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Twins in Different Grades

What to do when one twin needs to stay back and the other needs to move ahead?

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Updated September 18, 2012

school twins
Photo Getty Images / Digital Visition.

Should twins be in different grades? Twins are same-age siblings who are born at (approximately) the same time and are generally expected to meet milestones at the same time. So they should be in the same grade at school, right? For some families with twins, that is not the case. For a variety of reasons, parents with multiples may face a situation where their twins or more have different academic needs. In some cases, one child performs above grade level and is recommended for promotion. In others, one child lags behind and needs to be held back. If you are trying to make a decision about placing twins in different grades, you are not alone.

A mom of six year old fraternal twin boys writes: "We have six-year old fraternal twin boys who are in the first grade. They are in separate classes and recently their teachers and the school principal said that one boy should advance on to second grade next year but the other should repeat first grade. We're not sure about having them in different grades, and also if repeating first grade is the best option for the one who is struggling. Has anyone ever encountered this situation or does anyone have twins in different grades?"

Another mom, with five year old boy/girl twins explains: "I have 5 year old b/g twins that will start school in the fall... Recently when I registered them for school, she is ready for Kindergarten but they want him back in Junior-Kindergarten. At their 5 year check up the doctor said that he needed to be in school right now but she could wait until the fall to start. They are so far ok (after 3 months now) with him going to school and her staying home. BUT. I do not want to separate them if he has not caught up to her level. Is there any one else out there with different level twins?"

This mom struggles with the same decision. Not only does she have five year old twins, but she also has a three-year-old. She says, "I also have 5 year old twins and I am facing the same problem. In addition I have a 3 year old. The twins were premature babies and both were delayed for some time and are still very small children, a head below their peers in height. But, mentally, one of the twins has caught up to her age group and is average of 5 years old based on her milestones. The other twin is (an) average 3-year-old on her social and language milestones and 4 1/2 in motor development. The 3 year old has surpassed the older sister's development. I am wondering if I should hold my twins back 2 years and put the three into school together at the same time? Or, if I should let the more mentally developed twin go to school earlier even though she will be the smallest kid in her class. Tough decisions. I want the best for each of them individually but I don't want any of the 3 kids to have any bad feelings about being held back. Especially with the younger sibling being ahead. If I put them in school together, people may ask if they are triplets and get a lot of questions on why they are in the same grade together but I think it is probably the best choice I have."

Making decisions about school for twins and multiples can be difficult enough, but even moreso when the children have different academic needs. There is an expectation of "sameness" associated with twins, making it uncomfortable to differentiate them by ability. However, parents must consider their multiples' individual needs when making school decisions, and choose the path that gives each child the resources that best serve them.

Not only do parents have to consider each child's unique qualities and needs, but they also must factor in the dynamic between them, the twin bond. In some situations, separating twins or holding one back can cause more damage than benefit, if the unfavorable comparisons result in a lack of learning for either multiple.

Making the Decision to Place Twins in Different Grades

If you find yourself faced with the decision whether to put your twins in different grades, here are some things to consider.

Get the facts. Be sure to seek out professional input from your school system, but also from your pediatrician and others who know your children well. If you are skeptical about the information you've received thus far, don't hesitate to request additional input from the school psychologist or testing specialist.

Consider the consequences of prematurity. Many multiples are born prematurely, and the consequences of that early birth can cause developmental delays. However, many children catch up to their peers as the months or years pass. Others experience long-term -- or even lifelong -- physical and developmental delays or disabilities. The impact from prematurity may be a factor in this decision,

Respect the differences between boys and girls. Dizygotic (fraternal) boy/girl twins who are recommended for placement in different grades may present a different dynamic than monozygotic (identical) twins, who are the same sex. Boys and girls naturally exhibit some developmental differences, and you may find that a female twin is more advanced in academic skills than her male twin, sometimes to the point that they are recommended for placement in different grades.

Assess your options. Generally, you have three paths: 1) You can hold the more advanced twin back (keeping them together); 2) You can push the more delayed twin forward (keeping them together); or 3) You can choose to separate them, placing them in different grades so that each twin is at a recommended level. None of these are necessarily right or wrong choices; the "right" choice will vary from family to family. Consider the pros and cons of each option as it applies to your situation, weighing the advantages and disadvantages, drawbacks and benefits, risks and goals.

Evaluate the long-term outlook. What will your decision mean down the road? Most often, the decision to put twins in different grades coincides with the start of kindergarten or first grade. But how will this decision impact your twins in middle school, high school, or starting college. You can't know the future, but the big picture deserves some consideration.

Examine alternatives. If you are reluctant to place your twins in different grades, can the issues be addressed in other ways? Providing extra support at home, engaging tutors or private teachers, or enrolling in special programs may help overcome disparities in ability. Consider how the enhancements might benefit both the advanced twin and the delayed twin. Perhaps you can provide extra challenges to the twin who is being pushed ahead, while extra help will bring a boost to the twin who is falling behind.

Trust your instincts. Ultimately, you are the expert on your own children, and you bear the responsibility for making a decision in the best interest of each individual child as well a your family as a whole.

Don't go it alone. As evidenced by the comments above, parents are certainly not alone in this circumstance. The support of other families who have experienced this situation is invaluable. Join the discussion in the message forum on this site or click the link below to share your story. Network with other parents in your local twins or mulitples club. Use the internet to read about the experiences of other families, such as the insightful story shared by Sadia on the blog How Do You Do It? or the comprehensive analysis of the issue in this article by Christina Tinglof.

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  5. Twins in Different Grades - Holding Twins Back in School - Differentiating Twins in School

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