13 answers

Need Advice About Holding a Child Back in First Grade

I'm looking for advice/experience in having a child repeat a grade. In our case, we're considering whether to have our son repeat first grade. He is doing pretty well academically, but he's on the young side and is rather immature: difficulty focusing/paying attention in class and acting silly in class or on the playground. His teacher acknowledges that he's immature, but bright when he applies himself, and doesn't think he'll need to repeat. But we're thinking that another year may give him time to mature and would enable him to be a much stronger student down the road. We wondered about doing this in Kindergarten, but his teacher didn't think he'd need to since he'd mature on his own. We also wonder if we do have him reapeat, whether we should switch schools to avoid the stigma. Any words of wisdom you can offer would be very much appreciated!

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Hi K., You may want to read the book:
"What Really Happens in School" by Ann LaForge
It details the emotional development of kids by school grade from K-5th.

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I am a teacher, but a fairly new one, so I go with the advice of the veteran teachers that I respect the most. They all say the same thing, which is that retaining a child is not a problem, but it should only be done when the child is academically strong for his or her age, but struggles due to immaturity issues. That seems the be the only time that retention consistently helps.

I have two big concerns about your son's situations: the fact that he is doing fairly well academically, and the fact that two teachers have said he doesn't need to be retained.

When retention works it is because a child who has been struggling and frustrated finally starts to "get" the material, and the second year is a year of triumph. But it sounds like your son already "gets" the material. If he is in fact doing well academically (few or no Ns on his report card) then I think repeating a year would just make his focusing problems worse. Six year olds are able to sit and work in a school environment because learning new things is exciting. If you take away that excitement, and make him trudge through a year of material that he already understands, he's going to find something else exciting to do--like being the class clown.

In general, teachers are eager to do whatever will help a child succeed. If the teacher thought that retention would make your child easier to handle in class and eventually increase test scores, she or he would recommend it. The exception to this would be if the administration is against retention in general. I would ask your son's teacher what the normal criteria is for retention.

If you still really feel in your gut that your son needs another year, I would talk to the school's principal. I would not switch schools unless you dislike your school. The stigma is not nearly what it used to be, and a good teacher will turn your son into a leader of first grade, have him help teach some of the lessons, etc. If it is a good match, retention can be a positive experience.

Good luck with your decision, and I wish you and your son the best!

Hi K., You may want to read the book:
"What Really Happens in School" by Ann LaForge
It details the emotional development of kids by school grade from K-5th.

Speaking as a former teacher of kindergarten and first grade with many years experience, I think you should trust your own instincts on this, and if you have any doubts, hold him back a year. Especially if he has a fall birthday, which automatically places him in classrooms with children who can be several months older and usually are. When you look at the big picture, beyond right now, imagine him in middle school and high school with peers older and better able to make good decisions for themselves and he, in the middle of this, with less experience and maturity to do the same. I think it cannot hurt him, but may make a huge difference in helping him utilize good judgement and provide him with the maturity he needs to make good choices too.

As to moving him to another school to facilitate this, due to any stigma attached, that would be a judgement call on your part. Only you know your child well enough to have insight into any sensitivities he may or may not have. And to assume the worst--that he will be teased--could be assuming something that may never happen. It kind of depends on how you and the new 1st grade teacher handle it. He will likely be a leader in the new class, as he knows what the expectations are in first grade and will be referred to, to help others requiring guidance. This gives him an important role and should help his confidence and any insecurities he may have. First graders (as in Kindergarten) will pay little attention to who is in what class after the initial discovery. It will not be an ongoing problem.

Keeping him in the same school surroundings will be a secure feeling for him, and instead of being the one in class who is in trouble for acting silly or losing focus he will
be one of the more mature, older students this time around, which can only help. I've seen many boys like yours and have never known of any who were sorry later for being retained.
School now-in primary grades --is much more intense, demanding and requiring of focus
and attention beyond what many little boys are mature enough to provide developmentally.

Hope this helps. -------G. (____@____.com)

Hi K.,

Our son went to first grade and we held him back for another year for similar reasons. He actually does have some learning problems but his maturity was an issue for us. He stayed in the same school and never experienced any stigma. It was the best thing we ever did. He is now in second grade and doing wonderful. He has friends in both second and third grade. They say the best time to do it is when they're young and I completely agree. We had a hard time making the decision but it was the best decision we ever made. Good luck!!

My son had the same problem in Kindergarten-2nd grades. The school district that I had my kids enrolled in were known for holding back children that had late birthdays (May, June & July). Children tend to develop more over the summer and academically he is on track. Since moving out to the Bay Area my son is in the third grade and in the Gifted Program. Follow the teachers advice and encourage your son to play sports where he has to interact with other kids his age or a little bit older. This is just a milestone and yes this too shall pass.

Of ten friends that I went to high school with, four ended up being teachers and one will be a principal soon. We recently had a discussion about holding students back. Several of us had been held back. They were all in agreement that holding a child back rarely makes a difference. If neither of his teachers has suggested holding him back and he is doing well academically, than you should give him a chance. If you do end up holding him back, don't worry about changing schools, it's not that big of a deal at his age. If anything, he will just have more friends.

K., having repeated a year myself, I can tell you that I never really felt the stigma, and I did it half way through the year! I literally did a whole year of 2nd, 1/2 a yr of 3rd, 1/2 a year of 2nd & a whole year of 3rd, all at the same school. Doing it now will make it easier socially than doing it later.

With that said, do listen to the teachers. If you haven't already, read the books by Louise Bates Ames & Frances L. Ilg, Your Six Year Old...., or whichever book corresponds with your son's age. They'll give you great insight as to what to expect maturity wise.

I hope this helps

My husband had behavior problems when he was in elementary. He was bored. He is highly intelligent and would be able to complete his programs quickly, (the class pace was slow because of some of the students) and then had time to get into mischief. The teachers would put him up in the front of the class ( what were they thinking! ) where he'd get even more attention for his silly behavior. He finally got moved into an accelerated program. His outgoing personality and desire to interact with others had'nt changed, but was more contained because he was busy. By the way, he still has that kind of personality. He still likes to be silly and be the life of the party.

Sounds like you have had 2 teachers who have seen his academics and felt that his school work was fine and they would not hold him back. (If he is bored, he would get even more so going through that same stuff all over again.)

Some kids have certain foods that react in their bodies to form toxins which can cause high difficulty focusing/brain fog: SUGARS, (juices and yogurts are high in sugar), processed foods (like crackers), food colorings, MSG, and fermented foods,aged cheeses (malt, barley malt , vinegars )are some nasty culprits. Is he having more difficulty after lunch, (after he has eaten?)Are some days much worse than others?

Is there a way you could sneek into a class and observe for a few moments from the back of the room exactly what it is the teachers are reporting? Or sneak into a corner of the playground? Is there enough structure for the children? How does one teacher handle 20 children anyway? (They are all immature, techically speaking.)Just what is it they are expecting from a 6 yr. old boy? Is his behavior that far off from others his age?

Is there a discipline issue? You talked about behavior on the playground. Children that lack correct discipline or lack a respect for discipline will "push the envelope" and proper correction will get them back on the right road. "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child but the rod of correction will drive it far from him."
Repeating accademics will not change that, that has to come consistently from the adults that are around him, (not the children around him or repeating accademics.)

A good strong student is the one who loves to learn! Anyone can pick up a book at age 15, or 50, and learn. Our greatest presidents were self taught. They had a desire to do so. Being left behind and repeating a grade will snuff his spark for learning, the joy of discovering something new. That's where true learing occurs, in the joy of it. Repeating that grade will leave him bored, joyless, and lacking interest (after all why should he apply himself? he did this entire boring curriculum last year!)
He is smart enough to KNOW that he has been left behind. He is smart enough to be thinking, "I'm the one kid, out of all these kids, that couldnt make it, wasn't smart enough, wasn't good enough. I am a failure." This is a bad message to send a child at the very beginning of his school career, when he should be encouraged to explore his world with excitement and wonder, not the other way around.

If he is on grade level with his accademics I would move him to grade 2. (If he is behind on accademics and study skills I would still move him to grade 2 and get him a part time tutor to sharpen his study skills.) If it is a behavior issue I would tackle that at the same time. And I would improve his diet. and who knows, there could be others factors too. Attack it from all sides, but consider heavily the option to hold him back. That would be the easiest thing to do, but not necessarily the best.


My sister struggled with this for 5 or 6 years with her middle son. Finally by 6th grade his inmaturity was much more noticable and she kept him out a year, repeated the same grade but kept him at home to do it. This year he started 7th grade at a new school so that he didn't get teased or made fun of by the other kids.

She tells everyone if you have doubts it is better to hold them back when they are younger. She taught school for many years.

There are several families at our school that have held back in kindergarten for the same reason.

Rather than holding him back, it sounds like you may want to consider an evaluation for attention issues. If he isn't having academic problems and your concerns are more behavioral, this is an avenue to consider.

Been there/done that, as the mom of three who are all diagnosed as ADHD.

Hi, I've worked at an elementary school as an after-school provider for 13 years now. I've seen many kids over the years be held back for immaturity. Also, my son was held back in Kindergarten for related reasons. There is no stigma attached and the kids get over it rather quickly at this age. They meet new friends quickly and still have the friends on the school yard from the previous year. In fact, they quickly begin to start playing more with their new friends on the yard more than their previous ones. Especially if your child is on the young side (when is his birthday?), I agree that it's a good decision for you. He'll even have the perk to be head of the class academically. Schools are mandated to teach so much in so little time these days thanks to Pres Bush, so I'm a big advocate on allowing kids another year these days. They require too much for their young ages- we're about a year ahead of where we were 10 years ago, so it definitely can't hurt. Go for it! Moms know best, anyhow. ;) He'll be the leader next year and that's saying a lot for his future!

Both my children were young compared to their peers in Kindergarten. My son attended a different school that was not as focused on the developmental philosophy as their current one. Although Kindergarten was a rather difficult year for him, that school did not recommend holding him back. However, once he moved to the school where our children both are now, the 1st grade teacher wondered why it hadn't been suggested. He was doing quite well academically, but maturity was an issue and continues to be at times - he is now in 4th grade.

Our daughter started Kindergarten at the same school with the strong developmental philosophy. We were more aware of the maturity issue this time, and began speaking with the teacher about it at the beginning of the year. By the middle of the year, we had decided that although she was doing great academically, she really needed another year to mature emotionally and socially. Our daughter repeated Kindergarten and is now in 1st grade. It was the best decision we could have made for her! She is now the oldest child in her class, and instead of being a follower, she is a leader. She is able to focus, pay attention, and complete assignments, and her reading is far above age level - reading was an issue for her through most of both Kindergarten years. Although we periodically worried about the social stigma, the practice of recommending a second year of Kindergarten or 1st grade is so common at our school that most of the kids have just learned to accept the idea. We have friends whose daughter repeated 1st grade at the same school, and we consulted them when we were making our decision - they were extremely happy with the outcome as well. I hope that helps - I remember what a difficult choice it was for us to make. At this point, it feels like we gave our daughter a gift - the academic and social requirements only get harder from Kindergarten on! Good luck with your own decision! L. K.

Unless he is really struggling academically, or has major social issues my advice is NOT to hold him back. Parents love to hold their kids back now a days (especially families focused on sports for obvious reasons,) but in my experience, holding a child back that shouldn't be creates much worse problems.
2 of the 3 kids I nanny for were put into DK (developmental kindergarten) and should not have been.
First the older child was put there "for social reasons." Basically he was a total brat (he was very manipulative and controlling,) so they thought that one more year of preschool would straighten him out. He also was and remains to be one of the brightest kids I've ever known. Just to illustrate, he was 5 years old when he taught me how to play poker - this kid has the brain of a computer. So there were a few things that resulted from holding him back.
1. He was bored - thus caused lots of trouble all the way through elementary school. When kids are bored academically, they tend not to want to put ANY effort into their work.
2. He became a bully - Because he naturally has control issues and is highly competitive, when you put him with kids that are younger and easier to control, that is what he did. Throw into the mix that he had inconsistent boundaries at home, and you've got a real problem.
Luckily he's in Middle School this year and things have changed for the better. He's in really difficult classes and is being challenged and he is really excelling.
The youngest child was also put into DK for no reason at all other than the fact that his older brother went and the parents said that they didn't want to make the older child feel stupid, so they put the youngest there too... Nice parenting skills ehh?
Anyway, now we've run into the same problems with the youngest as well. Thank God he's an easier child in general, so no behavior problems, but he's totally bored academically. He's also frustrated that the kids in his class are "no match" for him physically. He doesn't even need to try to beat them at sport - which is no fun for him.
So basically here are 2 cases of silly reasons for holding back a kid, and 2 bad results.
As a side note, my birthday is in October, and I started kindergarten when I was 4, so I was always the youngest. In kindergarten and in first grade the teachers told my Mom that she should hold me back, but she said no, Thank God, because by the next year I caught up and sailed through school.
If your kid is having issues focusing, try less TV (things that don't require a long attention span for.) Read more, do more puzzles, etc. Good Luck :)

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