Preschool For Multiples: Individuality of Multiple Birth Children

A model for relationships between multiples

A critical difference between singletons and multiples is the nature of the multiple birth relationship and the impact that it may have on personal, social and emotional development. Central to personal, social and emotional development is the development of the individual and self-esteem. Some multiples are unable to function or develop as individuals; others are so desperate to establish their individuality that they polarise their behavior so that they are the exact opposite of their twin.

Multiple birth children may be categorized as follows:

“Closely Coupled”Multiple birth children who act as though they are a couple or unit and are mostly treated by other people as one unit
“Mature Dependents”Multiple birth children who enjoy their relationship with each other functioning effectively both as multiples and as individuals.
“Extreme Individuals”Multiple birth children who find their relationship with each other restrictive to such a degree that they may fight, deny their multiple birth relationship sometimes polarizing to opposite extremes to establish their own identities.

Multiples who are closely coupled and/or extreme individuals are likely to find school more challenging.

Click here to download Model For Relationships (Word Document).

Click here to download Model For Relationships (PDF Document).


Too close

The nature of the media is they frequently focus on the most sensational cases. Thus so much has been made of the “Silent Twins” a pair of very dysfunctional young women who in the end were in psychiatric care, after their behavior could no longer be managed in the community. Wallace (1987) summarises their tragic career. When one did die, the other managed to function much better, reinforcing the stereotype of the relationship between twins to be so close as to be disabling. Of course, these were not typical twins and had a long and tortuous history of behavioral problems. When these are the only twins that preschool teachers encounter on the media, then there may be the supposition that all twins have such a close bond. In reality, their psychiatric vulnerability meant that they might have had similar problems even if they had not been multiples.

There is even a book “Evil Twins” (see it here) documenting the history of 12 sets of twins you would never want to meet, including the Kray twins who played such a role in organized crime in London. There is absolutely no basis to assert that multiples are more likely to be involved in antisocial behavior. While our Australian surveys have shown attention problems are more common in multiples, there were no differences in other problem behaviors.

So, getting information published about multiples who are successful in all respects is fundamental to altering such misconceptions.

Dominance & Dependence

The classic situation is that of a dominance of one multiple over the others, but just how many forms may dominance take?

Neither child dominates how many forms may dominance take?

  • Neither child dominates
  • One always dominates
  • The children alternate dominance
  • Dominance varies according to the situation or activity

In the preschool years, many parents say that dominance varies from day to day. Although one child may dominate in the home situation, this may not be the case particularly when the children start school. Observation of the children, particularly in a play situation, may help to determine which child, if any, is dominant, the nature of the dominance and whether this appears to be adversely affecting their learning. Where one child is always dominant, even speaking for the other, the dependent child may find it difficult to function effectively in school. However, the dominant twin may be more affected if separated, as they are no longer able to organize their co-twin.

“When they are playing, she is always in charge. The other day she had a lead on him, and he had to follow her around being the dog. When I told her to stop doing that, he said that he liked being the dog.”


Just right-who does achieve the balance and how?

The downloadable model may be used to assess the nature of the multiple birth relationship. Ticking the horizontal line enables the complexities of the multiple birth relationship. Ticking the horizontal line enables the complexities of the multiple birth relationship to begin to appear. Children may fall broadly into one of the three types, or they may swing from being intense individuals to being closely coupled, or they may display characteristics of all three. The children within the multiple sets may vary, for example, one child may be “Closely Coupled” while the other is a “Mature Dependent.” In the case of higher multiples, it may be most useful to consider each possible pair, or each child compared with “the rest.” Is there one excluded possibly because of their relative disability or because of their gender-the girls may play together while excluding their triplet brother, or there may be a brother-sister collaboration excluding the other(s).

If one child is always dominant, try arranging play sessions with children where the other multiple(s) are not present. Playing with younger children may help the more dependent multiples to assume more of a leadership role. Playing with older children may similarly help the more dominant multiple.

Click here to download Model For Relationships (Word Document).

Click here to download Model For Relationships (PDF Document).

Wherever the children are placed on the model, they may experience comparison with their multiple birth sibling(s) and the impact of various life experiences. The closer the child is to be “Closely Coupled,” the more they may be affected personally, socially and emotionally, being unable to function without their co-multiple(s), sometimes even using the special twin language mentioned earlier. Such children may be unable to recognize themselves in the mirror or a photograph, and possibly respond to both names interchangeably. Closely coupled children may find it very difficult to form friendships with other children and to learn in a group or social situation. In the educational setting, closely coupled multiples are unlikely to have developed the skills to mix socially with other children and to learn in a group situation. Separating closely coupled multiples upon school entry may be extremely traumatic for them, their families and their teachers particularly if they have had little or no experience of separation before starting school.

Multiple birth children who are “Extreme Individuals” may resent their multiple birth relationship, finding it restrictive and inhibiting. This may be demonstrated by denying their multiple relationships so that they miss out on the positive aspects of being a multiple, which are primarily a unique relationship with a sibling of the same age, able to provide support, understanding, and friendship. “Extreme Individuals” may strive to emphasize their individuality, sometimes polarizing their behavior so that they become opposites, for example,” the good child and the naughty child,” “the sporty child and the academic child.” One child may opt out if the other(s) appear to be better. The relationship may become highly competitive with the children becoming determined to outperform each other in all aspects of life. In school, “Extreme Individuals” may lose sight of competing with their peer group focusing only on beating the other (s). They may fight physically in an attempt to establish individuality. One child may assume the role of the good or “angel” pupil while the other rebels and assumes the role of the “devil” pupil. Parents and teachers are faced with the challenge of enabling each of the “extreme opposites” to develop as an individual while at the same time not allowing their multiple birth relationships to become a dominant, negative force.

Multiple birth children who are at the center of the model can function as “Mature Dependents” able to enjoy their multiple relationships but also to develop as individuals with their own friends and interests. They are likely to cope with the challenges of school being able to adapt flexibly whether their co-multiple(s) is with them or not. They also realize that being an individual may mean choosing the same as their co-multiple(s).





References: See here

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