Should I separate my triplets at 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.


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:
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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