Question of the Week:
My identical twin girls are in second grade. The school tried to put them in separate classes last year without consulting us. This upset my girls very much so I pushed and had them put back into the same class. It’s midway through the year now and the school is suggesting again that we separate the girls next year. “Twin A” struggles focusing at school a lot. When asked in private, she tells me that she would like to try being in a different class because she would be compared less to her sister. “Twin B” gets emotional and does not want her sister to go to another class because she says she feels calmer and more secure with her sister around. I worry about the dynamics it may cause with different birthday invitations, school projects, play dates, and best friends. I’m also concerned that the school is viewing this as a simple fix to “Twin A’s” learning challenges when I believe there are more factors at play. We always said we would keep them together until they were old enough to ask to be separated. I didn’t plan for the chance that one would be ready before the other. Do I keep them together and continue focusing on the learning issues for “Twin A” to help her academically? Or do we split them up allowing “Twin A” to feel more independent but risk “Twin B” feeling hurt or abandoned? —J.P.
Answer: You’ve touched upon several different issues that I’ll address one by one. First, if “Twin A” is struggling in school by all means insist that she get tested by the school. I agree with your statement, “I am also concerned that the school is viewing this as a simple fix to Twin A’s learning challenges, when I believe there are more factors at play.” Often school administrators think that separation is a panacea for all that ails a twin. It often is not. Therefore, you need to know what issues (if any) “Twin A” may be facing. The school may discourage you as a full battery of tests is a big expense that they must incur, but stand your ground and have her evaluated. This is the perfect time to do it—she’s only in second grade. If there is a learning issue, it’s better to catch it early for a greater chance of remediation.
Next, since “Twin A” has expressed a desire to be in a separate classroom, you should accommodate her wishes. (We’ll talk about “Twin B’s” reaction in a moment.) My own twins are now 16. Over the years, they’ve experienced every classroom combination. They attended preschool together, they were separated from kindergarten through third grade, shared fourth and fifth grade classrooms, and then have been separated ever since (although they do share an English class this year as it’s a small high school). We’ve talked together about this subject often. Although they enjoyed being together, to a certain degree, they hated how the other kids reacted to them as a pair. They were constantly bombarded with comparisons, some innocent (“Who’s taller?”), many intrusive (“Who did better on the math test?”). They tried to make light of these comments but they grew weary of them.
Furthermore, don’t focus on the frustration that different class projects, different friends and different birthday party invitations may bring to your daughters’ relationship if you separate them. It’s inevitable that it will happen (and in my opinion, it’s better to deal with it now rather than later) and would be a non-issue if your girls were single-born children in different grades. Instead, focus on their need to be individuals and that includes having different but parallel lives. With your loving help, your twins will learn to develop a strong emotional backbone.
You write that you’re also worried that your twins’ bond will suffer if you separate them but the opposite is often the case. Over the years I’ve interviewed and met hundreds of parents of multiples who have all said the same thing: Classroom separation actually helped and strengthened their twins’ relationship. Without so much “face time” with one another, many twins are then free to be themselves. Plus, being in separate classrooms reduces the stress of having to take care of or being responsible for one’s twin. Each child is solely responsible for herself and her own happiness. And in the end, that’s what you want to help facilitate—two strong, independent girls.
Now, on to “Twin B’s” reaction to separation. It sounds as if she needs a self-esteem boost but it’s unfair to burden “Twin A” to make that happen. Tap into “Twin B’s” personal passions and encourage her interests. Find an activity that just she enjoys and excels at but leave “Twin A” out of the equation. Encourage her to find and make new friends, too. Furthermore, try spending more alone time with each child, especially “Twin B,” as it will help to reduce her anxiety.
And finally, you need to consider that “Twin A” may feel resentful from having to share a classroom, and that “Twin B” may feel guilty for wanting to be together. Therefore, take the decision-making out of their hands. I believe that kids look to their parents for their reaction in times of stress. So put on a happy face! You and your husband should make the decision of what to do next year and then slowly ease the girls into the idea. You have plenty of time before the new school year begins.