Q: A few of my friends have held their kids back for a third year of preschool in order to help them both academically and physically. What are your thoughts on this practice?
BBB: The practice of allowing preschool children a third year of school, “the gift of time,” has become common practice all over the country. Even before the release of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” describing the benefits of being older in competitive sports (in ice hockey, to be exact), the practice was becoming common.
Kindergarten used to be for five-year-olds. Remember? Those days are gone. It is common for kindergarten classes in both private and public schools to be filled with sixes and turning-six-year-olds, some of whom will turn seven before the year is over.
While many believe that it totally depends upon the child’s age, that is only part of the story. If the child is slow to warm up or more of an introvert or if he has underdeveloped fine motor skills (pencil grip), coupled with having a summer/fall birthday, then a third preschool year is likely a good idea. An unusually small (physically) summer/fall birthday child would benefit from that gift year too. But if your child is unusually tall, it’s a harder decision.
It is also important to consider your child’s gender and place in the family. Boys often develop more slowly than girls (but catch up by second grade). A first-born child (your practice child!) is a whole different creature from the second or third born.
If your child will attend a private school that tends to accept older children, that is also a consideration. Even when a private school says its cut-off date is September, they still consider a summer birthday child to be “young.” Public schools usually have greater age variation, as they cannot pick and choose their incoming kindergarteners.
I will share with you that in all my 43 years in the field, I have never recommended that a child enjoy a third year of preschool and regretted it. Family after family reports that it was the best decision they ever made on their child’s behalf.
Q: I have fraternal twin boys who are very different from each other. How do I cultivate their relationship as twins and siblings yet foster their independence at the same time as individuals?
BBB: There is great news about having fraternal twins (beyond having fraternal twins!). Unlike identical multiples, their biological connection is no greater than that of any siblings. It is through cues from outside their bodies, starting with being together in the womb, that their connection is strengthened and cemented. You need not worry about their feeling connected and sharing a special bond.
Of greater concern is helping your children to grow up as separate individuals. In fact, I believe that it is when each child is not allowed to cultivate his individuality that their close relationship can be undermined, as each strives to make his own mark on his world.
Thankfully, the days of dressing twins alike are long gone. But often unbeknownst to the multiples’ parents who are just doing the best they can, there are many other actions that scream You are attached! You are one person!
The problem is that parents of multiples work hard to keep everything equal in their children’s lives. In so doing, the children’s individuality is not necessarily cultivated. One gets new shoes, the other does too, whether or not he needs them. Wherever one is taken, the other goes too. Two children go on a playdate. Both children are invited to the birthday party, regardless of whose friend the birthday boy is. The two may even share one birthday party. The list is endless.
From an early age it is critical to treat your fraternal twins like they are simply siblings. Take just one on an errand and leave the other at home. Let one take gym class and the other ball skills. Send only one on a playdate. Facilitate their having different friends, different interests, different areas of strength. There are so many suggestions that I offer a whole seminar on the topic, Cultivating Individuality in Your Multiple Birth Children.
At the same time, allow the children plenty of opportunities to enjoy life together in just the same way as any siblings would. The more family time you have — going on vacations with just your family, taking field trips together, having a regular game night, playing family sports, doing projects all together — having plenty of family rituals will be the glue that holds you all together. Warm family feelings carry over to feelings between siblings, including twins!
As an aside, my three children, triplets now grown, married and each with one child, are very close. They are closer than friends, and they are in close and frequent contact, living in different cities. They share a bond of which I am envious. You will be interested to know that all three were in different classes throughout elementary school, attended two different middle schools, and three different high schools and colleges. They all agree that it was the best thing that ever happened to them. By the way, each had his/her own birthday from 3 years old on up! Crazy? Maybe!
Betsy Brown Braun, bestselling author of the award-winning books “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me” is a child development and behavior specialist, parenting expert and multiple birth parenting consultant. She consults with parents privately and runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is a frequent guest on radio and television – including the “Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and “The Rachael Ray Show” – and her parenting expertise has been featured in numerous print publications, websites and blogs. She and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have three grandchildren, so far. Visit: betsybrownbraun.com, Facebook.com/BetsyBBraun and Twitter @BetsyBBraun.