A Unique Child: Twins - Take two

Practitioners with twins in their settings need to be aware of particular issues within their learning and social development. Ruth Thomson discovers why.

Last year, five sets of twins made up half the class at the Flying Start playgroup at Pembroke Dock Community School, Wales. This year, five sets have entered reception at Ramsey Spinning Infant School, Peterborough, while the number of sets at the 1,140-pupil Grange School in Cheshire has risen to 20. But with around one UK child in 35 a twin, is it time all early years settings became familiar with the particular needs of the nation's growing number of multiples?

According to 2005 figures - the latest year for which statistics are available - there were 10,533 twin maternities in the UK, up from 9,578 just five years earlier (see box).

'Most teachers will come across twins at some point, so they need to be aware of the issues,' says Professor Pat Preedy, executive principal of Sherfield School in Hook, Hampshire, and an expert on twins. 'Even if you've got only one set, you need to be as caring and prepared as if you've got 16.'

In her six-year study, involving 620,000 children and almost 12,000 twins, Professor Preedy found that schools' decisions about twins were 'frequently based on assumptions'. Since completing the study in 2001, she says awareness is 'greater' but remains 'patchy', and won't improve until dealing with twins becomes part of teacher training.

Jane Denton, director of the Multiple Births Foundation, wants greater awareness among all professionals. She says, 'It is important that parents are supported from the moment they know that they are expecting twins. There needs to be a wider professional understanding about how to help educate parents to support twins.'

To support twins effectively, Professor Preedy says, 'it is very important to look at the children in the context of being a multiple and an individual. You need to see what effect being a multiple might have on the child.'

Part of that process, and a good starting point, is to reflect on the role and impact of the 'significant others' in the twins' lives - principally their:

- Parents - Are they coping? Most cope, but stress and depression are more common in parents of twins than among those of singletons.

- Siblings - How do they feel? Are they helpful or resentful?

- Nursery mates - How might their behaviour affect the twins? Will they befriend the twins as individuals or because they are multiples?

- Nursery practitioners - Do they make assumptions? Do they view twins as cute or as potentially troublesome?

When supporting the social and learning needs of twins, two areas require particular attention: individuality and language development.


Twins have a uniquely close relationship and practitioners need to be aware of the benefits and disadvantages that such a closeness can bring.

Starting nursery is often the first time that twins have had real contact with other children. 'In my research, 86 per cent of the twins hadn't even slept apart before they started school, so they'd had little or no opportunity to develop as a stand-alone, individual person,' says Professor Preedy.

While such closeness can result in a supportive relationship, it can also bring rivalry, she says. 'Comparison, competition and rivalry are there in all sibling relationships, but it can be more intense with twins.' Adult comparisons only deepen such a rivalry and affect a twin's self-esteem.

The challenge, then, for early years settings, says Jane Denton, 'is to allow all twins the opportunities to develop as individuals and to enjoy their own identity, which will then allow them to enjoy the very special aspects of their twin relations as well.'

Professor David Hay of Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia, says professionals need to recognise that 'gender, zygosity and medical and family differences make every set of multiples unique.' An expert on twins and a founder of the university's website www.twinsandmultiples.org, he feels that questionnaires, rather than fixed policies, are the way forward in meeting the needs of twins.

As part of her research, Professor Preedy designed a model that aims to reveal twins' complex personalities and relationships and so aid professionals in their decision-making, including the question of separation (see box).

In the model, she divides twins into three categories and has found that while some twins may fit one type, some may swing between groups or display characteristics of all three groups. Twins within a set may also have different characteristics.

When it comes to separation, Professor Preedy says, 'Generally, the more closely coupled a set of twins, the more extreme the effect of separation. Conversely, the extreme individuals are likely to benefit from separation.'


Disabilities are more common in multiples due mainly, though not entirely, to prematurity, low birthweight and complications during delivery. Where twins have not suffered such complications, their general development is similar to singletons, though some twins may have a slight delay in their physical, social and behavioural development during their time at nursery.

The area most at risk of delay is language, with boys more affected than girls and, some experts believe, up to 40 per cent of twins using 'the secret language of twins' (idioglossia, cryptophasia). Delays can be attributed to:

- busy parents, with less time to help develop their children's language

- the twins' closeness, which makes language sometimes unnecessary

- attention-seeking behaviour using simple and loud talk.

While most twins will catch up, Janet Rimmer, parent co-ordinator at the Twins and Multiple Births Association, says, 'Practitioners need to take delays in twins as seriously as they do those in singletons, as sometimes any delay in referring them can be quite damaging.'

Whatever the particular needs of twins, Professor Preedy says their unique relationship can be hugely positive, and while identifying indentical twins may initially be a challenge, 'you get to know them quickly, as their distinct personalities soon emerge.'


- In 2005, the UK twinning rate stood at 14.72 per 1,000 maternities, up from 9.6 in 1980. The rise is attributed to the increase in IVF treatment, higher survival rates due to improved neonatal care, and more older mothers.

- The twinning rate per 1,000 maternities is 6.3 in mothers aged under 20, 21.7 in the 35-39 age group and 56.7 in the over-45s.

- There are two types of twins: monozygotic (or 'identical'), where the fertilised egg (zygote) splits to create twins with the same genetic make-up, and dizygotic (fraternal or 'non-identical'), where two eggs are fertilised by two sperm to create twins no more alike genetically than any two siblings. About one third of twins in the UK are monozygotic.

- Average pregnancy: 37 weeks for twins, 40 for singletons

- Average birthweight: 2.5kg for twins, 3.5kg for singletons

- The infant mortality rate in twins is 21.6 per 1,000 births, compared with 4.5 among singletons.


- The website www.twinsandmultiples.org. offers advice, information checklists and questionnaires to aid professionals' decision-making

- The Multiple Births Foundation has a series of guides for professionals which can ordered at www.multiplebirths.org

- The Twins and Multiple Births Association provides information and support for families. Visit www.tamba.org.uk

Extreme Individual
Plays mostly alone
Likes own friends
Opts out if twin successful
Polarises (angel/devil)
Excessively competitive
Dislikes co-multiple(s)
Refuses to dress alike
Tries to dominate
Mature Dependent Shared and separate friends
Happy separated and together
Supportive of co-multiple(s)
Has developed own identity
May choose the same or different from co-multiple(s)
Closely Coupled Unhappy when separated
Respond to each other's names
Cannot recognise mirror image
Uses twin 'language'
Slows down/speeds up to keep together, especially in school
Few or no individual friends
Dress and behave identically
- For the full model, visit

- UC 1.1 Child Development
- PR 2.2 Parents as Partners
- EE 3.2 Supporting Every Child

Photograph by Mark Waugh/Manchester Evening News.

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