Parent Experience of Holding a Child Back a Grade

From the parents who had their child held back - for development reasons, academic struggles or otherwise - the consensus is the pros outweighed any cons. Here are the voices of experience.


While you may be worried, parents share that kids make new friends quickly. One mother shared their child made even MORE friends. Children’s self esteem grows as they gain more confidence in the classroom. School becomes fun. Here are what parents say:


Repeating First Grade:

“Both my sons have late birthdays and both repeated grades. One repeated Kindergarten and one repeated 1st grade. The one who repeated Kindergarten was quite a bit behind and the one who repeated first was actually doing okay academically but was really having to struggle to keep up, to the point where he wasn't enjoying school.  Long story short, we agonized but in retrospect it was one of the best decisions we've made. Both boys had great years and both were able to really master the fundamentals before moving on. In the case of the son who repeated first grade it was a real boost for him and he's done very well and been far more relaxed ever since.

The things that swayed us were 1) that the teachers really believed it would be best for them 2) everyone we spoke to who did this was overwhelmingly positive about it and finally 3) on the basis of having done it once and seen it bear such great fruit, we were much more relaxed about doing it again. It also had the benefit of doubling the number of friends they had.

Although it may make parents a little nervous, for kids it can be really great. These years are the foundation for later learning so it's really important that kids grasp all the basic skills. The thing is, every kid learns at his or her own pace, especially early on. It' snot a race and, so far it has been our experience that, like the fable, our little tortoises are doing just fine.”


From a parent teacher, trust your teacher:

“What do your child's teachers recommend? Is he so far behind that he doesn't meet the promotional criteria on his IEP?

Holding a child back can work both ways. As a 3rd grade teacher, I have found that children who are held back feel bad about it initially, but develop tremendous self esteem when they find that they understand and are able to do the work in September. Children are resilient and make new friends quickly.

Promoting a struggling child can set off a downward academic spiral where the child never feels successful and is always behind. The work is always just out of his or her grasp. Self esteem diminishes as the work gets more complicated.

On the other hand, children who are held back to give them a leg-up can end up bored silly, and sometimes refuse to work or develop behavior problems because they are bored.

 Consult with the teachers, if you haven't already. Best of luck!”


Be sure to address development issues as well:

“One thing to consider is whether your son's focus problem is developmental - that is, will he grow out of it on his own - or is it a neurological inability to focus that medication can help. If you haven't yet, and can afford to do so, consider having your child evaluated privately. The public school evaluations can only tell you what the problem might be, but are not nearly thorough enough to pinpoint a cause or a solution.”


On repeating Kindergarten:

Remember, every child has a different learning style - and repeating a grade is not a “bad” thing:


“My son repeated kindergarten and it worked out well for him.   He is now and sixth grade and really enjoys school.  He was sad at first about some friends moving on to another grade without him but he got over this pretty quickly and made new friends.  He has been appropriately challenged academically and socially.  I think this is the hard thing to figure out hopefully teachers can help you make this decision.  Some kids need to be challenged constantly and then they rise to this challenge.  Some kids seem to do better being more relaxed and comfortable.  Good luck.”


The hardest part was coping with anxiety of telling the children - but you shouldn’t even worry about that:


“Both my sons have late birthdays and both repeated a grade, one first grade and one kindergarten. It was recommended to us but it was ultimately our decision in both cases. In one instance our son was actually managing keep up and do fairly well, but the effort it took to only just start to get things as kids a full year older were already moving on was putting him off school. In the second it was just clear that our son needed more time to master the fundamentals.

Anyway, in both cases it worked out fantastically. The hardest part was our anxiety about telling them. In the end just presented it in a matter of fact way - and they pretty much accepted it. The social issues were pretty much in our own heads, not in our kids. The school made it seem like the most natural thing in the world and the friends of the son who stayed back in Kindergarten were jealous of him because first grade was so much harder.

They ended up with a whole new crop of friends in addition to the kids they knew from the year before (who they stayed friendly with) so that was great too.

When they did move on, they were much more confident, picked things up faster and were socially very at home.

We have no regrets and knowing what we know now, we'd do it all again in a heartbeat. Only I'd skip the self-torture, agonizing part this time.

No one I have ever talked to who has done this regrets the decision - that in itself is very reassuring and now having done it with our sons, I feel very positive about it. It really isn't a race and some kids need a little more time to adjust to the swing of things. It's much better to do it when they are young so that they have a solid basis on which to move forward.

If you have a school administration who care this deeply that your child make a good start, on the basis of our two very positive experiences, I'd treat that as a gift and go with it.”


More advice from a parent teacher - the long term benefits are what you really need to consider:


“My children are younger and I have not faced this decision in my own family.  I am, however, a New York State certified secondary English teacher and have worked in education in public and private middle & high schools for over 10 years now.

I wanted to chime in only to share that in the long-term the academic and social benefits to boys of being older as they get in to middle and high school are indeed enormous.  It has always seemed to me that it is better for boys to feel master the material and skills necessary early in elementary school rather than try to accelerate (for no reason, as there's no apparent benefit, as far as I can see, to rushing through elementary and secondary education) only to find themselves struggling later, when there's so much going on socially and academically.

This was my advice to my sister, who had the option of putting her socially very astute and very bright son in kindergarten or having him stay in pre-school for an extra year to catch up in terms of his attention, stamina, etc.  Having stayed in pre-school an extra year, he's now in kindergarten at his Westchester public school and doing great, but the demands of kindergarten (staying in his seat, paying attention for longer periods of time, managing in a classroom with more kids) have been real for him; he's exhausted at the end of the day from all the energy he expends at school.  It's been a good thing that his family didn't rush him.

Finally, I now work in independent school admissions (middle & high school) and younger boys can really struggle in the admissions process because they are just so young in so many ways.  Even if they have top math scores, if they come across as young in an interview or if their report card comments and/or teacher recommendations suggest the youngster is young in nature, that has a negative impact on those reading the application.  I actually have heard of at least one private school that wouldn't look at boy applicants for grade 9 if their birthdays were before a particular dat - not sure if that is still the case at that school.  

Hope this perspective is helpful and good luck in making your decision.”


Another perspective:


“My own son is way too young as well to have any personal experience with this, but I can share my husband’s perspective from his own experience.  His parents progressed his older brother, who although genius smart was very reclusive by nature, inward-focused, and shy.  He ended up struggling somewhat, not academically, but socially, so the parents ended up being regretful that they didn’t hold him back one extra year, as they felt he would have benefited from it, and it would have given him extra time for some social maturation.  (Today he is happily married with 2 gorgeous kiddos and is a very successful CTO of a technology company, so he has not suffered in the long-term, but he did have some challenging periods all the way through college.)  

My husband is 5 years younger than his brother, so when he was school age, his parents decided to learn from their experience with their first son and held him back one year.  However, my husband is also brilliant (but in a totally different way), has a very outgoing, loquacious personality, and he is always chomping at the bit to go-go-go!   To this day, he is eternally frustrated that they held him back, and he feels that he “lost a year.”  He ended up with all of his friends being one year older in school, and still tends to compare himself with folks who have had more opportunity to accomplish things, and wishes he had that “extra year” that he could have been doing stuff, instead of being stuck in school twiddling his thumbs.

So, I would imagine that the decision should be based more on your son’s personality, rather than on academic accomplishments.”


Think about extra help like summer school to catch up instead:


I was in a similar situation many years ago with my daughter who just turned 13 years old and is finishing 7th grade. My daughter's kindergarten teacher also recommended that my daughter repeat kindergarten. My daughter had a difficult kindergarten year due to the transition from preschool to kindergarten, the teacher's style, learning disabilities and developmental issues. My daughter was also in an inclusion class with an IEP.  We ended up switching her IEP to 12 months and sent her to the summer school program for special Ed kindergarteners. We were fortunate because my daughter attended the Children's School which had this program. My daughter had a fantastic teacher that summer and caught up academically and entered first grade on grade level. Plus she had fun and enjoyed the program. I think it is better to go to summer school for a summer instead of camp than have to repeat kindergarten. It gives you the option of assessing your child's progress at the end of the summer and making a judgement call at that time. At any rate,I hope this is helpful. Good luck!



I would suggest talking to Sharon Peters of Parents Helping Parents.” Read more recommendations of Sharon’s services on her Park Slope Parents review page here.

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Related Reading:

Redshirting Kindergarten