” starts as soon as the children are born.  For multiples who are mature dependents, it actually doesn’t matter whether they are together or apart – they function as individuals and enjoy being a multiple.”

 

Sources:

Multiples in School, Multiple Births Canada, www.multiplebirthscanada.org

Placement of Multiple Birth Children in School, A Guide for Educators, Multiples of America (formerly National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs, Inc.) www.multiplesofamerica.org

 

Additional Resources:

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

Books

Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples, Christina Baglivi Tinglof, 2007

Understanding Multiple Birth Children and How they Learn, John Mascazine

The Joy of Twins by 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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Singleton Siblings of Multiples

Singleton with twin siblings‘Things were just great around here until they came along!’ 17-year old brother of 1-year old twin sisters.

‘You always loved them more than me!’ 6-year old sister of 4-year old twin sisters

Our 9-year old son has consistently acted maturely and responsible towards his twin brothers (aged 3 years) since their birth. From the beginning we involved him in their care (they were premature) and he seems to be very proud to be the brother of twins. Mother of 9-year old singleton and 3-year old twins.

My son is 13-1/2 months older than his twin sisters. He learned to talk and speak up very early to make his needs known.  Mother of 3-year old son and 2-year old twin daughters.

I loved being the singleton child in our family. Twins were the norm and I was one the who was ‘special’.  Singleton sibling, with FOUR sets of twin siblings, two older and two younger!

For parents, the arrival of twins, triplets or more is cause for a rollercoaster ride of emotions: how will we cope? This is SO cool! Can we afford them? How will I carry them all? and feelings of over whelming joy, to name a few. Even though the impending arrivals is shared with the older child(ren), it is very difficult for him to comprehend the effect of the arrival of so many babies and how it will affect him. Parents are very sensitive to the needs of their singleton child(ren), and do their best to explain what will happen and that no matter, “Mommy and Daddy will still love them to the moon and back.”

In spite of the parents’ best preparation efforts, the arrival of two, three or more siblings, can be a challenge for singleton siblings, especially if they have been the King/Queen of the Castle for some time.

Initially the multiples’ arrival may not impact the siblings too much but give it a week or 10 days and the realization sets in that Mommy and Daddy are not as available and behaviours may change. One 3-year old singleton said to his parents, “OK, that’s enough. Take them [his twin siblings] back to the hospital now.” Another 3-year old yelled at his parents, “I only want one!”

Reactions aren’t limited to the younger set: A 15-year old girl put herself in foster care when her twin sisters arrived, and a 17-year old young man (yes, young man), didn’t speak to his parents for weeks and stayed in his room as much as possible when his twin siblings arrived.

Following are some examples of, but not limited to, possible behaviour which may be exhibited by singleton siblings:

  • refuses to give up the bottle/reverts back to the bottle;
  • wishes to breastfeed again;
  • seeks your attention when you are less able to provide it and rejects you when you are available;
  • there could be problems with toilet training, i.e. a set back or refusal to use the potty;
  • speech regression or refusal to speak;
  • is clingy and/or excessively whiny;
  • plays rough with the babies;
  • may pinch, hit or bite them when alone with them; or
  • unresponsive to direction, refuses to co-operate.

There are some ways to support the singleton child(ren) and to assist him (them) in coping with the new arrivals:

  • avoid calling the babies, “the twins” or “the triplets.” This label automatically leaves out any singleton children and gives the impression that those with this label are more special. Correct others each and every time they use the label. As the parents others will take their cue from you;
  • presenting the multiples as a package will ensure that they are perceived as a package. Continually dressing them alike and giving them rhyming names reinforces the “package” mentality and the singleton child(ren) is left out;
  • arranging special play dates or preschool for an older child allows her to have her own special time, activities and things to talk about;
  • include them in the decoration of the babies’ room (should we use yellow or green paint?) can be helpful;
  • allow them to help put the babies’ clothes in the dresser drawers;
  • don’t use your older child(ren) as “gophers.” They can quickly resent being sent on an excessive number of fetches. This doesn’t mean they can’t help (could you please get Daddy a diaper for your sister?), but don’t get caught in the habit of using them on a continual basis;
  • provide lots of positive feedback. “You were SO helpful today!” “You are so special to me and have been such a good girl/boy today.” “Thank you for being so patient;”
  • if there is bottle or toilet training regression, just go with the flow. Don’t make issues of it and handing them a bottle plays down the issue rather than have it escalate out of control and become a temper tantrum and make of control. It won’t take long for them to realize that they are not babies and a bottle can be hard work. Leave the potty out in plain view, but don’t over focus on it;
  • set aside some time each day for him. It can be bath time, bed time and story, grocery shopping, play time but the important thing is for him to be the full focus;
  • if you can’t be available when she requests attention, buy a little timer and give it to her. Set it for 15 minutes (or what works for you) and say, “When the bell rings, we will read (play) together” and then keep your promise;
  • if you can’t keep your promise, and there will be times when you can’t, let your child(ren) know that you are sorry and realize you have broken your promise but will make it up to them as soon as you can. Two things are important here: 1) you have taken responsibility for your behaviour, and 2) you have taught your child it is OK to take responsibility for one’s behaviour. Such an acknowledgement helps a child learn that others have limits and it isn’t their fault you weren’t available. Children tend to internalize things when they don’t work out as planned and see themselves as being “bad” as a result. Clearing the air is most important. But do try to make it up to them as soon as you can;
  • you can give your child(ren) some feelings of control in the life but giving them simple choices: what would you like to wear today, the red outfit or the blue? What would you like for breakfast, cereal or toast?

Multiples in public cause a stir and attract a lot of attention. It will be important to include your other child(ren) in the conversation when necessary. A simple, “This is their older sister and she is such a help” goes a long way to soothing hurt feelings.

As one 4-year old asked her Mom after some strangers had made a fuss about her triplet siblings and not even spoken to her, “Didn’t they see me standing there?” It is important that parents advocate for all of their children.

Splitting up the kids for an outing can change the group dynamics. Take an older child and one baby to do groceries. It gives everyone a change of pace.

Give your singleton child(ren) time to make the adjustment to the arrivals. Be as patient as you can. Just as it will take parents time to get into a proper routine, it will take a child(ren) time to adjust to the changes in his/her own routine.

Younger Singleton Siblings of Multiples

Some parents go on to have singleton children after the birth of their multiples. These singleton children are born into the situation and may have less adjustment to make as a result but there are no guarantees. When two or three siblings are all having a birthday party at the same time and you are not, feelings can be hurt and the tears flow.

Patience and understanding works wonder. Some parents will buy that child a gift too. I’m not sure that is the way to go because the world will not make room for you just because your feelings are hurt. Cuddling and words of explanation may be a better approach than expecting a gift on your siblings’ birthday and is an important learning tool that the world does always cater to you. Explaining that his birthday will come and he will get to blow out the candles himself on his own cake, separates the events and gives each child a chance to have a special day to all his own.

Sometimes an issue of the multiples ganging together and “bossing” a younger sibling(s) occurs. If such is your experience, appropriate guidelines will need to be put in place so that a younger one does not feel bullied or ganged up on. Explaining to everyone that “Mom and Dad set the rules, not the kids” and “two (or three) against one amounts to bullying” can be helpful. Be prepared to go over these rules on at least a semi-regular basis and perhaps to have consequences in place when necessary, e.g. no TV/internet tonight, put 25 cents into the jar (for allowance-aged older multiples) at each offence.

It is human nature to adjust and most of us get over having siblings. Being guided by the loving adults in our life can make the journey more tolerable.

Additional Resources

The Singleton Siblings of Multiples, Multiple Births Canada, booklet.

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When multiples are the bullies…

It is probably safe to say that all siblings argue, fight, and  bully one another.  You may remember your own battles with siblings.  Sibling arguments occur even in loving families. Arguments have an upside (although it is difficult to see any when the fur is flying and your ears are ringing from the taunting and screaming) and can offer fertile ground for learning to compromise, share, take turns, patience, and sometimes for the aggressors or bullies, to feel badly about their behaviour. Or not.

When children fight, a parent may step in for a variety of reasons:  escalation of the argument, things are getting physical (or dangerous such as throwing things) and someone can really get hurt, the fight has no obvious ending, or the fight is taking place during a car ride, making things dangerous and distracting.  A parent may try to mediate, teach compromise tactics or try to make sense of who did what to whom, and perhaps why.  If the argument began in another room or at school, there is no hope to truly figure out how things began.

When the aggressors or bullies are the multiples, things can really get challenging.  Because of the bond multiples have, they may “gang up” on younger, and even older siblings.  As a gang, they can be a force to be reckoned with.  It doesn’t seem to matter the multiples’ genders as they learn that as a group, they are more apt to be able to enforce their will.

sibling-bullying-thinkstock-100526086-617x416A twin Mom shares she has 10-year old twin boys, a 6-year old boy and 3-year old girl.  The 6-year old tries to emulate his older brothers and they, as a team, pick relentlessly on him causing melt-downs and chaos as a result, “you’re too small; you’re too young,” “such a baby” and so on.  They race ahead knowing their much-younger brother cannot physically keep up.  Younger brother does a lot of screaming, yelling and acting out while the two older brothers “look innocent.”

Another Mom of 12-year old twin boys shares that they relentlessly pick on and irritate their 8-year old sister.  The tears and resulting chaos make their home life next to intolerable.

A Mom with a 12-year old boy, 9-year old girl and 6-year old twin boys shares that even though their twins have a special relationship, they idolize their older brother and want to do whatever he does, giving him no peace.  When they have to go to bed before their older brother, the screams of “It’s not FAIR” reverberate off the walls.  With their combined reactive behaviour, the household is in turmoil.

In some cases, multiples will carry this “gang-type” behaviour into the classroom and school yard.   As a team, they can be formidable and the more they look alike (and are dressed alike?), the teachers may not be able to decide who is actually the culprit.  Punishing both, or all, may happen no matter how many were originally involved.

If these stories reflect some of what may be occurring at your house, there are some ways to deflect the gang-style behaviour and hopefully make it less likely to continue

  • first and foremost, congratulate yourself for reading this article.  You have recognized that there are issues in your household and you are attempting to rectify them.  Good for you!
  • avoid referring to the multiples as “the twins,” “the triplets” and so on.  This reinforces the package deal and in truth, they are individuals who happened to arrive together.  Use the children’s names at all times even when speaking to friends, family and peers to reinforce their individuality.
  • not dressing them alike is helpful to all so that they are not perceived as a package.
  • think about defusing the situation by giving the multiples their own rooms (if possible).  This action gives them less time together to scheme.
  • splitting up play dates, errands, sleepovers dilutes their “power” and helps them learn to separate from each other as well as  dramatically changes the family dynamics.  The bonus is that you get to spend time with each of your children in a completely different fashion.
  • try to put them in separate classes at school.  It will help each (all) develop their own friends and give them less opportunity to get together to collude.
  • foster a relationship between your other children if you have more than one other.  This relationship is also special and can become lost within a multiples’ relationship.  Even if they are different sexes, they can enjoy being and playing together.
  • set aside a “King/Queen for a day” day where each child gets to pick the family activities, chores, perhaps menu, outings.  Making each child feel special is great for self-esteem and learning patience until it is there turn to be in charge.
  • connect with other families in your area with children about the same ages as yours so that they can pair off and each have their own special friends.
  • reinforce common interests amongst all the children.  Depending upon their age ranges, it could be the park, colouring, skiing, skating, sports, music and so on.
  • look for at least one special skill in each of your children and help foster that skill, so that they will feel good about themselves and help them stand separate from their siblings.
  • give your other children the tools to handle bullying.  Screaming and crying only makes things worse. Providing tools to help control their environment empowers each child.  There are some good books and Web Sites to help you with those tools.*
  • making each child a part of the solution and not a part of the problem is not always easy, but is in the best interests of all.  With practice, positivity replaces the negativity and again, empowers each child.  No matter how small the good behaviour, focus on it and unless they are putting each other in physical danger, ignore the bad behaviour.  When one of the multiples is praised for passing the milk to a sibling for example, eventually that praise takes precedence and replaces the behaviour of refusing, ignoring or “you didn’t say please” type of behaviour.
  • realize that what is “fair” is constantly changing over time as your children grow and develop.   It will be affected  by the maturity level and capabilities of each child.  A later bed time, for example, may be negotiated and influenced by behaviour during the day, if it is a school night, and the age of the children.  Flexible and changing rules help children understand that some goals are earned and teaches them about negotiating and consequences.
  • try to keep calm.  Children, even young ones, pick up very quickly on the mood and tensions around them and will try to exploit it to their advantage.  It isn’t always easy but keeping calm, using a low voice, being consistent and working together as partners (i.e. Mom and Dad agreeing with how to handle the situation so the children can’t play one against the other) goes a long way to helping the children remember who is in charge.  If you are really angry about something that has just occurred, indicate, “I am really angry right now and cannot speak to you.  When I have calmed down, we will talk about what just happened.”  This statement lets them know your limits and boundaries, and rather than immediately flying off the handle and doing/saying something rash, taking the time to cool down and revisiting the issue at a later time is the wisest step to take.

RESOURCES

Books

  • Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples, Christina Baglivi Tinglof, McGraw Hill, 2007
  • The Bully and the Bullier and the Bystander:  From Pre-School to High School – How Parents and
  • Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence, Barbara Coloroso, 2008


Websites

Googling Bullying turns up many helpful sites.  I am not listing any here because they change so often.