Q | This year, I’ve got a set of identical twin boys in my first-grade class. They look and behave a lot alike. How can I help them develop as individuals?

A | With the number of twins on the rise, more teachers are facing this situation. Here are some tips to help promote the brothers’ independence and individuality.

Make an extra effort to learn each twin’s name and how to tell them apart (they can likely give you helpful tips). Then, find appropriate ways to help their classmates do the same. Avoid referring to them as “the twins” (for example, when calling students to line up). Doing so may seem harmless, but it treats them as an undifferentiated unit and models that behavior for your students.

Promote interactions with other children in the class. Try seating them apart, and for joint activities, pair them with other students. These strategies may foster new friendships. Take note of each twin’s gravitation to particular peers and share your observations with their parents, which may encourage them to make the extra effort to arrange separate playdates.

Last but certainly not least, keep in mind that the twins should not be automatically separated for every activity and seat rotation. They may be each other’s closest friend and should be given some space to share time and efforts in school.

Q | One of the girls in my third-grade class is extremely shy. It takes a lot of coaxing to get her to speak, even one-on-one. Her parents say she’s a chatterbox at home. Suggestions?

A | The main question is whether this student is so shy that it’s interfering with her ability to interact with classmates she would like to  be involved with and participate in activities she’s interested in. Is she missing out on valuable social and learning opportunities?

That she talks at home suggests she would be chattier in school if she could. If that’s so, you should strongly consider recommending that her parents seek an evaluation with a clinical child psychologist or child psychiatrist with expertise in anxiety. Such an evaluation would provide a clearer understanding of what’s holding her back, whether it’s a fear of speaking with others, a language-based learning difficulty, or something else.

Meanwhile, avoid asking her to speak in situations where she’s been consistently unsuccessful. You don’t want to give her practice at failing. Instead, make a point of praising her when she does speak to you. Smile, pat her on the back, and tell her why you’re pleased. Remember, though, you want her to feel good about the recognition and not singled out in an embarrassing way. 


Melanie A. Fernandez, Ph.D., ABPP, is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology and is director of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program at the Child Mind Institute.


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Image: Adam Chinitz