Is It OK For Twins To Be Inseparable?

Our resident twin mama investigates whether it’s healthy for twins to have the same friends and interests or whether they should be pushed to go their separate ways…

twin girls playing in a field

My fraternal twin girls are nearly four and their bond gets stronger every day.

When they were babies, they were much easier to separate. Even though they slept with their heads together for the first three months, they didn’t seem to notice when we split them up into individual cribs. They even slept in different rooms for about a year. And when they started going to day care at 15 months, we could send one twin on her own if her sister was sick.

But as time wore on, they started kicking up a fuss if we suggested a solo day at day care. Now there’s no chance one twin will go on her own, so I have to keep them both home when one is sick. They’re sharing a room again and they love it. One twin doesn’t like doing anything without her sister and will constantly ask, “Where’s Georgie?” even if she’s just in the next room.

I’ve written about whether twins should be in the same or separate classrooms before, but I didn’t realize that I’d have so many questions about twin separation and individuation long before they were ready to start school. So, I investigated whether it’s healthy for twins to be so closely bonded and here’s what I found:

  • Schools and parents used to forcefully separate twins 
  • Parents increasingly want the freedom to decide what’s best for their twins
  • Tips from a twin expert to gently encourage twins to individuate without forcing them to separate

The old philosophy was to push twin separation 

For a long time, state laws declared that twins had to be in separate classrooms because it was thought that allowing them to be together would cause codependence, competition and disruptiveness. Because of this, many twin parents felt obliged to push separation from a young age to ensure the transition to school would go smoothly. 

But according to twin expert Dr. Katie Wood, there isn’t any research to suggest that twins fare better if they’re in separate classes. “Physical separation can be advantageous for some twins, such as in cases where there’s extreme rivalry or when one twin has special needs and the other doesn’t,” she says. “But in most cases, physical separation isn’t necessary to achieve psychological separation or to develop individual identities. Forced separation, particularly in the early years of elementary school, can even be traumatic for some twins.”

Gen X twin Katie admits she’s “still bitter” about being separated from her twin sister. “Our parents and our school made us be in different classes and do different sports,” she says. “It sucked because we just wanted to be together and I remember feeling really distressed when I had to say goodbye to my sister at school in the morning. To this day, we wish we’d been allowed to do more together, but we’re making up for it now.”

The new approach to twin separation is gentler and more natural

A growing number of parents want the freedom to choose whether their twins are in the same or different classrooms and 14 states have now passed legislation that gives them that right. Accordingly, the pressure to force twins to individuate from an early age has dropped and many parents are choosing to let it happen much more naturally.

Dr. Wood believes this shift is in the best interest of most twins. “School is often the first time they’ve been without their co-twin and that can be very distressing,” she says. “The co-twin can be a protective factor against the trauma of the transition to school, so I generally recommend leaving them together in those early years. I also encourage parents to adopt a gentler approach [to separation] at home.”

How to gently encourage twins to develop separate identities

According to Dr. Wood, there are several steps teachers and parents can take to help twins individuate without forcefully separating them.

At school, teachers can:

  • Place twins on separate tables
  • Assign them to different groups
  • Give them separate days for Show and Tell
  • Ensure they have separate celebrations for their birthdays (such as singing twice) 
  • Give them different opportunities, such as giving one twin a special role in the class and asking the other to wait until later in the year
  • Direct language to each twin rather than treating them as a unit
  • Acknowledge their mistake if they confuse identical twins and ask them for tips to help tell them apart 

At home, parents can:

  • Carve out one-on-one time with each twin while also having together time
  • Instill the message early on that everything won’t always be equal and fair (“Just because your sister gets something doesn’t mean you will”)
  • Check in with each twin about what they want (for breakfast, for their birthday and so on) rather than assuming they want the same things
  • Direct language to each twin rather than treating them as a unit
  • It can be heartbreaking if one twin gets invited to a party and the other doesn’t, but it can be a good opportunity to spend time with the one that wasn’t invited and discuss how you plan to handle these situations as a family
  • If they express the desire to do different activities or sports, let them do it if it’s logistically possible for your family (though it often isn’t due to busy schedules)
  • If one twin expresses the desire for a separate bedroom, trial it but make it clear that they can go back to sharing a room with their twin if they want to
  • If one twin needs space from the other, allow them to have some alone time and take the opportunity to spend quality time with the other twin

 

Raising twins