When To Separate Twins
Dear Dr. Medoff,
Our identical twins are in the same kindergarten class, and the school has asked for our opinion about whether we want them to be in the same class next year. What would be the best thing for them? From, Dorothy P.
While some educators and parents believe that separating twins is beneficial so that children can begin to develop independence, others worry that separating twins, especially at earlier ages, causes an unnecessary removal of an automatic support system. Some parents believe that those who advocate separation lack an understanding of the special world in which twins operate. Many schools have standard policies about separating twins, so you are fortunate to be in a school where your opinion is valued. Make sure to let the administration know that you appreciate their asking for your input.
Although many issues that are unique to twins will certainly arise during the course of your children’s development, there is one central concept to keep in mind that is universal for all parents: you know your children best. While it is important to get information and opinions from many sources, you must do what you feel will benefit your children in the long-run, thinking in terms of social, academic, and emotional development. One of the best sources would be the kindergarten teacher. Ask what she would recommend and why. Another good source, especially as the children get older, would be the twins themselves. Do they want to be together, or do they feel it is time to be apart for the school day?
Here are some questions that can help you sort out your feelings about this matter:
- Are the two teachers the twins would have vastly different in terms of teaching ability or sensitivity to children’s needs? Would one child be getting a much better education or experience than the other?
- Consider your children’s age and unique experiences. Younger twins and/or twins who have not been exposed to many other children outside the family often benefit from being kept together.
- Are there any major changes or stresses going on for your family, such as moving, divorce, or a death in the family? If so, it may not be wise to break up a relationship that provides extra comfort during a stressful time. If you want to separate them, consider waiting until things are calmer at home.
- Does one twin have special needs that the other is able to support? While you don’t want to put a long-term heavy burden on the twin doing the supporting, you may want to wait to separate until the twin with special needs has an outside support system in place.
- It is okay to take your own needs into account. Children in the same class will have the same curriculum and homework, which will simplify your life.
- Are the children continually distracted by each other or feeding off each other to cause disruptive behavior? Does their togetherness seem to impede the development of language or social skills for one or both twins? If the answer to either question is yes, separation might be a good idea.
- Are classmates and teachers constantly comparing your twins, academically or socially, so that one twin is always seen as superior? Separate classrooms may give the other twin the chance to shine on his own.
- Take some pressure off of yourself and remember that you are not making a decision that will last forever. If it feels like you have made an error, you can always make changes next year, or even petition for a mid-year switch if there appears to be a serious problem.
Lisa Medoff, Ph.D holds a B.A. in psychology, a master's degree in school counseling, and a Ph.D. in child and adolescent development. Although she’s worked with all types of children, for the past eight years, she has worked with students with special needs, such as ADHD, learning disabilities, depression and anxiety. She has taught courses in psychology and child/adolescent development at Stanford University, Santa Clara University, San Jose State University, and DeAnza College. She currently works as a resilience consultant for the non-profit Cleo Eulau Center, helping teachers at a low-performing elementary school understand issues of connectedness, special needs, and cultural sensitivity in order to build resilience in their students.