Should Twins Be Separated in School?
As a parent of twins, you know that just because your duo share a birthday and a very special, unique “twin bond” doesn’t mean they are exactly the same. Just like any other set of siblings, twins will have their similarities and their differences. They may like the same activities, or they may have different passions, hobbies and skill sets; they may enjoy spending all their time together, or they may crave some separation from one another; they might have similar personalities, or perhaps they’re complete opposites (like my twins!).
No matter how similar or different your twins, they are unique individuals, and you should treat them as such. That’s why deciding whether to separate them into different classes at school can be such a challenging one.
In fact, this is one of the biggest and oftentimes most stressful decisions parents of young twins must make; and if you’re having a hard time figuring out what the best option is for your family, you are not alone.
Of course, the answer is different for every family. But to help you navigate this particular hurdle, we want to discuss it all — the pros and cons of separating twins in school, some background information on legislation across the US, and even some personal testimonies from real twin moms. Hopefully this article will provide some guidance and support and help you make an informed decision.
Benefits of Keeping Twins Together in School
Some sets of twins do better when their counterpart is present. They don’t hold each other back; quite the opposite — they build each other up. It’s like having a cheerleader with you during those scary moments: the first day of school, the big science test, trying to figure out who to sit with at lunch and play with during recess. This is especially true for twins going into kindergarten. It’s a big, and sometimes difficult transition, but having a built-in-bud there can make it so much less daunting.
Depending on your twins’ personalities and relationship, being in the same class might foster a healthy competition between them, which in turn may encourage them to work harder (i.e. compete against each other) in school.
Taking it a step further, some experts think that separating twins in school may actually do more harm than good. In her article, Twins: In Defense of Togetherness, psychologist, Mary Lamia, PhD, explains that there is an incredibly strong bond between twins, and dividing them can shift their focus onto the separation rather than what they are learning at school.
Lamia goes on to say that without the presence of her counterpart, the twin who seems more confident may develop anxiety. Both twins may even feel distressed by not knowing what or how the other is doing. So rather than fostering a sense of individuality, forced separation can end up fostering fear and distress instead.
Dr. Nancy Segal, PhD, an expert on twins, Director of the Twin Studies Center and author of many books about twins, agrees. She says that “it is an adjustment for any child to leave the security of home and parents, but cutting them off from their twin can add to their anxiety.”
In the New York Times blog from 2012 entitled, Should Schools Separate Twins, some adult twins backed up Lamia’s and Segal’s claims. One twin responder commented that “to be separated is to cut a normal and healthy tie, and to be separated at such a young age was traumatic. No ‘expert’ takes into account the trauma of that split!”
Adding to this, recent research from Goldsmiths, University of London shows that contrary to popular belief (and the likely basis of schools mandating separation of twins in the classroom), separating twins (both identical and fraternal) into different classrooms doesn’t actually improve their academic achievement, cognitive ability and motivation.
In fact, the study concludes: “there is no strong evidence to justify a rigid rule that twins should be taught separately – or taught together – because it is better for their academic studies… and the decision on how twins should be taught should be discussed between parents, teachers and twins and reflect the individual needs of twins.”
In addition, having twins in the same classroom can make life easier for Mom and Dad. It means a consistent educational experience for the kids; only one teacher (and teaching style) to get used to; the same homework and due dates for both children; the same set of classroom rules; field trips at the same location and on the same day, etc. Also, for parents who want to participate in extracurricular activities — i.e. volunteering, attending class parties, being room rep, etc. — having two kids in the same classroom makes it much easier to do so.
On the other hand…
Cons of Keeping Twins Together in School
While keeping twins in the same classroom certainly works for some families, it definitely doesn’t work for everyone. As you make that decision, it’s important that you consider your twins for their individual selves — not just as one half of a whole.
Some twins can excel on all levels — academically, socially, mentally and emotionally — only when they get some space from each other, the space to really grow and shine.
According to many parents (and teachers), some twins who are in the same class distract each other too much to learn. And although some twins enjoy a bit of healthy competition, others become too hyper-focused on what their twin is doing — and how much better or worse they are doing — and are not able to focus on class material.
If one twin consistently does better than the other in certain subjects, it can be disheartening and defeating for the twin who feels he or she can never “match up.” In this instance, separating twins into different classrooms may be for the best. Their teacher can certainly weigh in on this too.
Separating twins may also become necessary if they are too emotionally and socially dependent on each other. It can be easy for twins to fall into the “we’re two” mentality, as opposed to seeing themselves for the unique individuals they are. When twins aren’t able to think and do for themselves, make their own friends and really individuate themselves from one another, it’s likely time to give them some room to do so.
Similarly, when twins are always together, it doesn’t give them the opportunity to handle those challenging social moments, such as trying to find a pal to play with or initiating a conversation with someone new. Sure, those types of situations can be nerve wracking, but that’s the whole point: learning to navigate unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable social scenarios helps us develop confidence, social skills, tenacity and resilience. Do twins who are always together get robbed of those types of growth experiences? Maybe.
In some twin relationships, one sibling may be much more dominant and/or outgoing than the other. In this case, the more outspoken twin might constantly speak for the quieter, more passive one. Over time, this can really settle into a pattern, and take an academic, social and emotional toll on both twins. Separating them into different classrooms would give them some distance from this dynamic, offering them both the chance to learn to think and speak for themselves.
Sometimes teachers even feel that having twins in the classroom is a distraction to the other students — particularly if they get in trouble together, cause each other to have outbursts, are overly competitive with one another, have their own secret language they use in class, etc.
Though there’s really no research to show that twins benefit academically, socially or emotionally from being separated in school, many schools in the U.S. still mandate that twins be in separate classrooms due to all of these factors mentioned above, while only a smattering of states offer parents the right to make the choice for their children.
How to Decide
There is no one-size-fits-all answer as to whether or not twins should be in the same or different classrooms. Just like anything else, there are benefits and challenges to doing both — and these may shift over time (for example: what works best in kindergarten may not be the best choice come first grade). It’s okay to change course — twins who start in the same classroom certainly don’t have to complete all their years of schooling together.
The only answer that seems to be consistent across the board is that the choice of whether or not to separate twins in school is a personal one; and what works best for one pair of twins may not work for another.
Each family must take into account their twins’ personalities, as well as their unique “twin relationship”, each child’s individual needs and whether or not the twins want to be together or not. All of these factors matter.
As you make your choice and adapt the situation as your twins grow, it’s also valuable to loop in people who can be helpful in the decision-making process, such as: the twins’ teachers and school principal, their pediatrician, previous teachers or daycare providers, informed friends or family members and, of course, the twins themselves.
If you are seeking input from your childrens’ previous teachers about what they think would be best for your twins, here are some insightful questions from MSU Extension you might want to ask:
- Are they doing OK socially?
- Are they doing OK academically?
- Are they listening well?
- Are they acting out together?
- Are they a distraction to each other at school?
- Is one child extra competitive with his/her sibling(s)?
- Has one child expressed inadequacy in comparison to his/her sibling(s)?
If you’re really unsure of what to do, you may consider keeping your twins together at first, and revisiting the decision at the end of each academic year. Maintain an open dialogue with your twins and their teachers about how staying together is working for everyone, and know that separating your duo is always an option (or, choose the other route–separate initially, and know that bringing them together is always an option, too).
Some words of wisdom from Anne, a mom of 9-year-old identical twin girls, who chose to separate her pair: “for people just thinking about it, I would take it year by year. If separating will make a transition harder, why force it? But if you’re not separating because you aren’t sure if it’s good for your twins, consider the disadvantages that might occur too. Twins need to learn to be confident independent of each other academically and socially, and keeping together might delay part of that growth.”
Personal Experiences from Twin Moms
Audra, Mom of 9-year-old fraternal twin girls:
“I kept the girls together all the way until first grade and then separated. It is a personal decision but we also took teacher feedback into account. My girls have always been really independent of one another so I never felt that they negatively impacted each other in the classroom, plus as fraternal twins, once they hit kindergarten some kids never even knew they were twins. I started them together in kindergarten because I wanted them to have confidence and know they could do well.
After kindergarten, we did make the decision to separate them because it was clear that they were ready for it. One of the girls asked to be in a different class, and the teacher recommended it, too. I also felt at that point it was good for them to be on their own a bit.
In saying that, we still do mostly all the same activities together. The girls have chosen to be together at camp and as of now have a lot of the same friends. All of which make me happy!”
Deb, Mom of 32-year-old fraternal twin boys
“Let me start by saying my twins are very different from one another. They went to a private parochial school, and in kindergarten were in the same class. In their school, there was only one classroom per grade so we had no choice but for them to be together.
Then we reached the end of their kindergarten year, and their teacher said to me, ‘We need to keep K. back. He’s academically, developmentally different from his twin and needs to do kindergarten again. If you don’t want to separate them, I understand, but then he’s going to have to leave the school.’
I realized when she said that just how strongly she felt about it. But, even though tough to hear, I knew she was right. I really trusted their teacher, and I appreciated her input. I was aware of the learning challenges K. was having at 4, so I totally understood what she was saying.
It wasn’t what we would have chosen, of course, but it was the right decision. And it afforded them the chance to make their own friends. And here’s the kicker: though school never came easily for him, he’s the twin to have graduated college and now wants to go for his Master’s Degree!”
Jacy, Mom of 11-year-old fraternal twin girls
“My twins (same sex, fraternal) are in separate classes.
They have been compared to one another from the moment they were born; actually before that — since they were in the womb! (“Which one is bigger? Which one is more active?” etc.) They are different people academically, socially, in personality, etc.
We first separated them in pre-K, at the pre-school they had attended for 3 years. We wanted their first separate school experience to be in a comfortable and familiar environment, rather than waiting until they got to Kindergarten and springing all kinds of change on them! As they’ve gotten older and their differences more pronounced, we know that it was absolutely and without a doubt the right choice. It has been clear since about first grade that it wouldn’t be fair to put them in the same class and have them CONSTANTLY be compared to one another and even if not intentional, that is what would (and does) happen.
It can also create undesirable dynamics for the rest of the class. A lot of twin parents don’t think about that part because they are focusing on their own kids, but I think it is an important consideration as well.”
Anne, Mom of 9-year-old identical twin girls
“We enrolled the girls in preschool at age 3 and decided to keep them together then; that was essential to me as they transitioned to a new environment for the first time. Kindergarten was the first time they had different teachers and classrooms. Their school prefers to separate twins. Interestingly, in their grade there are 3 sets of twins (identical girls, identical boys and one fraternal set) and all are in separate classes. I could petition to keep them in the same class, but I tend to agree with the reasoning to separate. Especially as the parent of identical children, it’s important to me that their teachers and peers see them as individuals, not a unit.
When they were younger, they were each other’s worlds and the second they got back together at recess or lunch, the teachers would tell me they’d immediately start debriefing on what the other had missed. As they’ve gotten older, they have become more comfortable and even seek independence out of their daily routine. That said, as they enter the 4th grade, one of my daughters asked to be in the same class as her sister. Now that they’ve matured as individuals and I know their learning strengths and weaknesses, I’d be more comfortable having them be together again, but we’re still keeping them apart for the coming year.
Outside academics, the social maturity of twins is complicated since so much of their identity is part of being a twin. For us, third grade was the first year there were social events that included one but not the other. And while my instinct is to intervene to have both included, I know it’s critical for my daughters to each learn how to navigate friendships and social experiences apart. So that’s another consideration of separation, you’re enabling different worlds to develop for your kids, which inevitably leads to one feeling left out. When you separate twins, you diminish the socially protective aspect of being a twin (e.g., having someone to play with at recess, sit at lunch with, etc.). Having naturally outgoing children has helped!”
Legislation — Some Background
Before you even start mulling over your choices, know your state’s and/or school’s stance on keeping twins together in school. Some states don’t even offer parents of multiples the option of keeping their kids in the same classroom.
If you don’t think this is fair, you’re not alone. There really is no one-size-fits-all approach, and in recent years, advocates and parents of multiples have begun to fight for greater control — as opposed to schools getting the say — over whether multiples are placed in the same or separate classrooms.
In 2005, Minnesota was the first state to pass Statute 102A.38 of the State Education Code. This statute affords parents the right to request whether they should place their twins in the same or separate classrooms. Though in the end the school board has the final say, at least this statute allows for twins to be together, unless doing so causes a disruption to their classroom.
The passing of this Minnesota statute propelled advocates and parents of multiples across the country to fight for their right to choose.
After being told she had to separate her twin kindergartener boys, Queens, NY resident, Kathy Dolan, fought back. She founded Twins Law, with the hope of passing legislation in every state (just like in Minnesota) allowing parents of multiples greater control over their children’s classroom placement.
While more states are passing legislation that allows parents to have input in the classroom placement of their twins, the school still has the final call.
Check out this list of states that have passed Twins Law, as of 2018.
If you find yourself in a situation in which you want your twins to remain together but the school is denying the request, there are steps you can take to help your case.
For starters, do your research: know your state’s law, as well as the latest research as to why it’s beneficial to keep twins together in school (put this in your back pocket: although educators have long thought that separating twins is best for their academic, emotional and social growth, as it turns out, there is no valid or empirical research that shows separating twins in school is best); speak to your pediatrician who may be able to write a letter on your twins’ behalf; file a formal letter with your school’s principal; and, if need be, go straight to the school board to discuss the issue.
For more information on all of this, check out Multiples of America. From compiling the latest research on the matter to advocating for the passage of “Twin Laws” in all states to educating schools and administrators to supporting parents in standing up to school officials who say you should separate multiples, Multiples of America is an incredible resource for families with multiples.
Bottom Line: When it comes down to it, you know your twins best. If you feel that separating them would have a negative effect on them, then advocate for them to remain together. And if you (and/or they) believe they’d do better apart, choose that route.
Remember, no decision has to be permanent. If you choose one path and it ends up not working out, you can always try something different the following year. At the end of the day, the most important thing is simply to do what’s best for YOUR family. It may not be the same thing your neighbor or friend with twins did, but it doesn’t matter as long as it feels right for you and your duo.
If you’re a parent of school-aged multiples, did you choose to keep your twins together or separate them? Why or why not? Please share with us in the comment section below.
~ Marissa, Twins Editor
Thank you, Marissa. I am a mom of identical twin girls. I am familiar with much of what you wrote, and agree.
We have a conundrum that was not addressed in the article, and that makes the decision about shared or separated schooling even tougher. The needs of our twins, when in a social setting, seem to conflict with one another. They both have elevated levels of anxiety. However, for one, the anxiety is often triggered by her twin being around, being “too bossy”, being too competitive, being unfriendly to the others around, acting in an embarrassing way, etc. For the other, the presence of her beloved twin sister in social settings is an emotional necessity. At the age of 12 they have some awareness of the situations, and struggle with it. They love more than anything spending hours together, but when in social settings, they have opposing needs. This has contributed to their struggle with school. We try to create a balance between their times together and separate during the school day.
Thank you so much for sharing your unique experience, Sheva. It’s so hard to know what the right thing to is for our twins, but it sounds like you are doing a wonderful job. You know your kids so well, and what each of them needs.