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Parents Share Effects of Separating Twins in Middle School

by Dr. Joan A. Friedman


A father of 13-year-old identical twin boys contacted me about one of his sons.

He and his wife had decided to separate the boys into different middle schools in order to give them the individual experiences that both were lacking up to this point. However, after more than four months at their individual schools, one son is thriving while the other is not.

Tom loves school, feels engaged and energized, and enthusiastically shares what he is doing and learning when his parents pick him up from school. On the other hand, Sam enters and leaves school with a lackadaisical, bland, and affectless demeanor and responds that school is OK. Given this huge discrepancy in their experiences, dad feels that perhaps moving Sam to Tom’s school would be to his advantage.

In probing more deeply into Sam’s personality and temperament, it appears that his parents are describing a youngster who seems depressed, dissociated, or passive.  

Although he does not talk about his feelings, Sam mentions that he’s feeling “overwhelmed.”

In fact, just a few days ago, his baseball coach mentioned that Sam seems unmotivated and uninterested when he attends practice. When his parents asked him why he acts disinterested, he replies that he’s “overwhelmed.”

It is difficult to discern a youngster’s affectual life in a telephone call, especially if the parents are the sole reporting figures. Often parents downplay or minimize struggles because it is painful to acknowledge their child’s suffering. Based upon the bits of information I heard, I shared with the parents that it is plausible that Sam seems upset. Instead of focusing upon an external situational change, I advised that it might be more prudent to seek the counsel of a seasoned child psychotherapist to help them assess how best to understand Sam’s present apathy.

Certainly, aspects of Sam’s difficulties may be related to his twinship. His father mentioned that long ago, his mother-in-law had observed that Sam was Tom’s wingman. Also, there was a fleeting reference to the fact that Sam tends to overeat in order to self-soothe; hence, there is a significant weight difference between the boys. While the twin connection can be scrutinized for contributing to the present situation, the salient issue is to address Sam’s emotional state. Placing him back in school with his effervescent twin would be an ill-advised and unrealistic quick fix that might further jeopardize his psychological well-being.

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