Are barefoot shoes for kids better than “supportive” footwear?

are barefoot shoes better for kids

I want to talk about supportive shoes for children, or rather NOT putting children in supportive shoes. A disclaimer first – I am not a medical professional. I am a mum of three, simply speaking about my own experiences and reiterating the advice of many passionate podiatrists. Having been educated on this issue myself over the past 5 years, I’m so grateful for what I’ve learned.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve heard the mantra of “children need supportive shoes for their growing feet”. My own parents were given this parenting advice and followed it diligently. I found myself clip-clopping off to school in a brand new pair of Clarks shoes each year that ticked all the boxes of “arch support”, “cushioned heel cup” and “durable soles”. They cost a pretty penny, looked smart and were about as comfortable as a trip to the dentist for the first 4 weeks. As my own kids started approaching school age, I was making my own transition to more minimalist running shoes under advice of a podiatrist. I started seeking advice about school shoes for my kids and had everything I had previously learned about kids shoes turned on it’s head.

Now, I need to mention that this article is referring to regular, healthy kids feet. There are indeed some cases where a deformity or weakness in the foot structure may indeed require some sort of support, but will discuss that more later on. If in doubt, see a podiatrist and if still in doubt, talk to several. I am a huge advocate for getting a second opinion!

Are barefoot shoes better for kids?

Children’s feet are inherently healthy. They have 33 joints in each foot and they know how to move them. Have you paid attention to how much a baby or a toddler can stretch and wiggle their toes? Joints are there for one reason – to bend and move! If you’ve ever had a joint immobilised for a period due to injury, you’ll know how weak the muscles around it are when you’re finally allowed to start moving it again.

Placing our children’s healthy, mobile feet in supportive, rigid shoes when there is no problem is done under the belief we are helping them. In reality, many shoes stop a lot of those 33 joints from moving, causing the muscles to become weak. This can potentially lead to a host of issues down the track with balance, coordination and misalignment in the feet.

Why do toddlers rip their shoes off at the first opportunity? Because they’re uncomfortable! I’ve heard parents claim their child has flat feet or that their feet roll inwards so they need arch support. Feet come in a variety of shapes, just like other parts of our bodies – unless there is a problem, maybe your child just has flat feet? It’s also very common for young children to have feet that roll inwards slightly and this usually corrects itself as the foot develops and strengthens. Consult a podiatrist first before actively “fixing” them with supportive shoes. On that note, get a feel for your podiatrist’s way of thinking. Some are quick to “correct” most feet with orthotics, while others focus on the strengthening and functionality of the feet themselves.

What are the best type of shoes for kids feet?

Podiatrists, just like any other health professional have their own opinions. I have seen podiatrists who literally prescribe polar opposite methods of treatment. I also see podiatrists recommending certain shoes that others specifically tell you to avoid! My family and I have had several issues resolved since switching to a podiatrist that supports minimalist footwear, so that’s the school of thought I am reflecting in this article. At the end of the day, you do you.

Podiatrists who advocate the wearing of barefoot shoes for kids stick to four main criteria when it comes to the best shoes you can put healthy, growing feet into.

Rule #1: Kids shoes should be lightweight.

Your child’s walking pattern (gait) can be negatively impacted by a heavy shoe. Take a look at just how bulky many kid’s shoes are – they often have chunky soles that are a similar thickness to an adult shoe and weigh a similar amount, yet your child is much smaller and lighter. Heavy footwear can even affect their incidental activity levels, though they may not be consciously aware that it’s because of the weight of their shoes.

Rule #2: Kids shoes should not have a raised heel.

Have you noticed how many children’s shoes (especially school shoes) have a raised or stepped heel? Raising the heel causes the ankle to shift by lifting the heel higher than the toes and subsequently the knees, hips, spine and neck to adjust to a new position. Long term implications can include achilles and calf issues, as well as a predisposition to hamstring, knee and back injuries. The excessive cushioning on the heel of many sports shoes can also lead to poor running technique. Heel strikers are predisposed to many more injuries due to the repeated forces their joints have to endure each time the foot hits the pavement. With less heel cushioning, a runner is forced to strike the ground on more of the mid or forefoot, using the shock absorbing anatomy of the foot to take the load instead as it was designed to do.

Rule #3: Kids shoes should be wide.

The toes are the widest part of the foot. A healthy foot, that is. Many adult feet have changed their shape from years of poorly shaped footwear. The toes ability to spread out allows balance and strength just like spreading your fingers when doing a handstand. So many shoes have a narrow, triangular shaped toe box, which pulls the big toe across the foot and squishes the toes together. Your big toe joint is a massive part of how your foot works, providing power and forward propulsion. When it isn’t in proper alignment, it loses a significant amount of that power.

One of the biggest differences between kids barefoot shoes and regular shoes is the wide toe box allowing the toes to spread out. My own kids have worn different brands of barefoot shoes for almost 5 years and now find many other shoes feel incredibly narrow and rigid.

Rule #4: Kids shoes should be flexible.

If a foot is designed to bend and twist, surely a shoe should allow that sort of movement? The rigid soles that only flex across the toe line reduce so much of the foot’s ability to move, resulting in weak muscles in the foot structure. Pick up your kids shoes and see how much you can bend or twist them with your hands. I am constantly surprised at the slabs of rigid rubber we strap to the bottoms of our feet and even more so at why we think that’s so normal! Our feet and ankles are designed to adapt constantly as we move adjusting balance and shifting weight according to the proprioception of the ground beneath us. How can we possible do that when we have an inch of rigid or overly cushioned foreign matter between us and the ground?

The biggest epiphany for me was when my podiatrist made the following analogy, so I’d like to share it with you:

When you injure your shoulder, you might have it immobilised for a bit while it heals, but then you start doing rehab and you aim to improve mobility and strength. You don’t put your shoulder in a brace for the rest of your life.
When you experience lower back pain, the answer isn’t to wear a girdle for the rest of your life to provide support. Ideally, you identify the weak glutes or core muscles that have lead to the back pain and you work to strengthen those areas. This takes the load of the back, which was feeling sore because other muscles weren’t working effectively.
So why is it that when it comes to our feet (with 33 joints and 20 muscles in each), we treat pain or dysfunction by reducing mobility and adding more support through “better” shoes and orthotics, rather than giving the feet the ability to regain strength and mobility.

I feel better in supportive shoes, so why wouldn’t my child?

There is much debate around the need for “supportive” shoes for adult feet. This is because adult feet have already endured decades of potentially incorrect footwear, gait imbalances or weaknesses that have gone uncorrected over hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of steps. Good or bad, an adult’s feet have altered to the shoes, lifestyle and stressors that have been placed upon them. Sometimes an adult’s feet will respond well and gain a lot from wearing minimalist shoes, but there are occasions where some sort of added cushioning or support is the only option for comfort and functionality.

I’m around forty years old and most of my friends are between the ages of 30 and 55. Over recent years, I’ve noticed that around two thirds of my friends have some sort of issue with their feet, knees, hips or lower back. Plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, meniscus tears – you name it. Some don’t have an official diagnosis, but have been placed in orthotics to relieve mysterious pain or have just swapped out running for cycling because their joints couldn’t take it anymore. My friends aren’t especially overweight, most have lead pretty active, healthy lifestyles and played sport well into adult life. They wore the same rigid school shoes as I did growing up and spent their recreation time in trendy looking joggers with fat, shock absorbing soles, triangular (athletic looking) toe boxes and plenty of inbuilt cushioning and support. Yet, here we are as adults in pain.

My own transition to barefoot shoes, for context.

After years of distance running in top quality $400 joggers that were prescribed for me in the sports store as a mild pronator, I developed plantar fasciitis that had me in agony simply walking around the grocery store. I saw a physio who prescribed even more cushioned shoes that I was to wear at all times, even when walking on sand. When that didn’t help, he added a heel cup and a soft orthotic combined with calf stretches. I started to question the logic after months of no improvement. The calf stretching was being negated by the tower of heel cushioning I was wearing, elevating me so my calves were in fact being shortened as I walked around. It didn’t make sense and it sure wasn’t working.

Then I met my podiatrist and I was one of the lucky ones. He changed everything I was doing and started me on a strengthening program as well as helping me to change my previous running form as a heel striker. Progress was slow, but finally, there was progress! I now wear minimalist shoes or go barefoot around 70% of the time. It’s not always possible as I have to wear safety boots for work. I also like a pretty pair of heels when I frock up now and again, but I spend as little time as possible in restrictive shoes. My feet no longer hurt and have changed shape slightly. It isn’t noticeable to the eye, but my feet are definitely wider as I have shoes which used to feel comfortable that now feel like they hold my toes too close together. My toes are also more flexible -I have regained movement in parts of my feet that I hadn’t even realised I’d lost!

What are the best barefoot shoes for kids?

The awesome news here is that the minimalist footwear movement seems to be growing and there are an increasing number of options available when it come to kids barefoot shoes. The most well known brand is definitely Vivo Barefoot, and they are reliable, high quality shoes, with a cute range of kids sizes. Our kids have outgrown all of their Vivos before wearing them out and we’ve passed them on to other grateful families who have squeezed much more life out of them. Another brand we have bought several pairs from is Xero Shoes. Xero come in a little cheaper than Vivo, which definitely helps when you have kids the same age and can’t re-use them in your own family! I have seen my kids wear out their Xeros before growing out of them, so I guess you get what you pay for, but I have no problem buying from Xero again – they are still an excellent shoe. The newest player on the field that we’ve tried out is Splay Shoes. Splay tick all the boxes of wide, flat, lightweight and flexible as well as being competitive on price. The only problem with Splay is that their availability of certain sizes and colours can be limited, but I attribute this to being a newer business, still juggling the supply and demand side of things. Really happy with what we have purchased from Splay so far, though. I have no doubt that there will be more competition in this niche over coming years so keep your eye on the marketplace for kids barefoot shoes!

Divorce Rates for Parents of Triplets and what you need to know to avoid the statistics

divorce for parents of triplets

Although bringing home a new baby is never easy, you can at least prepare for many of the challenges that parenthood brings. You can psych yourself up to understand that you’re not going to sleep properly for the next 3-17 years. You can come to terms with the fact that you will be forever tripping over toys and stepping on crayons. You can even learn to love Peppa Pig. You can, I promise.

However, there are some parts of becoming a new parent that you just can’t predict, expect, or prevent. Some new parents face depression, while others may be dealing with problems breastfeeding, health concerns, or a number of other issues. For some couples, a baby puts an immense and unexpected strain on their relationship.

Even a perfect baby who is eating and sleeping and smiling ever so sweetly can lead to relationship challenges. You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to figure out that triplets can multiply those challenges by three! In fact, a 2012 study showed that divorce rates in parents of multiples were significantly higher than other families. Yes, raising multiple babies at once will put a strain on your relationship (especially for first-time parents), but it doesn’t have to break it. Read on to learn about strengthening your relationship after bringing home triplets.

Understanding why divorce rates in parents of multiples are higher

Firstly, it’s important to realise that the study mentioned above didn’t find a staggeringly high divorce rate in parents of multiples – just a little higher than other parents. Having multiples certainly doesn’t make you destined to be dividing up your belongings anytime soon. That said, there are a few reasons why divorce rates in parents of multiples seem to be higher:

  • Emotional struggles. Raising multiples can be incredibly draining. Mothers of triplets are more susceptible to postnatal depression, which can also affect the health of your marriage (and other relationships). Many new fathers of multiples also experience emotional challenges adjusting to their new life.
  • Financial uncertainty. Babies are expensive, and triplets typically come with triple the cost. You may get a few “buying in bulk” discounts, but all those hungry mouths can certainly strain a relationship or make you concerned about the future of your finances.
  • Time constraints. We always hear that relationships are built on trust, but they’re also built over time. Discussing your individual days over a glass of wine, cooking dinner together, or even just snuggling on the couch are all things that build and strengthen a relationship. If there’s one thing that triplets know how to do, it’s suck every second out of your day. Not having time with your partner can sometimes create a void between the two of you that can be difficult to fill.

If triplets are now sounding like a bad idea, please don’t be alarmed. There are so many amazing benefits of raising multiples; it’s just also important to be aware of the challenges so that you can face them head-on. Many married couples raise multiples and live happily ever after. Here are their secrets.

How to strengthen your relationship when raising multiples

Just because divorce rates in parents of multiples are slightly higher than other parents, it doesn’t mean that your babies won’t be the best thing that ever happened for you and your partner. Here are some of the ways you can use your munchkins to bring you together.

  • Celebrate the little wins together. With multiples, one baby falling asleep is the cue for the others to start screaming in harmony. Although you may not get a moment’s peace and quiet, there are other things you can celebrate, like changing nappies in record time, or finding the ideal way of rocking your new little ones to sleep. Make sure you celebrate these moments – there’s always time for a quick high five!
  • Communicate your needs. Your partner wants to help – they probably just don’t know how. Make sure you’re very specific about what you need, and definitely don’t expect them to just know what to do. This is new territory for both of you, and it needs to be conquered together.
  • Re-connect in little ways. It might be a while until you can plan your next date night at a restaurant (or until you even have the energy to stay awake to make it to dessert), but there are other ways to re-connect and reduce any distance that may be creeping in. Summon the energy to spend a few minutes hearing about your partner’s day. If you’re both too tired to talk, just hug.

Don’t let the fact that there are slightly higher divorce rates in parents of multiples put you off. Raising triplets sure is a crazy rollercoaster ride (with somehow even more screaming than an actual rollercoaster), but there’s every chance that you and your partner will love each three times as much because of it.

Mental Health in Parents of Multiples: How to Stay Sane with your New Babies

mental health triplet parents

Having a baby on the way is exciting, daunting, fascinating, and overwhelming – all at once! Even if you’re already a parent, you have to prepare yourself for how this will change your life (again). Finding out that you’re expecting MULTIPLE babies is a whole new ballgame – how can you even prepare for that?! Caring for one baby takes all of your time, energy, and money – how are you supposed to look after three or more of them and not go crazy?!

Although looking after yourself may seem like a lower priority than caring for all of your new additions, prioritising mental health in parents of multiples is essential. Studies have shown that parents of multiples are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and stress compared to those raising a single baby. The fact is, you can’t expect to be able to care for them well if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

Read on to learn how to manage your mental health and stay sane with multiple babes underfoot.

What challenges in mental health do parents of mutiples face?

depression after triplets

Raising multiple babies at once will likely be one of the most difficult challenges you ever experience. Even the most grounded, prepared, organised new parent will likely experience some form of mental health struggle when raising multiples – it’s just a lot to deal with. Some of the most common mental health challenges that parents of multiples may face include:

  • Baby blues. This is an incredibly common, normal condition that affects around 80% of new mothers. The cyclone of hormones in your body causes crazy mood swings, feelings of sadness/irritability, difficulty sleeping, and other fun symptoms. The baby blues can be tough, but symptoms usually resolve within around two weeks of giving birth. Since many higher order multiple births (triplets or more) involve a lengthier stay in hospital, its’ likely that you will have professional help on hand. Use this opportunity to talk through any tough emotions you’re experiencing and they can probably help you normalise those feelings and move through them easier.
  • Postnatal Depression. For many new mothers, postnatal depression symptoms are similar to the baby blues, but do not resolve within two weeks of having your baby. Once several weeks have passed and you’re still not feeling “okay”, it’s probably time to have a chat with your doctor. It’s also worth mentioning that new fathers of multiples frequently experience postnatal depression – this condition affects more than one in ten new dads. This condition should be treated seriously, not brushed off as ‘adjusting to the normal’ or ‘just exhausted’. Those are real things that are happening, but if you or your partner are having trouble bonding with your child, feeling highly agitated, teary or low mood, consider looking in to it a little further.
  • Anxiety and stress. Although constant anxiety and stress are often considered normal parts of raising a baby (or three… or four), they shouldn’t be. Of course there will be stressful moments, but constantly feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed isn’t normal, and can have long-term effects on the health of you, your partner, and your new babies.

You may be more susceptible to these conditions if you have experienced any form of depression or anxiety in the past, or if it runs in your family. Similarly, new mums who have a challenging pregnancy, have previously experienced the baby blues, or have a history of postnatal depression may be more likely to experience mental health struggles when parenting multiples.

When you’re Expecting: Tips for Maintaining Good Mental Health in Parents of Multiples

Just as it’s important to prepare your home for multiple babies, it’s equally important to prepare your mind. From the day you learn you’re having triplets you can start taking action to mentally prepare yourself for the arrival of your babies and give yourself the best possible chance of staying on top of your mental health after your babies arrive. Here are some steps to take during pregnancy that will help maintain good mental health in parents of multiples:

  • Stay active. Non-weight bearing exercises that are gentle on your joints are a great way to keep both your body and your mind healthy during a multiples pregnancy. Try yoga, water aerobics, or pilates. A good, clinical pilates program helped me navigate my pregnancy without experiencing back pain and I personally found being in the water was an immense relief in the later stages of pregnancy as it took all the weight off me. Of course every pregnancy and every woman is different, so discuss your exercise plan with your doctor first.
  • Plan, plan, plan. Reduce your stress and anxiety levels by planning ahead for the arrival of your babies. Remember that triplets and quads will most likely arrive early – make sure you have all of your big baby purchases taken care of (car seats, pram, cots etc), a place for your babies to sleep, and lots of meals in the freezer. Consider having someone able to help walk your dog or feed your pets while you’re in hospital and having plenty of essentials – tinned food, toilet paper and diapers stocked up!
  • Join a support group. Even if you have a great network of friends and family to help you out, there’s value in finding a group of other expecting mums to spend time with. Sharing your fears, excitement, and struggles can be a great release, and it’s always reassuring to know that you’re not alone on this crazy journey.
    On this note, some parents of multiples can find being around a group of those expecting single babies makes them feel even more isolated. Find out if there’s a multiple births association or group in your area – these parents of twins and more will likely be more relateable and have some nuggets of wisdom to share with you.

Bringing Home Your Babies: Helping Mental Health in Parents of Multiple Newborns

Once your babies enter the world, your life will likely be turned upside down. The mental health of parents with multiples often takes a backseat when they bring their babies home as ‘survival mode’ takes over. Here are some tips for managing the mental health struggles you might face when your triplets arrive:

  • Eat the right foods. Make sure you’re not only eating enough, but that you’re also eating the right foods. Balanced meals and regular snacks every couple of hours will help to stabilise your blood sugar levels, which can boost your mental health and help you feel less frazzled or overwhelmed. It’s so easy to fall in to a trap of quick, high carb meals such as pasta, cereal or a handful of potato chips to get you by when you’re constantly on the go. Trust me when I say that good food will make you feel so much better! Pop a tray of carrots, sweet potatoes and beets in the oven once a week so you have some ready cooked veg in the fridge to simply reheat. A tub of hummus with carrot, bell pepper or a cucumber is a quick, yet healthy snack or a handful of almonds to get you through till dinnertime. Try to have easy, mess free options on hand such as bananas, berries and cherry tomatoes.
  • Reduce your social media use. Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with friends and family, but seeing pictures of your friends catching up for coffee isn’t always helpful when you’re sleep-deprived and drowning in diapers. Don’t compare yourself to others, either! Just because someone posts a picture of their baby sleeping, doesn’t mean they have a perfect baby that ALWAYS sleeps. People share their wins online and rarely the tough moments. Instead, set up a group chat with just a few trusted friends or try finding a podcast that makes you feel good and listen to that in the wee hours of the morning.
  • Communicate with your partner. It’s important to let your partner know if you feel as though you’re struggling. This will give them a chance to help you out as much as possible and look out for your mental health. You may even be surprised to learn that they’re feeling the same way, which can be oddly comforting. It’s unlikely that any parent of multiples of is feeling ‘excellent’ in the early days, but if you can be open and honest, then you may find you can lift a little when your partner is doing it particularly tough and they can do the same for you.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, or just generally feel as though your babies are bringing you down, it’s important to take action. Mental health in parents of multiples should not be neglected just because you have your hands full. Talk to your partner, talk to a friend, and talk to your doctor to find a solution that helps you get back to loving life with your triplets.

Postnatal Depression and Triplets – you’re not alone.

postpartum depression triplets

If you’ve experienced the “joys” of pregnancy, you’ll know firsthand that there’s not a single part of your body that’s unaffected by all the fun hormonal changes you’re going through. Unfortunately, hormones continue to rule your life after you give birth. They are incredibly important – they help keep you and your baby happy and allow you to do things like produce milk. Still, these intense hormonal changes can also wreak havoc on your mental health and cause severe conditions like postnatal depression.

For new mothers of triplets, postnatal depression is especially common. It’s been fairly well established that caring for multiple babies puts you at a higher risk of developing postnatal depression. Even if you’re enjoying your pregnancy (apparently it’s possible) and feeling great about life, it’s crucial to be aware of the signs of postnatal depression, because you never know what your body has in store for you after you give birth. Read on to learn all you need to know about triplets and postnatal depression.

What exactly IS postnatal depression?

Postpartum depression triplets

Firstly, it’s important to understand that postnatal depression is not the same as what is often called the “baby blues”. The baby blues is very common – it’s estimated that 70-80% of new mothers experience some form of baby blues. The baby blues usually involve feeling sad, crying for no real reason, feeling impatient, irritable, anxious, restless, and undergoing extreme mood swings.

Of course, a new baby (or especially multiple babies) is a HUGE change in your life, and it’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed by everything you’re experiencing. As you slowly adjust and settle into life with your newborn, the baby blues gradually subsides. Most new mums are feeling a lot better within around a fortnight of delivering their babies.

If your symptoms are severe or last longer than a couple of weeks, you might be experiencing something more serious than the baby blues. Postnatal (or postpartum) depression affects around one in nine new mothers (though, as mentioned, postnatal depression with triplets is more common) and needs to be addressed immediately.

It’s not known exactly what causes postnatal depression, but good old hormones are believed to play a role. The hormonal changes experienced immediately after giving birth are intense – your levels of estrogen and progesterone are sky-high at the end of your pregnancy, then plummet within 24 hours after you have your baby.

How do you know if you have postnatal depression after triplets?

Let’s be honest, there’s nothing easy about having triplets. The mood swings start during pregnancy, and they don’t let up once your bubs enter the world. You haven’t slept for months, you don’t remember the last time you had a second to yourself, and you’re seriously second-guessing your ability to look after THREE of these helpless little blobs. All of these feelings are a normal part of having triplets. Even with the most helpful support network of cheerleading champions, it’s completely normal to feel like you’ve reached your limit. Here’s what’s not normal:

  • Crying frequentlyfor no reason, especially if it is still happening a month or more after giving birth
  • Often feeling worthless or hopeless, even though your babies are healthy and happy, and everyone around you is telling you that you’re doing a great job
  • Not bonding with your babies or enjoying your time with them
  • Lack of appetite despite your body needing more calories and nutrients than ever before
  • Inability to sleep (in the rare instances you get an opportunity to) even though you’re exhausted
  • Anxiousness or panic attacks or being unable to complete daily tasks
  • Thoughts of harming your babies or yourself

These are very serious symptoms and are all indicators of postnatal depression with triplets. Speak to your doctor as soon as possible – they can help you find the right treatment so that you can get back to being a supermum.

Reducing the chances of postnatal depression after triplets

postnatal depression triplets

Once you learn you’re having triplets, it’s important to understand that your risk of postnatal depression increases. You’re also at a higher risk if you’ve experienced depression before or if it runs in your family. Although hormonal changes are out of our control, there are still a few things you can do (during pregnancy and after you give birth) that may help to reduce your chances of developing postnatal depression after triplets:

  • Rest up. Yes, yes, it’s not exactly easy to sleep comfortably when you’re pregnant with triplets, or after they’re born and refuse to go down at the same time. However, getting enough sleep will make a world of difference to your mental health. Try for a four-hour block of uninterrupted sleep if possible – you’ll feel incredible.
  • Stay active. In general, exercise is great for keeping depression at bay, and this holds true for postnatal depression as well. When you’re feeling up to it, try some light stretching, yoga, or even a short walk outside to keep stress hormones like cortisol at bay.
  • Ask for help. It’s TRIPLETS. You can’t do this on your own, and you shouldn’t try. There are probably heaps of people around you who would love to help out – you just have to tell them what you need! Make the most of your support network; it’s what they’re for.
  • Treat yourself. There’s nothing selfish about self-care. Look after your mental health by taking some time out to have a bath, call a friend, or do whatever else helps you to relax and reset.

Triplets and postnatal depression – how to find help

Postnatal depression is a very serious condition and needs to be treated right away. For postnatal depression and triplets, make sure you consult your doctor right away. There are also lots of resources available if you believe you may be suffering from postnatal depression, or if you would just like someone to talk to:

Postpartum Support International – Australian Resources

Beyond Blue

COPE

Don’t hesitate to reach out – postnatal depression after triplets is far more common than you may realise and is no reflection on you, your coping mechanisms, or your parenting skills.

Should I separate my triplets at school?

split up triplets in school

The last few decades have seen a rapid increase in the birth rate of twins and multiples in the United States, Australia and much of the developed world. This is due partly thanks to fertility treatments, but also because of lower infant mortality rates and better healthcare services as a whole. In fact, some studies have placed the figure of increase as high as almost 50%, meaning there are several million twin, triplet, and higher multiple births every year.

One result of this phenomenon is that the discussion of how best to approach the education of twins and higher multiples in schools has gained more and more mainstream attention. Despite the attention, however, educators and parents often disagree on whether it’s better to keep siblings who are triplets or higher order multiples together in the same classroom, or if separating them is the better way to go. There are clear benefits to each approach, and this article covers the pros and cons of both.

How Separation May Benefit Children of Multiple Births:

Many experts have long contended that separation is the best way to encourage children to develop their own personalities without the often strong and potentially overriding influence of a sibling classmate. Their thinking is that children are more likely to become very dependent on a sibling if they are placed together in the same class at a young age. In fact, an enforced remedial solution to this issue is that many school programs mandate the separation of multiples in the classroom.

One way separation may help is that it can lower the incidence of negative comparisons between the kids. As an example, if one child is labeled ‘the troublemaker,’ he or she is more likely to behave in that manner – a self-fulfilling prophecy because the child ends up thinking that they are, in fact, predisposed to being a certain way. This becomes a barrier to change and/or improvement. What doesn’t help is the fact that parents, classmates, and even teachers may also use, even if unconsciously, either positive or negative adjectives simply in order to distinguish between each child.

Furthermore, keeping twins or triplets in the same class may lead to one child becoming the dominant member of the group, relegating the others to being shy or unwilling participants in activities. In the same vein, separation helps if there are major differences in the abilities of each child; if one is exceptionally gifted and one is average, separating them is probably best, and the same goes for separating them based on other factors, such as language ability or even gender.

The Negative implications of separating twins or triplets at school:

One study showed that an overwhelming majority (86%) of the parents of twins and higher multiples felt that their children should be kept together in class because separation has been shown to cause a lot of stress to small children who are used to always being together. Also, from the perspective of the teacher, keeping siblings together gives the teacher more opportunity to get to know the children and their family better.

In fact, there is a lot of research that indicates that children actually perform better in class when they are kept together as opposed to when they are separated. Separation has been shown to cause depression and emotional distress in children, and these are things that can be mitigated by having a sibling peer in class, someone who can be a pillar of support and who can help the other to overcome academic and social challenges when needed. Two studies – one that was conducted in the Netherlands and the other that was a joint British and American study – found that separated siblings (twins and triplets) had higher levels of stress and exhibited more emotional distress than twins and triplets who were kept together in the same class. The same study also found that the reading scores of separated siblings were lower than siblings who were kept in the same classroom.

It may be that because our culture appreciates and rewards uniqueness, people incorrectly equate sibling closeness with a lack of individuality, but based on this logic, close friends should also be separated in class as well, but you don’t find anyone pushing such an agenda to local and state policymakers. Why the conflict in reasoning?

Additional benefits of keeping multiple birth siblings together include the following:

  • Sharing textbooks and doing homework together is easier
  • You can more easily plan study and play time, as well as projects
  • It’s easier to work out parent attendance on field-trips/events, PTA meetings, and class presentations
  • You can develop a closer social circle and friends that you see at birthday parties and holidays
  • If you need to know about something that happened during school, if your child bottles up, you would never know what happened, and you wouldn’t have the other child there to speak up on his or her behalf
  • It is important for children, especially young ones, to have the reassurance that someone is by his or her side
  • If one child is inadvertently left out of class activities, he or she has their sibling or siblings around to include them
  • The simple logistics of running a household – especially with triplets or quadruplets that all have different teachers, schedules, homework assignments, and the like – can be difficult if not impossible, especially for single parents or those who work full-time jobs

So, it is best to separate triplets or keep them together?

Despite the benefits of keeping twins and multiples together, it is something that is not widely supported by schools. While it is true that such rules are often a result of the need to create a certain balance of gender, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds in a given classroom, it sweeps aside genuine cases in which bending or breaking the rules may actually be beneficial. Having said this, school districts really should consider each specific situation on a case-by-case basis. Keeping twins and multiples together in the classroom gives them a support system as they embark on the trying rite-of-passage or starting school; in fact, separating them might even send the wrong message that it isn’t acceptable for them to work together.

If you are worried about what to do, don’t be; all is not lost! Even if siblings are kept together, teachers can still do a lot to provide them with the opportunities they need to grow and develop their own unique personalities. For example, the teacher can separate kids in the class into different groups to give every student opportunities to become friends with other classmates, and there are lots of other creative ways that children can be encouraged to work with other kids and to further promote their development of leadership and individuality.

The Bottom Line

Research seems to favour the idea that keeping twins, triplets, and children of higher multiple births together is better for the growth and development of the children, and that the children grow better academically, socially, as well as emotionally if they are kept together from a young age.

However, as your children grow up, they themselves may prefer to be separated so that they face less competition and can enjoy more independence from their siblings. Educators and parents need to consider what is best for the children, and the children themselves should be given the opportunity to share their opinions about being in class together or in separate classrooms. Remember that the most relevant insight into what’s working and what isn’t can actually be taken from the children themselves, so be sure to consult your children to hear what they would rather do or not do.

Key points:

  • There is no consensus on what the best thing to do is
  • Proponents of separation claim that separation is better for each child’s independence
  • Opponents of separation cite studies that have shown child progress to be slower when they are separated
  • The best thing to do is to consider the views of each child, the logistics of running your home, local laws, and the availability of social support mechanisms before deciding.

What has your experience been with educating triplets or quadruplets? What do you think is the right thing to do, and what can schools and teachers do to help children grow and develop in the best possible manner from a young age? Share your comments below.

Sources:
https://www.twiniversity.com/2016/03/pros-and-cons-of-separating-your-twins-in-school/
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10643-011-0501-x

Further reading:

Because of the very real and valid concern that many parents have about not being able to keep their twins or triplets together in class because of local or state laws, there are organizations that can help you fight a case to keep your kids together should you face obstacles in doing so. For example, TAMBA in the UK (the Twins and Multiple Births Association) helps parents plead their case to teachers, principals, school governors, and the relevant Department of Education when there is a valid need to keep children together, and they even provide useful downloads and forms to help you get your case initiated. Learn more here: https://www.tamba.org.uk/Parenting/Primary/Separation.
Find out what your local laws are and see if there are groups or communities that can help you with your cause.

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