“The teacher and I want to hold my son back in Kindergarten, but my husband is fighting me on this.” My friend’s words stirred up memories and emotions. After all, I’ve held 2 of my sons back, once in preschool and once in 6th grade.
Both decisions were hard. Both turned out to be good ones. Ones I don’t regret making.
My Oldest Son
I homeschooled my oldest son from preschool to 6th grade. During the last few years of homeschooling, we both struggled. He was a tween wit raging hormones and a stubborn streak a mile wide. There’s 7 years between him and my next son. He always felt like his younger brother was interloper, and they didn’t bond much.
Our next 4 kids came along when my oldest son was 7 and in 2nd grade. Each year, I struggled more and more to homeschool my son while taking care of the new babies and toddlers. 6th grade was our worst year.
My husband and I decided to send our oldest to Catholic school. Being stubborn, my son gave the principal and teachers a hard time on visiting day. A neighbor suggested trying another Catholic school with declining enrollment. With only 10 kids in the class, it seemed like a good way to transition into regular school for my son. But, would he go into 7th grade?
We decided to hold him back a year. He has a June birthday. He was socially behind his peers. Holding our son back and having him repeat 6th grade turned out to be the best decision for him. He got the extra math help he needed. He got some extra time to develop socially. While we’ve had a few issues along the way, our son has grown into a high school senior who decided he was going to college, and took the necessary steps to get there next year.
My Youngest Son
My youngest son has always been slow to warm up to new people and situations. He clung to me even around people he’s known for years. Yet, once he was comfortable, he was very comfortable with familiar people.
When it was time for preschool, we held him back a year since he had an April birthday. He started preschool at age 5. We sent him to the same preschool his siblings had attended. Within a month of starting the full day preschool, he was melting down in school and crying for hours. At our wits end, my husband and I decided to pull him out after a few weeks and put him into a part-time nursery school.
Though it took about a month, my youngest son opened up in the new school and blossomed. We had tears in our eyes watching him up on stage at the end of the school year. He had just needed a slower pace and extra time.
Do You Hold Back Your Child?
I’m a parent. Not an educator. Not a psychologist. I have 5 kids and 18+ years of parenting experience, plus time spent talking to other parents. Please take what I say with a grain of salt. Your situation will be different than mine. I want you to have tools to make your own decision.
Ignore the Media
When I started googling “holding back kids in Kindergarten,” I found articles for and against holding back kids, known as “redshirting.” At least one article said there’s no evidence that redshirting helps kids. Instead, it pointed to the loss of income later in life because these kids entered the workforce a year later.
Seriously? My decision to choose to hold my child back has nothing to do with his income as an adult. That’s a red herring designed to guilt parents.
Talk to Your Pediatrician
When my youngest son was struggling in full-day preschool, I talked to our pediatrician. While we were still relatively new to the practice, I knew my pediatrician had years of experience treating a range of kids. He is also part of a practice that has 5 pediatricians on staff. We don’t always agree, but I knew I would be talking to someone with experience.
My pediatrician told me that with the push to do academics at a younger age, there were kids having difficulties in preschool. Not every kid is ready to do multiple worksheets at ages 4 and 5. Boys in particular learn more through experience than traditional academics.
Talk to Your Child’s Teachers
Your child’s teacher sees them as much as you do in a 24 hour period. They see your child interacting with adults and children in a different setting than you have at home. In most cases, they have a great deal of experience.
If you can, ask to have a conference with a teacher from the next grade up. They can identify for you milestones your child needs to achieve before moving up a grade. They will know what a struggling child looks like, and they can talk to you about possible resources available if you decide not to hold back your child.
In my case, my son’s first preschool teacher did not have a lot of experience under her belt. Talking to our pediatrician definitely helped. Talking to my son’s nursery school teacher with her 20 years of nursery school teaching was a better fit for us. She didn’t see my son’s crying as a class disruption like the first teacher did. She was also very patient and willing to work with me to find ways to help my son feel comfortable in school.
Your child’s teacher can be a fantastic ally when you’re deciding what to do about your child.
Talk to Your Spouse
You’re a parenting team. Spouses always have different relationships with the same child. Having a different relationship helps both of you see your entire child.
You need to be on the same page when it comes to making the decision to hold back your child. One spouse may feel ashamed or anxious. Having a conference with your child’s teacher can help both of you discuss any reservations you have.
It’s Not the End of the World When You Hold Your Child Back
The world didn’t end when I held my 6th grader back. It didn’t end either when I held my youngest back or switched his schools.
I was embarrassed about my youngest son. Every day for several weeks, I got a call from the teacher about his crying. I tried working with her. I took my son to the pediatrician because the preschool teacher thought there was something wrong with my son and he needed to be evaluated by the school district. I thought I was a failure as a mom.
I wasn’t. I just needed to look at the unique needs of my son.
Today, both of my sons are flourishing in their schools. I did the right thing.