Should Twins Share the Same Classroom? I’m Not So Sure…

So I’ve been thinking lately about how I’m scheduled to speak on the hot-button topic of twins and classroom separation at the Southern California Mothers of Twins Clubs fall workshop. And although I truly do believe that parents should have the final say when it comes to the educational fate of their twins, I also believe that in 99 cases out of 100, parents should choose to separate them.

Whenever I attend conferences where parents of twins are present, the topic always turns towards the separation issue. I hear stories of parents fighting with school administrators trying to keep their duo together in class. Their accounts are heartbreaking. I try to offer advice. I tell them that there are no published research studies that show that twins who share a classroom are any worse for wear than those who don’t. Still, I find myself walking away thinking that instead of arguing with the school board, writing strongly worded letters and gathering documentation, most of these parents’ time would be better spent gradually weaning their young twins off one another, helping them to appreciate and ultimately enjoy their time without their cotwins.

Young twins wearing backpacksThe majority of twins who share a classroom do just fine being together. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find an expert in the field who would say otherwise. So if most twins do not have a problem individuating or developing autonomy when placed together, what’s my beef with it?

For more than a decade, parents have fought the good fight with the school system that for so long has arbitrarily separated their twins based on the assumption that it will help each child learn to individuate sooner. But now the pendulum has swung so far to the other side that many parents insist that their twins stay together during the early school years for fear that if they don’t it will harm the twin bond. Yet what many parents don’t realize is that the twin bond will not only survive classroom separation, often it will thrive because of it.

The studies that are out there have focused on the effects of classroom separation and twins’ internalizing (anxiety and depression) and externalizing (aggression) problems. But what about the long-term personal and social effects sharing a classroom has on twins? In other words, how do others (their classmates and teachers, for example) perceive and ultimately relate to the twins? This is important too as the answer will impact the twins for years to come.

Although most young twins enjoy sharing the same classroom with their cotwins, the practice slowly creates impediments for the twins, many that I’ve seen first hand not only with my own twins but with other multiples with whom I’ve come into contact. Taken individually, these obstacles seem harmless but they can be insidious, compounding over the years, creating some unintended negative consequences not only between the twins themselves once they reach adolescence but can impede how others (friends, classmates, even family) relate to the twins individually. And once these perceptions are set by first or second grade (the time when most twins share a classroom) they are often difficult to change even if the twins then separate for third grade and beyond.

When young twins share a classroom their classmates are naturally drawn to them and the questions begin, “Who was born first?” “Who’s taller?” and yes, even, “Who’s smarter?” and “Who’s a better kick-ball player?” They are fascinated by the twin mystique, the idea that all twins are somehow intrinsically connected and therefore should be the same, equal. But it’s these early comparisons that are often internalized by the twins themselves and can lead to rivalry and competition once the siblings hit middle school even if they no longer share a classroom. Peers, still hung up on the mysticism surrounding twins, continue their comparisons but now they’re more pointed, “Why didn’t you make the football team like your brother?” or “Hey, your brother beat you and got the math award!” To the twins’ classmates, these comparisons aren’t cruel or unfair, they’re simply observations. But to twins, the comparisons are a constant reminder that one of them will always be better at something; they are always competitors.

Furthermore, regardless of their opposite personalities or how differently they dress, when same-age siblings share a classroom, the lines of where one twin ends and the other begins can get very blurry, and the pair is seen as one entity. It becomes much harder for classmates to get to know each twin personally, individually. They begin to get the reputation as an all-or-nothing proposition. Or, twin discrimination can come into play as some classmates who may like only one twin will feel uncomfortable inviting just that child over for a play date or birthday party. Instead of risking the feelings of the other twin, will choose not to invite either. Teachers, too, sometimes choose not to award one twin to avoid hurt feelings of the other.

But what about just sheer proximity? Young twins spend so much time together outside of school (they eat together, play together–I don’t need to continue as you can fill in the list) that the classroom can actually be a sanctuary for a twin, the only place where he can have a unique, solitary experience or memory that he can truly call his very own and share all by himself at the dinner table without his cotwin constantly interrupting to add or change a detail.

That’s massive! It’s this ownership of alone time that as singletons we take for granted but many twins never experience for the first six, seven, even eight years of their lives. Some might argue that that would be the reason for keeping them together since these twins have spent little time apart from their cotwins. But I believe that parents should view their twins constant need to be together as a red flag, not something as endearing and therefore grossly encouraged. Instead parents should step in and be preemptive by scheduling slow gradual separation of their twins (take each one to the park separately, for instance) starting when they’re very young so by the time they reach kindergarten, they’re ready and willing to spend the majority of the school day apart.

Many parents with young twins look at this emotional issue through a very different prism than parents with older twins. On the one hand, parents with preschool twins see their twins’ relationship as tender and innocent. They want to nurture their bond, protect it. Yet parents of older twins know that the twin bond will thrive when each is given the opportunity to experience life as an individual. Parents of twins need to celebrate their children’s individuality and be an advocate for it. When twins are given the opportunity to shine on their own, pursue their own passions and friendships out of the shadow of their cotwins, it actually builds and strengthens their twin bond. Without the pressure to be together sharing the same spotlight, the guilt and responsibility of  caring for another dissipates and they’re free to be true best friends. And one important way to achieve this is to allow each child the benefit of his own classroom.

 

24 thoughts on “Should Twins Share the Same Classroom? I’m Not So Sure…

  1. thelifeofjamie

    I am a teacher and firmly believe that they should be separated in class once they hit kindergarten. The twin I had was so needy and clingy and was much much worse when her sister was around. Plus the two would talk a mile a minute! Of course it’s just my opinion, but I would separate!

    Reply
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  3. Bergetta K. Hugus

    Unfortunately our school district is too small to seperate them as there will only be one Kindergarden class. But if I had the choice I would seperate them. So instead I send them to seperate babysitters one day a week. This gives them a chance to do things without the other. Being together 24/7 would drive me nuts so I could expect my twins not to feel this way as well. I notice they play together so much better after being apart a day.

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  4. Wendy Burdick Seely

    My twin girls are currently in Kindergarten, in separate classrooms, and I’m thrilled…and they are too! A year ago I would have said, same class, please, but come time for Kindergarten, I was completely certain it was best. I am amazed at the number of friends they ‘share’, so clearly they are managing, and then some, just fine!!! :)

    Reply
  5. D.W.

    I have boy/girl twins that are now age 9. I seperated them in kindergarten and they were fine. They need to become their own person.

    Reply
  6. Dina

    My only issue with separation is that I know there will be one teacher better than the other and I will spend the whole year wishing both my kids had that teacher. (I am a teacher myself) My kids aren’t of school age yet but I think our district just separates them. It also really depends on the kids. If your kids are codependent on each other then yes separation would be important. My kids have separate friends in their prek and do not rely on each other so if they were in same class it would be OK. They are b/g too which makes a difference. Same sex I could see how separation would be good.

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  7. AHC

    The article discusses all twins as if they are all alike. Is that valid? If there are twins who look and act dramatically differently is the need to separate so great? Is there de facto less twin dependence for twins who have other siblings? Cannot the same positive development of individualism be acheived by parents encouraging the individual interests of all of their children, encouraging separate playdates, and the like?

    Reply
    1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof

      I don’t believe I have portrayed twins as “all alike.” Of course individuation depends on many factors as you pointed out. The overall point of the post was how others view twins when they are together. A bit of a distinction.

      Reply
  8. Kathy

    Thanks for the article. I’ve always assumed I’d put my twins in the same classroom once they start preschool, but your article has at least started my thinking of other ways of doing something. I have fraternal twins and they are very different and don’t seem to have an intense, inseparable bond. But they do get so competitive with each other because they simply spend so much time together. I like the idea of a behavioral experiment- separating them for a day and seeing how they respond to each other afterwards.

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  9. Sara

    WoW!!
    I enjoyed readig :) .. I’m a co-twin :) and My mun was believing in the “Separation” issue and it really works! but as the article mention .. the twin bond will thrive! sure it is .. and My sister and I choose to be our true best friends :)
    we are different .. having different life, interests, friends .. but still the twin bond are very strong .. thank God .. and thanks to Mum

    Reply
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  13. Amy Medeiros

    Good points. I think there are “pro”s to consider as well, that need to be weighed. I don’t like all of Pamela Prindle Fierro’s About.com articles on Multiples but I think she did a good job of summarizing reasons twins should/should not be separated into different classrooms: http://multiples.about.com/od/twinsinschool/tp/separateclassesfortwins.htm and http://multiples.about.com/od/twinsinschool/tp/keeptwinstogetherinschool.htm
    One of the things I found most compelling though was the research that showed that twins who are separated in school at age 5 tend to have more emotional problems later on: http://www.tamba.org.uk/Page.aspx?pid=762
    So far my boys have been in the same class in preschool. It’s worked well so far but we’ll re-evaluate it year by year. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by far by how well teachers and students do treat them as individuals, though that might change as they get older. I’m tentatively planning to keep them together through Kindergarten and/or till they ask to be in separate classrooms.

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  14. Sharon Murdock Munson

    I believe that the educational environment is much more important than whether twins are together or separate- I’ve done both at different times- together in smaller private schools where that was the only option and separate in traditional public school. I much preferred the experience of the smaller private montessori schools that matched my philosophy to the traditional school where they were separate. My twins are headed to a large public high school this year and i am confident they will both thrive (primarily separately) because of the strong foundation I have helped them develop both at home and in school. Yes, they had some social challenges as the only twins in the classroom but if they were singletons they would have had similar social challenges (spoken as a mom to one set of twins and two singletons who has seen alot)- our social challenges generally come from who “we are” (including our family’s uniqueness- whatever that may be) and I think its better to learn to deal with that early on. Being in a separate classroom within a school will not protect them from the “twin thing”- we moved to a new state last year- all 4 of my children at the same school- very quickly it was known within the “kid culture” who they were- its human nature to define those connections- but those connections do not define who we are- and the more we can help all of our children recognize that the better off they will be.

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      1. Jen

        As an adult fraternal twin.. Not identical , and the mother of identical twin girls I have to say that when my girls go to kindergarden next year I’m separating them. I was separated at grade one from my brother because we helped each other to much , i never had classes with him, it made us see past our twin ship and be equal with our peers and our own unique people. My girls are three and identical so much that when they look in the mirror they say its the other one. One of my girls also has the habit of telling everyone she meets who she is so they don’t mix her up with her sister, this makes me sad because I want them to have as much individuality as possible.my brother and I are still close we think alike , and haves special bond and that was only made better by having our own lives at school.

        Reply
        1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof Post author

          Thanks for sharing your story! I think it’s great that your daughter tells people who she is — it’s her way of stating her independence. Sounds like you are doing a great job with your girls. Best of luck next year.

          Reply

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