Sunday 17 December 2017

Family life: My twin girls are starting school soon, should I separate them?

David Coleman says it can be a real challenge to know when to tell their child about mental illness
David Coleman says it can be a real challenge to know when to tell their child about mental illness
David Coleman

David Coleman

Whatever decision you make, it doesn't have to be irreversible

I would be grateful if you could help me with a dilemma. I have four children, three girls and a boy -- the eldest is six, then twin girls (non-identical) age four and a 20-month-old baby boy.

My twin girls will be five in July and will be starting school in September. I am not sure whether I should separate them. My heart says no but my head says yes.

They have completely different personalities, with one being very outspoken in public and the other quiet. My outspoken twin has some problems with her fine-motor skills ie pencil grip, closing buttons etc but with practice she has really come on.

I feel she speaks a lot for her sister while her sister would carry out some of these things for her.

My question is would it be very traumatic for them being split up at this stage? A part of me says it is better to do it now rather than when they are going to secondary school. the other part wonders should I separate them at all? They are close but don't live in each other's pockets so to speak.

At playschool they sit at different tables and have different friends. I have spoken to them about it and they don't seem too bothered, they say they will see each other in the yard. Maybe it's just me with separation anxiety for them.

II don't have twins, nor do I have a lot of experience with twins. However, I have met parents with twins who have done it both ways when it comes to sending their twins to school. In most situations that I have come across the parents have opted to keep their twins in the same class.

The most common reason that the other parents gave for separating the twins was that they felt one twin over-shadowed the other consistently and they wanted the less-forward twin to be more challenged to engage socially and academically without interference from the other.

In a few cases the parents worried that one twin was so dominant that he or she may, in fact, be having a negative impact on the self-esteem of the other and so they were really grateful that going to school gave them a natural reason to separate them.

While this might be somewhat of an issue for your twins, it sounds like they each have strengths and also areas where they need to be challenged and so it doesn't seem like one is going to particularly overshadow or dominate the other.

In contrast, those parents who opted to keep their twins together commented on the emotional and psychological support given each would have been able to have at least one other child to hang out with.

Many of them also felt that the bond that was there between their twins was so significant that they didn't want to disrupt it.

Interestingly the majority of those parents did ask, however, for their children to be seated at separate desks in the classroom. I guess this, at least, minimises the likelihood that one twin will always speak up on behalf of the other.

Indeed, this has been your experience with the twins at playschool and it seems that it has been working out fine. It is interesting that they have chosen to have separate groups of friends. I imagine that since your twins are fraternal, their sense of connection to each other is akin to that of regular siblings.

I am also interested to note that your own anxieties about whether to separate them or not far outstrip any concerns that they seem to have (remembering of course that they are only four.) This too is telling, in as much as the issue of being split up is, it seems in your case, an issue that only you and your husband are worried about. That means that irrespective of the decision you make, your children don't sound like they will be overly distressed.

There is a large-scale study of twins, the Twins Early Development Study, that is under way in Kings College, London, (www.teds.ac.uk). This research programme is following the development of over 13,000 sets of twins since 1994. One of the elements of that research has shown that twins separated at the start of primary school had more emotional problems on average (shyness, withdrawal, depression, anxiety) than in non-separated twins. Identical twins showed more emotional problems than non-identical twins, but it didn't only apply to identicals.

On the basis of that research and your own experience with your children in playschool I think you will be safe enough to keep them together in primary school.

Whatever decision you make now doesn't have to be irreversible. You can also discuss any worries you might have, about the twins in school, together with their teacher-to-be.

If the teacher seems open, then you can enlist their help in monitoring how the twins seem to cope and whether there are any adverse effects of either being together or separate.

Like any decision that we make, the impact of the decision may only be clear in hindsight.

So whatever choice you make, do monitor the situation regularly and review things at the end of each school year. Then, if needed, you can always make a different choice for the following year.

HAVE YOU GOT A PROBLEM FOR DAVID? Email him at: dcoleman@independent.ie

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