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Special Delivery: Twins at School

Parents of multiples face tough decisions when it’s time for school.

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For most kindergartners the first day of school is a big deal. It's even more so for a twin. For even when twins share the same classroom, the special bond between them is put to a new test. No longer are they necessarily each other's primary frame of reference. A lifelong sense of competition and dependency can become more pronounced. And being a triplet or quadruplet complicates matters even more.

This decision — whether to keep multiples together at school — can weigh heavily on a parent. Since twins and triplets both share and compete for food, space, and attention from before birth, it's not surprising that such issues can carry over into their school years. So what is the best approach to take?

Separation Anxiety
While many schools recommend separating twins at kindergarten, most experts agree that no set policy is the best policy. The outcome is most successful when both the school and the parents are on the same wavelength and the parents' wishes are respected. After all, you know your children's needs best.

Ideally, parents and school administrators should make the judgment together. The National Association of School Psychologists urges schools to "maintain a flexible perspective," as does the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs (NOMOTC), which recommends "a collaborative decision."

So how do you decide what path to take? Here are some factors to think about:

  • How well do your twins do in making friends independent of each other?
  • How dependent on each other are they?
  • How stressed are they when they are separated?
  • Have they been separated in nursery school or pre-K?
  • How do they handle comparisons?
  • Are they identical in looks?
Some advantages of separation:
  • Fewer comparisons with each other
  • Increased independence, and perhaps less competitiveness
  • Fewer opportunities for twins to run interference with one another behaviorally
  • More chances to develop their own friends
However, you might feel that the close support your twins give each other is a plus and therefore opt to keep them together. You may also feel less conflicted about field trips and homework if your children are in the same classroom.

Easing the Transition
Twins can very often have a stronger bond with each other than with their parents, says Dr. Gunsberg. Regardless of when the separation happens, expect your children to experience a sense of loss.

So what's the best way to prepare your sons and daughters for the challenge of being apart? Start early by building their independence at home. Spend one-on-one time with each; key into and help develop individual interests; even encourage your multiples to make their own friends. Nurture those friendships through separate play dates. What may seem hard or even unnatural in the toddler and early preschool years will become second nature in kindergarten and elementary grades.

When the time is right to place your twins in different classrooms, a gradual separation usually works best. If they are together in nursery and or preK, then a separation during kindergarten, especially if it is only half-day, should be fine. However, if this seems too stressful for your children, consider keeping them together in kindergarten with the idea of separating them in first grade. On the first day of school, be sure that you have a parent or close adult in the classroom with each child so she does not feel different from her peers.

More to Consider
My own twin sons ended up in different schools for preK because of a difference in learning styles. While both thrive on structure, Michael needs a small setting in order to focus. Though I didn't intend to separate them so young, I decided to leave Gabriel in the program where he was doing so well and search for a more appropriate school for Michael two months into the term. It was indeed a gut-wrenching decision, but one I hope benefited each. They are now in separate kindergarten classrooms in the same school. When they get together on the bus to their after-school program, they chatter away, catching up with each other.

When applying to special programs or private schools, know in advance what you are prepared to do. One mom I know decided to hold out one of her daughters from a gifted school because the girl's twin sister was not accepted. The mom "didn't have it in her heart" to place them in separate schools. Another mother is sending her son to her first choice school even though she is heartbroken that his twin sister was not accepted. These decisions "can be torturous for a parent," says Linda Gunsberg, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist.

As well, NOMOTC recommends principals should "move with extreme caution when considering detention, acceleration or alternative placement" since these decisions affect the sibling relationship.

The Bottom Line
Whatever your decisions, keep in mind the NOMOTC's recommendation that schools provide "an atmosphere that respects the close nature of the multiple bond while encouraging individual abilities." Remember: you are the best advocate for your twins!


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