Question of the Week:
I’m about to register my identical twin girls for kindergarten. They are very close and I’ve been told that to foster their independence I should separate them. One seems to lean on the other a lot so I can see how separate classrooms might be better in terms of preventing codependency. My town has a half day kindergarten program so it wouldn’t be a full day of separation. Yet I also know it’s going to be traumatic for them in the beginning since they are so close. I keep alternating between wanting to keep my twins together as they would feel more comfortable being in the same classroom, and separating them so that they have the opportunity to experience being on their own. I’d appreciate any advice you may have. —C.P.
Answer: By far, the classroom placement issue is the number one concern of parents of twins. Heading to kindergarten is a big deal for all children as many have to learn to separate from Mom and Dad for the very first time. But with twins there’s an added component—they must also learn to separate from their cotwins. And for some multiples, especially closely bonded identical twins, this first-time parting can be especially painful.
The good news is that the research shows that young twins who share the same
classroom do just fine in developing identity and autonomy. In fact, several studies actually found that when twins were forced to separate during the first few years of school (with the word forced being an important distinction as those who wanted to separate do just fine) they suffered from more internalizing problems (anxiety, depression) than those twins who shared the same classroom. Zygosity played a factor, too, with identical twins encountering problems more often than fraternal twins.
It’s important to note that subsequent follow-up studies have found that when you account for those twins’ pre-existing conditions (disruptive behavior and pre-literacy capabilities—two factors that play a role in deciding classroom placement), classroom assignment became much less significant. Furthermore, the problems dissipated by age 12, meaning that classroom separation does not have any long-term consequences. Yet the point remains that when it comes to early socialization and identity formation, twins in the same classroom do just fine!
That’s the professional opinion.
My personal opinion is a bit different. I usually tell parents that if they can separate their twins they should as habits between the twins themselves as well as how others view their twins are set very early and are sometimes hard to break. When you’re twins and you’re both invited to the same birthday parties, the same play dates and so forth, as time goes on it becomes more difficult to strike out socially on your own even when you have the desire as the pattern of being together is already set. A cotwin becomes a comfortable crutch, if you will, someone who picks up the slack or fills in the awkward silences for you in new social situations.
Furthermore, when classmates see twins constantly together, they sometimes begin to relate to the pair as a unit. This happened to my boys when they shared a grade-school class together. During Valentine’s Day, for instance, several kids each gave my boys one holiday card rather than an individual card for each. When the teacher was short on supplies, she would often put my boys together so they could share. Even on a field trip when the bus was full, my boys were asked to squish into one seat simply because they were twins and “wouldn’t mind.” Yes, it was all very innocent stuff but the cumulative effect was strong. My boys didn’t like it and worked very hard that following school year to break these bad habits and to dispel the twin myths (sometimes at the expense of the other’s feelings).
So what’s the bottom line? If your twins make friends easily, show an interest in being on their own, or have regularly spent some time apart, then enroll them in different classes. Yet if they still cling to each other and show real anxiety about the prospect of being separated, by all means keep them together for kindergarten and then slowing start preparing them for separation in first grade. Start simply by taking one out for the afternoon to run errands while the other stays at home with Dad. Focus on each child’s personal passions and perhaps enroll each in a different after-school activity. Arrange double but separate play dates with classmates, or schedule solo sleepovers at Grandma’s house.
The greatest gift you can give any child is the opportunity to shine on her own and fully function in society as an autonomous individual.