Development in twins or more during their primary school years
Multiples, like any other children, develop at different speeds to each other. However, the fact that they are multiples throws a couple of extra ingredients into the mix.
First, given the close relationship that multiples often have with each other, it can cause strains when they develop at a different rate. The most common example of this is that girl multiples are typically more advanced than boys.
Second, everyone finds it tempting to compare the progress of twins and multiples – parents, family, friends, and even the children themselves. The standard advice is to avoid doing so, as problems of self-esteem can easily arise: the range of normal development is so wide, and they may be at different points in the spectrum. Also, one twin may be on a learning spurt this month, but be overtaken by the other next month.
Another factor is the ‘couple effect’: small differences are exaggerated and roles are allocated: the tidy one or the sporty one. This is discouraging enough for singleton siblings, but for twins and multiples the effect is far stronger, preventing them from developing important skills.
There are also common medical reasons, for example, related to the inhibiting factors on physical development in the womb, given the lack of space. Language delay is nothing to do with intellectual abilities; it is more usually a slowness in their ability to express themselves, rather than in understanding. Indeed, multiples can be better than singletons at understanding fast speech, as that is how their harried parents speak. A common concern in multiples is speech and language delay. This may be related to the environment in which multiples grow up: the close relationship they have with each other means that they may communicate in other ways and are not so reliant on language; also, parents of multiples may have less time to help each child to develop the language skills.
Although not all multiples have problems with reading, those with delayed language skills often do. This may limit their understanding of what they read, as well as their ability to read text accurately. This can affect boys, in particular.
When your children bring home reading books from school, make time to listen to each child’s reading separately. Multiples often like to share reading out loud, and will interrupt each other if they can decipher a word first. It’s a good idea to have shorter individual sessions with each of your children, instead of longer shared sessions.
Being a multiple has a critical effect on the emotional development of a child, particularly their sense of identity. By school age, your children will be able to describe themselves according to their age, size and gender. Their concept of who they are is linked to their awareness of each other, and to their degree of independence.
Siblings who act like a unit – and are treated as one too – find it hard to be apart. Others rebel against their relationship and over-emphasise their individuality. They may avoid each other’s company, fight all the time, or become over-competitive. They try to be different in everything, developing polarised interests and behaviour. However, most twins or more fall somewhere in between these two extremes. The most positive relationship is one in which the children function both as multiples and as individuals.
For twins or more, rivalry may be more intense than with singletons. The children may become more competitive, with a heightened sense of what is fair. Some degree of competition can be beneficial, as the children encourage each other to perform well. However, over-competitiveness is a problem, and may lead to conflict and jealousy. There are various strategies for coping with this. If the children share an activity, find different (equally valuable) aspects to praise. When disagreements arise, deal with them fairly and impartially. If necessary, leave decisions to chance by rolling dice or tossing a coin.
It is important to recognise that children cannot always be treated the same, and your children need to learn that this applies to them as well as to others. You can help by praising them individually for their achievements, and encouraging them to be pleased for each other.
Remember if you feel you need a listening ear, Twinline, our Freephone helpline can provide you with valuable support. Twinline is staffed by trained volunteers who are parents of multiples and is free for all members and non-members.
Twinline is open everyday from 10am to 1pm and from 7pm to 10pm on 0800 138 0509 (freephone). If you need to speak to someone out of Twinline hours you can email Ask Twinline.
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