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Holding Your Kid Back In School: Bad or Best?

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What to do when you don't know what to do.


Deciding to hold back a child in school can be a heartbreaking--and complex--decision for both mom and kid. While you don't want to rush them if not ready, will holding them back a grade do more harm than good? Therapist and mom blogger Andrea Givens, who recently had to battle this issue with her son, Zion, weighs the pros and cons:

  • Consider age: What is the age of the child in comparison to the other children? "Zion has an August 26 birthday. In our district, had he been born five days later, he would have waited another year to begin school," Andrea said. "This makes him the youngest in his class. This is important because a younger child could be retained and still be in a class with kids his or her own age."
  • Repetition may not cut it: "Just because you hold them back doesn't mean there are going to get it just because they are repeating it. Repetition might help a little," said Pamela Varady, family therapist. "Rather than hold a kid back, if they're doing well socially I would rather have them learn in a style that suits them. More important than holding the kid back is finding out how this kid learns and teaching him or her that way."
  • Size matters: If a kid is tall for his or her age, retaining them might due them a disservice, as there might be a negative stigma toward the large kid around a bunch of smaller ones. According to Andrea, administrators and teachers will typically want to promote him or her so they are closer in size to their classmates.
  • Consider their friends: Pamela says that if you're going to retain them at all, it's better to do it before 2nd grade, as the personal ties are not as strong in kindergarten or first grade.

 Other things to factor in, courtesy of Andrea:
1. At what grade level is the child performing? What interventions have been implemented so the child can meet grade level expectations? Is the child in special education or receiving accommodations of some kind?

2. What indications are there that the child, once retained, will improve performance significantly enough to meet grade level expectations and be ready to move on to the next grade?

3. What are the gaps this child has? Does he or she understand the concepts but can't write it down? For example, when viewing a science project, does the child understand what is happening and can articulate it but can't write a paragraph about it? Is it a matter of learning style?

4. If a child has special needs and is on an IEP, there is really no justification for retaining the child. In that case, the district and school should be providing that child with enough evidenced-based interventions to ensure the child is making adequate yearly progress.

next: 'Distracted' as Hell
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