Monday, September 17, 2012

Separating Twins in School: What I Wish I Had Known

My kids on the first day of Kindergarten
Have you ever heard that comment "I was a great parent until I became one"? I feel that way a bit about starting my kids in Kindergarten. I was a huge proponent of separating twins in school until I actually had to do it myself. Now I find myself longing for the simple days of preschool when they were in one, cozy classroom.

Don't get me wrong. I am not changing my stance on separating multiples in school, I know it was the right thing to do for my children. I can tell already that they will be so much better off being in separate classrooms. But Mommy is having a hard time. Actually, mommy might be having a bit of a mental breakdown.

So, now that I have made it clear that I still believe that separating multiples is incredibly important for their personal growth, I want to add that I now also see how hard it can be on the parents! I have worked hard since my children were very young to ensure they had playdates on their own, time alone with mom or dad, separate groups in camp and even separate birthday parties. And I had always intended to separate the kids once they started Kindergarten. The thing is, even though it was the right decision for us, I wasn't completely prepared for all that came with this move.

When Togetherness Keeps Twins From Growing

I get a lot of email from readers asking whether they should keep their twins together because they love playing together and get along so well. As with everything else, I have my opinions, but my advice is that you know your children best so you have to do what is right for your family. However, it is also very easy to miss the signs that your children need more time apart from each other. 

As much as they love each other, my children need time
apart in order to really grow and develop their personalities. 
I see now that one of the reasons my daughter always played with the boys in preschool isn't just that she enjoys "boy-oriented activities" like climbing, digging and building. I believe that because her brother makes friends so easily, she could just blend right in and be part of an already formed group. 

With him around, she didn't have to work on the skill of opening up, making contact, finding ways to connect to other kids in order to make friends. This skill doesn't come as naturally to her as it does to her brother but she needs a chance to have to work that muscle without the comfort of having him by her side.
  • Maybe you have a twin that is a little more introverted and allows his sister to do all the talking for both of them. 
  • Maybe one of your twins is less assertive than the other and always gets second choice of toys or has to follow her sister's rules when playing games. 
  • Maybe one of your multiples is less good at sports and always compares himself negatively to his brother or doesn't even try because he's decided he's not "the athletic one".
  • Maybe one of your kids is excelling in reading or math and feels guilty because her brother isn't. 
  • Maybe your twins are so close to each other that they don't let anyone else in to their friendship.
These are just a few of the excellent reasons to give your multiples time apart in the classroom. Separating them allows them to look at themselves without the obvious comparison to their co-twin. Yes, it can be hard especially if this is the first time they've been apart from each other. If yours are still too young for school, I highly suggest getting some one on one time now so that when it does come time for them to be apart, it feels more natural to them.

Please know that giving your children all this time on their own will not cause them to drift apart from each other. In fact, it will actually bring them closer. My children climb into the car after school and turn to each other to ask "what did you do in school today?". The time apart gives them things to talk about which allows them to get to know each other as individuals and not simply assume that the other has had the same emotional experience as they have had themselves. Celebrating and encouraging their "twinship" is a wonderful thing to do. But don't make the fact that they are twins (or triplets etc.) become more important than the fact that they are also individual people. 

What I Wish I Had Known...

Volunteer for things that excite you. I am looking
forward to documenting quotes and putting together
booklets made out of family portraits the kids made
So now that you have arrived at the point where you have your children enrolled in two separate classrooms, you may have realized that this also means that you are a parent in two classrooms. Uh...yeah. How did that fact escape me? What that means is:
  • You will be asked to volunteer in two classrooms. This isn't a big deal for those of you who can't volunteer because of work commitments or who aren't interested in doing it. But for someone like me that actually loves doing it and who finds that it is a wonderful way to know the school and the teachers and be involved with what is going on with your children's classrooms, one has to be careful of not taking on too much responsibility and getting overwhelmed.
  • You will receive massive amounts of email communication from two classrooms and they may not all be sent at the same time. This means if Class "A" asks you to get a dozen pens, a tote bag and a folder for your son's class and you go to get it all, you may find that a week later Class "B" asks for almost the same thing and you have to go back out to get all the same stuff again instead of making one trip. Guess who had to do that? Yep. 
  • Your two classrooms may not have exactly the same expectations or rules. That is, one class may have a specific policy about the way birthdays are celebrated or whether sugary snacks are allowed. These sorts of things are not always school-wide policies. So not only will you have to remember that class "A" allows parents and extended family in to celebrate, but also that Class "B" does not allow any of that. This means that not only will you have to keep straight which rule belongs to which class, but you may have to explain to one child why his sister got to have her grandma in class but he didn't. This can be a learning experience for the kids or it can be an additional headache for mom and dad. Or both. 
  • Your two classrooms will have different projects going on that may have different deadlines and different requests. You will be expected to keep all of it straight. Class "A" has photo day on Wednesday, don't forget to bring in the form and a check. Class "B" is doing a project with apples this week, don't forget to bring an apple in on Monday. Class "B" has photo day on Tuesday, don't forget to bring in the form and a check. Class "A" has reading time with parents on Monday, but so does Class "B". How do I manage to be in two places at once??? And which check goes with which form? Arrrgh.
  • Dropping off two children to two different classes is not as easy as it looks. Well, especially if you have at least one child who doesn't separate easily from you. And especially if there is a very small window of time between the classroom doors opening and the bell ringing for the beginning of the school day.
  • Your children may have some jealousy about what the other sibling is doing in their class. "Why does she get to play on the computer in her class, but my class never does"? Or, "Why did his class get to bake apple pie but mine didn't"? 
  • Getting an update about two classrooms is somehow exponentially harder than it was for one. My kids can't remember what they did except for lunch and yard time and they don't have the other child to prompt them! You think you didn't know anything before about what was going on at school? Now you know less! Oh, and on top of it, the class schedules change every day in each class so good luck remembering who has what class on what day!
  • There are a LOT of names to remember! At our school, our children are in a K - 1 classroom which means that there are about 25 kids in each class. That's 50 kids total which means about 100 parents to try to get to know. It's basically impossible, but that doesn't mean you aren't trying to do it! Or is that just me? Also, at least in the first few months there are a lot of social invitations to try to get the kids and parents to get to know each other. Again, it can get a bit overwhelming to keep straight and to make time for it all.
So, how do you not lose your mind?

Well, I am definitely open to suggestions because we are only a few weeks into it, but here is what I have come up with so far:
Those accustomed to being able to manage
everything that's thrown at them can feel more
overwhelmed than others when things get crazy.
  • Go easy on yourself. Recognize if you are the type of person who is used to being "supermom" (or dad) or being able to juggle 20 things at once. Be aware if you are the type of person who generally thrives on this type of thing. Even if you did all of that in preschool, this is a whole new animalI was the mom who volunteered for everything at preschool and was able to simultaneously run my local twins club, have time for blogging, have time for my family, even squeeze in time for myself. 
But perhaps you noticed how I haven't blogged in over a month? And I also stepped down as president of my club. I have had to clear some space for myself to get used to this new environment. I am starting slowly with volunteering. I am doing this so that I can feel calm and stress free because I know this will rub off on my kids. In time I may step it up a notch if I feel I can do it, but for now, I am OK with slowing down. 
  • Get organized. Do whatever works for you to be super organized. Put everything in your computer's calendar (make sure it's synced to your phone), get a huge wall calendar or white board and use different colored pens for each child's activities and events, make a binder for each child...whatever it takes, set it up until you feel like you know what's going on at school on a regular basis. 
  • Talk to other parents of twins. Ask at the school if they might connect you with other parents of multiples at the school who have already been through the process and who can give you some helpful tips. This is the probably the best place to ask because they have direct experience at your specific school.
  • Being in two places at once. If your children have events on the same day, and it's appropriate, ask if the sibling can join in. For example, my children both have a special reading time with a parent and it happens to fall on a Monday for each of them. I could, of course, just take turns but with this type of event I found it simpler to ask the teachers if it was ok to let my son be in his sister's class so I could read to them both. The following week we do the same in his class with all three of us. Fortunately, they each get their own day as well where they don't have to share. Don't stress out, you never know what's possible if you don't ask. 
  • It's OK to be jealous. Remind your child that they are supposed to feel jealous when someone else gets something they wanted. It's normal to feel that way. Empathize. If it's simply that one class has already had their library day and that's why Sarah took home cool, new books, then ask Jack's teacher when his library day is so he knows he's getting one as well. The teachers from Class "A" definitely aren't thinking about what Class "B" is doing...they are only paying attention to their own classrooms!
It's no wonder my son can't remember all
the things he does in one day!
  • Another awesome use for smart phones. I've started snapping a picture on my phone of each of my children's class schedule since it's posted on the wall in the classroom. This way I have a reference for after school so I can look at the photo and ask specifically, "how as Spanish class today? What did you do?" 
My son's teacher is actually great about helping parents get information from the kids and has sent home an email each week with question prompts like, "What is the alphabet project you began this week?" or "How do you celebrate Birthday Circles?" which gives parents a peek into what the kids have done all week. If your child's teacher doesn't do this, you could ask if it is something they would have time for, or ask if writing up a list of questions is something someone can volunteer for.
  • Don't compare. This is a rule I always tell people about helping their children, but it also applies to us parents. Don't compare your day to how simple everything was for your friend who has three kids. If her kids aren't triplets, it most likely was simpler! Her older children have generally already been at the school for a bit and have friends, know their way around and so on. Mom or dad can go to their class, check the child in, say goodbye and actually leave. This isn't so easy with two (or three) 5 year olds who are brand new at a school!
She won't always cling to me when I leave. One day my
daughter will be asking me to drop her off blocks away. 
  • Separation Anxiety. My daughter has an exceptionally hard time separating from me. I like to think this is because I am so awesome, but more likely it has to do with a level of anxiety she has been dealing with for the last 2 years. This of course makes morning drop off excruciating at times. At our school, what I have found is helping us the most is that our daughter's classroom opens up early, so the three of us can go in together, read, and settle in a bit. Then I take my son to his classroom and do the same with him. At this stage our daughter wants to come along, which is little hard, but I am hoping that as she finds real friends and is more at ease at school, I will be able to say goodbye to her at her class door. 
Although it's hard for me to get out of the house early enough to be able to be at school 15 minutes earlier, it's well worth it in terms of easing her anxiety levels. In fact, getting to school a little early is probably the best tip I can give anyone because, let's face it, who likes to rush in to a meeting to find everyone already sitting down and all heads swivel to you as you rush in the door? Not me. And definitely not your kids. Give them those few minutes of playing on the yard or sitting on your lap outside the class to ease in to saying goodbye for the day. 
One thing I noticed right away is how suddenly small my children looked to me again. They were "the big kids" all year last year at preschool and now they once again look like babies. After all, they are only 5 1/2! I have to remember this and enjoy the time. Everything has been a whirlwind this past month and I do want to stop and take it all in. My babies are Kindergarteners. I will never have these precious moments again...even if I do, occasionally, feel overwhelmed by it all.

We're heading into week 3 and I am sure I have a lot to learn about being a parent of elementary school children, but this is what I have figured out so far. Let me know if you have other things you're struggling with, or what you have worked out for yourself! I always love to hear your ideas. 

Oh, and please forgive me the very long break in between posts. August and September were exceptionally hard around here and I just couldn't find the mental energy. I look forward to getting back on a regular schedule. There are lots of things I want to write about!
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