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Should You Separate Twins in School

Every year, at the end of the school year, I take each child aside to give them my prepared speech and question: “Daddy and I have not heard of any reason to keep you apart next year and we have no feelings about it — there are benefits and drawbacks of being in the same classroom or different classrooms.  So we turn the decision over to you: do you want to be in the same classroom as your sister/brother or two separate rooms next year in school?”

Once we get their initial answer, we go through some of those benefits and drawbacks just because they may not have thought through the decision fully, and then we ask them one more time.  Once we have each of their individual answers, we make them sit down with one another and have a conversation about what they want collectively.  The reason we do it this way is that we want to be as close as we can to certain they are giving their own, personal answer and not saying what they think the other one wants to hear.  If they emerged out of the room with a different answer from the one they give me individually, I would know that some coercion has taken place and we’d need another conversation with a moderator (who is… um… me).  So far, we’ve never had an individual answer differ from the collective answer.

And then once we have that single, collective answer, we go to the school and advocate on their behalf.

My answer to the “should you separate twins* in school” question that all parents of multiples grapple with at some point is that unless it falls within the four reasons for forced separation outlined by the Department of Education, the children themselves should be allowed to decide.  They can decide they want to go into two separate rooms or they can decide they want to remain together, but ultimately, that decision needs to be left to them because they are the only ones truly affected by the decision.

What are the four reasons for why the adults (the teacher, parents, principal) should be overriding the wishes of the multiples?

  • Classmates cannot distinguish between the children and treat the individuals as a single, interchangeable unit.
  • Disruptive behaviour inside the classroom with each other.
  • One twin speaks for the other twin.
  • They are not able to maintain friendships outside the twinship.

If they don’t fall into any of those categories but they want to be apart, you should separate them.  And if they don’t fall into any of those categories and want to be together, you should keep them together.  And twins who are not in agreement should have adults counsel them through the decision so they come to a place of agreement.

I don’t have strong feelings about separating twins in school mostly because I am personally not a twin and therefore, I will never personally have to be separated.  I do have strong feelings about placing low-stakes decisions in the childrens’ hands so they’ll learn how to make high-stakes decisions down the road.  By two, they could tell me which toy they wanted.  By three, they could pick an activity for us to do.  By four, they could choose what to eat when given a menu of possibilities.  And certainly, by kindergarten, they knew whether or not they wanted to be in each other’s presence.

When it isn’t life or death, when it isn’t financially untenable, we let them have their say.  What they eat, what they wear, where they go, and if they’re in the same classroom — tiny decisions which make them feel like they have control over their lives. (Which makes me feel like I should do an evil dictator laugh right now and say, “‘feel’ is the operative word.  You have no control, fools!”).

I have to admit that even before becoming a twin parent, I never really understood this desire for adults to separate twins.  I don’t know about you, but I love going somewhere with a friend or my husband, and I become anxious when I’m seated apart from my friend or husband at an event.  I once went to a wedding where the bride and groom placed everyone at a random table in order to “generate conversation.”  Not only did they not get their wish, but most of us agreed that it was the worst wedding we had ever attended.  I didn’t get a chance to catch up with friends I actually knew at the wedding.  Instead I spent time with the groom’s 80-year-old great-uncle.  We had nothing in common, exhausted the conversation in five minutes, and I spent the rest of the evening thinking more about how I wasn’t talking to my friends rather than getting to know this stranger next to me.  It’s the difference between choosing for myself to leave the person I came with for the moment and flit across the room to talk to someone vs. having someone else tell me that I can’t sit with my friends/husband.

I think there are benefits and detriments to any separation.  I separate out from Josh during the day.  I don’t live in my parent’s house anymore.  I spend time apart from the twins when they’re at school or sleeping.  There are obviously benefits to separation.  But just because there are benefits doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that there are also detriments.

Our twins are strongly individuals with individual preferences, and they naturally separate out based on that fact, mostly in the form of friends or activities.  They are also fiercely connected to one another, and name each other as their best friend.  They genuinely like to play with one another and support one another.  I hope they never lose that; it’s an incredible thing to go through life with someone who has your back no matter what.

I really wish this wasn’t a question every single year, and I’m still not sure why it’s such a hot button topic within the multiples community.  I would actually love to hear the other side and understand the desire to separate twins.

On my mind as school wraps up and the decision needs to be made.

* I use the term “twins” throughout this post because those are the multiples I have.  The same thoughts apply to triplets and beyond.


1 Sharon { 06.12.12 at 12:19 pm }

Although our twin boys are only 4 months old, I am bookmarking this post for future reference because I love the way you handle this with your children.

When we first learned we were having twins, my husband was adamant that he wanted to respect their individuality, and in his mind, that included automatic separation at school. Since that time, we have done some more reading on the topic, and though opinions are mixed, the majority view seems to be that you allow twins to be together until/unless they express a desire to be separated. So we plan to go with that, and your method dovetails well with that approach.

We already do other things to respect our boys’ individuality: spend time with them one-on-one when we can, don’t dress them alike, refer to them by their names instead of as “the twins” (we call them “the boys” more than the “the twins” for some reason). Their nursery is not filled with identical two of everything; we’ve gone out of our way to make sure that they have different toys, different cribs, different mobiles. And we will do more to foster their individual identities in age-appropriate ways as time passes.

2 ANDMom { 06.12.12 at 12:29 pm }

I think the main reason for separation falls under the “treats them as a unit” reason. I find that in society, if you say “twins” they automatically feel like “same”. Even a lot of twin parents dress their children identically, not allowing them individuality. I’ve known some twin parents who, if one baby spits up, will change BOTH babies outfits because heaven forbid they don’t have on matching pjs. Even if they’re non-identical twins. I try to not even CALL my boys twins for the reaction it gets from other people. (Look people. They have different favorite activities, toys, and colors.) So for that reason, I can see an argument for separating them at the beginning, so people get to know them as individuals rather than as any sort of unit (rather than keeping them together UNTIL it becomes clear that people are treating them as a unit). Maybe they’d be “more comfortable” together in an unfamiliar environment, but maybe that’s not really great for social development either. Depends on the kids. (I also know that the standard policy in my elementary school was to separate twins, you had to make a special request to keep them together. My mom taught there and said it was thought to be better for the kids socially.)

That said, we won’t be separating our boys for kindergarten at least. We hadn’t made any formal decisions, but our school system is trying to start an immersion program at the kindergarten level – and I’m not about to put one in Spanish-immersion and the other in English. There’s separation and then there’s … that. And if that program does well and extends to other grades, we will likely never separate them. We were leaning towards not anyways because of other concerns – but this cements it.

3 Chickenpig { 06.12.12 at 1:07 pm }

Since one of my twins has autism, I don’t feel I have the same options you have. If my twins were in the same class, it might become a question about which child the para professional was working with. I have never been given the option to keep the boys in the same class. I have a feeling that given the option they would choose to be together, but I think that the two of them being together in class would hurt NB socially.

4 Brookes4boys { 06.12.12 at 1:55 pm }

My twins (identical boys) were together for pre school but separated every year since then and will continue to be separated this coming year in 4th grade. Their preschool teacher recommended that we separate them because one is more studious and the other a bit more playful and easily distracted and when together the playful one distracts his brother from doing his best, so she felt the studious one could do better on his own. I, also, have the concern that, because they are identical, one could get lost in the mix or blamed for anothers misdeeds, when the teacher doesn’t know who is who.

So far, there have been very few problems with them separated. Sometimes one class will have a party and the other won’t, or one will have more homework than the other, but these are small issues, and IMO they need to get used to everything in life not being “equal” because ,once they are older, they will find that that is most often the case anyway. They still have lunch and recess together and share some of the same friends but I like seeing their different personalities shine in their different environments.

5 a { 06.12.12 at 2:03 pm }

What would you do if they were randomly assigned to different classrooms like everyone else?

This is also not something that affects only twins, but may affect siblings in general. My next older sister and I are 15 months apart (slightly more than your average “Irish twins”) and my parents encountered sort of the reverse of your situation. The school wanted me to skip a grade…which would have put me in the same class as my sister. My parents opted not to do that, which was probably a good idea – for my sister. I’m still not certain what I think about that decision, but they never discussed it with either my sister or me.

6 Lollipop Goldstein { 06.12.12 at 2:56 pm }

A — technically, it can’t happen at this point because there is a law in our state leaving the decision in the hands of the multiples if there is no documented reason to separate them. When they’re older, we’ll have to negotiate it with the school. Of course, this only counts for their base teacher — they’re divided sometimes with math or reading if they are at two different skill levels.

And that is so interesting about your sister and how that affected you skipping a grade.

7 Lollipop Goldstein { 06.12.12 at 2:58 pm }

Chickenpig — that would definitely affect things. My friend had to have her twins at two different schools since one was special needs and the other was not, and their base school didn’t have the means to teach one of her kids.

8 Peg { 06.12.12 at 2:58 pm }

While our 12 year olds aren’t twins, we do separate Aidan and Molly (just finished 6th grade today). Most of this is for Aidan to get a bit of a break during the day from his cousin who tends to be very dependent on him. I think he would have been fine with it, but the principal and my husband and I wanted to let him have some space. I would see, however, having them in separate classrooms in the early grades would have been challenging in terms of different homework, schedules, etc. Not because I’d worry about what’s “fair” if one has more work, but for my sake trying to keep track of assignments and tests. What’s been really funny is that the 6th graders know that they are cousins not twins, but the 7th and 8th graders assume they are twins. Aidan denies it vehemently, but Molly loves to go along with it.

My sister with twins kept them together this year in kindergarten. They are boy-girl twins which I think helps with the people not mixing them up thing and with individual friendships. She’s keeping them together for first grade mostly for logistics. William also has some anxiety issues and having his sister with him helps.

9 k { 06.12.12 at 3:01 pm }

I pushed (and pushed HARD) to keep my twins together during their first year of school. This year has been amazing for them. They’ve both excelled and we basically pushed for it because my daughter was INTENSELY anxiety filled for months prior to school starting. We said in the beginning that we would separate them if there was a problem in the classroom and that we would leave their class assignments to fate after kinder. I do like how you’ve handled it and I may approach that conversation with my wife. They really were never seen as a “unit” at school, with the exception of the teacher telling us how she loved them both and how great they were doing. But she was very keen on their differences and encouraging them in the ways they needed to be encouraged individually rather than treating them the same.

The school was not thrilled with my pushing to keep them together, but I was NOT afraid to be THAT mom and sit in the principal’s office until I got what I knew my kids needed. After watching them this year, though, I think they’ll be fine in separate classrooms. I hope. Ack. New anxiety to worry about!

10 Heather { 06.12.12 at 4:11 pm }

I love this post, and I think we’ll end up doing the same thing when the boys go to school in a few years. They will be starting preschool in the fall, but there is only one classroom, so there will be no separating. It’s a small day care at a Friends’ meeting house and it is my backup care when my SIL needs vacation. They’ve been there before and loved it. The teachers told me that they went back and forth from playing with other kids and playing with their brother. I think they like having the option to do both. They are as you indicate too, very strong individuals and voice their opinions without one speaking for the other. I like giving the kids the option and the way you go about the conversation. Thanks for the idea!

11 Esperanza { 06.12.12 at 4:45 pm }

I have to admit, as a teacher in the older grades I don’t really understand why twins should have the option to be together when other kids don’t. Most schools don’t allow parents to ask for a certain teacher or to have a child in class with their friend unless there are extenuating cirumatances, like social anxiety (we had a set of twins go through our school, always in the same class like that because they had so much social anxiety and learning difficulties that made it hard for them to interact with others, which I understand and support). But maybe it’s different in lower grades where kids are much younger and there is only one teacher all day. And maybe, having no experience with twins, I just don’t get it. I honestly don’t really care either way but I can see other parents taking issue with it from an equality stand point. Or maybe not because twins are twins and friends and just friends.

I do have to say that that wedding sounds awful. I can’t fathom what they were thinking! Really?! Everyone has to sit with random people?! I’d have had a hard time not walking out of just changing my place card. Ugh. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

12 Mel { 06.12.12 at 6:13 pm }

Hey Esperenza — the number one reason for why they can’t be treated like any other two students (eg. friends) who can’t make requests is that all other people will have time apart after school. If there are problems in the classroom, they will be able to escape that problem once they leave the classroom. But twins bring the dynamics of home to the classroom and they bring the dynamics of the classroom back home. So they’re not like every other student, in the same way that all people who live together aren’t like other friendships/relationships. When your home and school/workplace mix so intimately, there need to be considerations kept in mind in order to keep a good relationship in both places. That’s what makes twinships (or some of the other unique situations above in the comments) different from your average two students.

13 Amy { 06.12.12 at 6:45 pm }

thanks for posting this. I’ll be facing this decision with adam and reid in about a year. Our elementary school would prefer that they be separated, but they’ll do whatever David and I wish. I think we’ll be keeping them together. But at least I have another year to decide. We’ll have to see how Pre-K goes, and what their teacher says towards the end of next year. Right now, if one is at school and the other is home sick, the one at school has a terrible day. I feel like they need each other, even if they have separate friends, they still rely on each other quite a bit.

14 k { 06.12.12 at 6:51 pm }

In reply to Esperanza:

Twins aren’t just siblings. They aren’t just close friends. They’ve literally never been apart from one another their entire lives. Starting school is a MAJOR adjustment, a huge life change. Imagine starting a humungous life change AND being separated from your constant companion. I’ve heard people say “well why is it any different than being separated from their parents?” Because parental separation happens all the time – day care, babysitters, etc… But yet the children remain together. There are actually studies indicating that separation of twins in early elementary can be detrimental to their mental health and the learning process.

I think what I find frustrating from a parent standpoint (and I’m the daughter of and sister of teachers) is that educators are stuck in the dark ages and refuse to read literature that’s current that explains the dynamics of the relationships between twins, trips, etc… and simply rely on what they were told way back when that twins should be separated so they will develop their own personality. This concept is archaic.

15 It Is What It Is { 06.12.12 at 8:00 pm }

I don’t have twins and have zero opinion.

I just had to chime in that I went to a similar wedding, where they randomly assigned guests to tables. It was THE worst! I’ve also been to a dinner party where they did the same thing, putting my husband and I on opposite sides and opposite ends of the table. That, too, was THE worst! I mean, really. What kind of control freak do you have to be to want to do that to your adult guests!

16 Bionic Baby Mama { 06.12.12 at 8:15 pm }

This is not an issue I expect to deal with, but for the record, this is the sanest thing I’ve seen written on the topic.

17 ANDMom { 06.12.12 at 8:56 pm }

Also in reply to Esperanza –

Where I grew up, the school system always DID allow the parents to make requests. They didn’t always honor them, but it was within the parents’ rights to ask for a specific teacher or to be placed with (or more often *without*) a particular student. And if the teachers had a problem with the request, it was discussed and explained. So a parent making a request for twins wasn’t really more or less strange than a parent making a request for a teacher that they already knew/liked or against a teacher they disliked. And in that same school system, in high school, we were allowed to voice preferences on our schedule selection sheets, or request class transfers after the fact – didn’t always work out in our favor, but we were allowed to ask. So … maybe some of it depends on the particular school system, too. Classroom assignments in elementary/middle school were NEVER a random roll-of-the-die situation, always carefully planned out by the teachers, so it wasn’t a big deal for parents to ask.

Plus what the others have said about the nature of twins. It’s a unique relationship with some unique circumstances.

18 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 06.13.12 at 12:53 am }

Around their 2nd birthday, every night I’d give my twins the option of whether to sleep in the same or different rooms. Burrito always wanted to be with Tamale; Tamale always said, “No Burrito!” I suspect that the same would be true of classroom choice now, and probably for years to come, though Tamale’s objections are getting less vehement.

Since my twins are not only boy-girl twins but complete opposites in virtually every way, the rationale for building their individuality just doesn’t hold. Parents of their classmates have seen me bring them to school and said that they didn’t realize they were twins.

I used to work with a woman with identical girls. When they started preschool they were separated. They spent all day, every day, for months crying for each other. Burrito probably would have done the same if we’d separated them when they started school around age 2 — it was bad enough to separate from us with his sister at his side. Tamale would have been fine no matter what.

We haven’t had a choice to separate yet (without sending them to different schools!) but we will probably have a choice at age 4. It’s hard to know what will be best for them at that point, since that’s so far away. I am certain that they will have a big say in the matter.

19 Emmy { 06.13.12 at 1:18 am }

I’ve taught 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades over the past decade. One year (1st grade) I had triplets in my class, and the following year, I had the two boys of the triplets in my 2nd grade class. All three were separated for 3rd grade. As 1st graders and how the kids were, it made sense and they all did fine– although the girl did try to outshine her brothers. In 2nd grade the triplet boys started having troubles because the other was in the same class. Their competitiveness with each other got to be too much and they would argue over friends in class. It was fine in the beginning of the year, but by January I would have really liked them separated.

This past year, I had twins in my 1st grade class who were new to the school (and 1 of the twins in 3 other sets). It was great to have them together for each other, as they were both shy, but by the end of the year, I felt that each would do better academically and socially if he wasn’t comparing himself to his brother. I’ve never had sibling sets in 3rd grade.

I really think it depends on the individual circumstance and dynamic between the kids. It seems to me that as the kids get older, more issues arise from being in the same class. For my kids who were separated last year, they were all so excited to share their day with their twin after school, which was really cute. There are positives and negatives to each. I think it’s great for you to give them the power of choice, but I also think the teacher’s input on how it is affecting their learning is something to consider, even if the issues aren’t one of the four you mentioned.

20 Jules { 06.13.12 at 4:02 am }

I’m in Australia & our school year is Jan – Dec.

My twins are only 3, so I have this decision to make soon.

At daycare, as they meet the school cut-off (just) they were elevated to the 3yr kinder room in early April. Last year, they were in the 18-2yr room & in Jan were eligible for the 2-3yr room. At that time, I decide to separate them (from Jan-Apr), to see how it effected them.

I kept the more academic & older twin in the lower grade room & sent the lesser academic & shyer younger twin up with his peers. It was beneficial, as the younger came out of his box, while the older twin was able to grow & experience life on his own. It was a confusion to me, because rather than have both doing the same thing, each was doing different things in their room.

Since April, they have been together again & according to their career, a little more sociable with the others, rather than playing by themselves.

I’ve read posts from other twin Mum about how they were happy they separated & others who were happy they didn’t. I think like you, I will let them make the final decision.

21 Elana Kahn { 06.13.12 at 8:00 am }

I don’t really have feelings about it one way or the other, honestly. But my kids won’t have a choice since we plan to send them to a private Jewish day school where girls and boys are separated beginning in 2nd grade. So they will be separated because of this. We will just have to prepare them extra for when it happens, but we have a while yet to go until then!

22 Carrie { 06.13.12 at 8:14 am }

My twins don’t understand that they are twins just yet. They are 3.5, boy girl twins. I think a lot of that has to do that they have an older sister only 17 months older and because they are two very different children. I really like how you ask the twins whether or not they want to stay together or not, this will be something I will definitely do. I have always thought that I will keep them together until it becomes a problem.

23 loribeth { 06.13.12 at 9:41 am }

I’ve always been fascinated by twins & multiples — I’m not a twin, but my sister & I were only 21 months or one grade apart & looked a lot alike (& dressed alike or same outfits, different colours when we were younger), so we used to get asked a lot if we were. And I know my sister had some huge issues, following in my footsteps all the way through school.

I agree with Emmy: “I really think it depends on the individual circumstance and dynamic between the kids.” I think it’s great that you ask them what THEY want — although, as a parent, I think you should always have the final say. ; )

24 sunflowerchilde (Stacey) { 06.14.12 at 12:18 am }

Just wanted to chime in, as I am an identical twin with fraternal boy-girl twins. My sister and I were together preschool through 1st grade, separated 2nd and 3rd grade, together in 4th, and then separate after that. I think that for identicals, being together when you’re very young is important, and being separated at some point when you’re ready for it is also important. I would not have liked to always have my sister around – it impacts your life in so many ways that most people never think about. One example I always use is prom queen. I honestly don’t and never did care, but it’s a good example. As an identical twin, you know, automatically, that being prom queen (or whatever the case may be) will NEVER be an option for you. I mean, if you’re not pretty or popular or whatever, you know it too, but it’s not by default. For talent shows, modeling (my mom made us do it), anything like that, people wanted the identical twins as bookends to show off the singletons, and I hated it. I think that being always encouraged to be together can eventually trigger resentment, as well (obviously I feel some still). I think it is a totally different question for fraternal twins, though. And I think that if the twins themselves have any opinion, that should be respected first and foremost, since my main point here is that twins should be allowed to create their own identities and represent their own opinions!

25 Ellen K. { 06.14.12 at 10:09 am }

I like Stacey’s comments above. My brothers are identical twins, and their experience was similar to hers (aside from the prom queen issue, LOL). They were in the same classrooms for preschool and kindergarten, and then again occasionally in junior high and high school, and they played the same sports. From my experience as their sister, I’ve observed that people tend to be really effing lazy when it comes to identical twins or same-sex twins. Relatives and friends gave them chintzy presents and sometimes gifts that didn’t suit one at all. They were called by the wrong names or even as “A and B.” Coaches compared them. Relatives constantly confused them. Girls confused them (my brothers were somewhat complicit in this…!). Now their marriages are somewhat strained by the intensity of the twin bond. My brothers’ wives don’t particularly get along well. It’s hard on my brothers, who now have to tone it down and realize that their twin is NOT the most important person. It’s kind of sad, to be honest.

I also witnessed that they were given LOTs of attention and privileges by the community, for the sake of not hurting someone’s feelings. Birthday party invites, second-round tryouts, etc. And God, later on, the lecherous comments about threesomes! Seriously, it happens. It can be taken too far. I admire my brothers’ confidence that comes from always having a wingman. But it’s good to fly solo for a few hours and then come together at the end of the day. So when it comes to my own twin daughters — fraternal, one blonde and one brunette, but their little friends still confuse them all the time — my default is going to be to separate them, but I do want to keep them in the same school. Next spring the girls can be tested for the gifted magnet schools. I am not keen on this. So I see that it can be a tough call.

For the record, my brothers, who have no shortage of opinions on how to raise my twins, say that the girls should be together in preschool and kindergarten and maybe first grade — but after that, when school friendships become more important, they should be separated.

26 Shari @ Two Times the Fun { 06.17.12 at 4:44 pm }

Great article. May I link to it on our Illinois Twins Law website? We like to give parents of multiples different ways to think about the topic.

Our girls were together until this year. We also asked them yearly what they wanted to do. This year they said, “APART.” They will start third grade in different classrooms. We have fraternal girls. When we started in the school district, the teacher giving us the tour said, “Wed don’t keep twins together.” I smiled, pointed to a group of children and replied, “If you can pick out our twins from that group we’ll go with your plan.” Of course she couldn’t because she had never seen them before. My point, and she got it, was that she didn’t know anything about our girls so she shouldn’t make blanket statements. I had to talk to the principal, but they were kept together every year because we requested it.

27 t { 08.19.13 at 3:36 pm }

This is our second year of dealing with this with our boy/girl fraternal twins. In K we decided to separate them to encourage socialization apart from each other. They still would make joint friends at recess but it gave them a chance to form their identities and own individual friends that they did not have to share. This year, I contacted the school and requested that they share a class together. I think that they are socially confident enough at this point but would academically benefit from having each other in the same class to discuss homework. Well, and they asked to be together. From here on out, I would like to take it on a year by year basis based on their growth. Even though our school states that they generally like to keep twins separated, I’m glad that they were open minded enough to honor our request this year. Do any parents have advice about how to put in the request (for either together or apart) before the school year ends/begins so that they don’t have to switch classes after the first day?

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