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Repeating a Grade

Is it ever wise to have a child repeat a grade? Or does retention create such emotional problems for a child that they outweigh any academic gains? This is a very difficult question. You need to consider several factors.

A major concern should be gaining an understand­ing of why your child is experiencing difficulty in the first place. The assumption that your child will auto­matically do better going through the same material a second time is a pretty big one. What if there is no improvement? Here’s a better question: If our child repeats this grade, what will be done differently the second time around to ensure success?

The decision to retain a child is an action that needs to be well planned. And the planning should be done well in advance. Parents and teachers should already be discussing the possibility of retention by the middle of the school year. This is not the kind of decision that can be put off until the last few weeks. Furthermore, both parents and teacher need to be in complete agreement that retention is in the child’s best interest. They must both have a clear idea of what each will do to make the next school year a successful one.

Generally speaking, it is best to retain a child in the earlier grades (kindergarten, first, or second grade). Holding a child back beyond that point may cause more emotional problems. For some children who struggle in kindergarten, it may be better to place the child into first grade with the common understanding from the start that the child will spend two years in first grade.

Oftentimes children are held back in school because they are immature. That term, however, can be very mis­leading. On what basis do you make such a judgment? The immature child is somewhat likely to be one of the younger children in the class and is likely to display more childish social behavior. He or she may not fit in as well with peers, preferring to interact with younger chil­dren. Often the so-called immature child is also more physically immature.

Several other things may also need to be consid­ered. If your child has a specific learning disability, retention will not solve the learning problem. A child with more limited intellectual ability will also not nec­essarily gain from retention. The bright, unmotivated child will not gain from retention. Also, if a child is more than a year behind in the development of aca­demic skills, retention will likely not help. Finally, if your child is experiencing emotional problems, reten­tion should not be considered.

Family concerns also need to be considered. Will your child be in the same grade with a sibling? Are both you and your spouse in full agreement about retention?

For children who have average intellectual ability but for some reason have fallen behind, retention may be a wise choice. Perhaps they missed a lot of days in school because of sickness. Perhaps their transfer into a more challenging school requires them to take a little more time to catch up.

Retention should always be seen as a positive action to help a child learn. It should never be used as a pun­ishment for doing poor work.

The most important step in the retention process is telling the child. Because this is a decision that the par­ents and the teacher make for the child, he or she will need reassurance of their love and concern. Parents need to tell their child that retention will help him or her have an easier time in school and that this decision is not intended as a punishment.


From Patient Parenting, by John Juern. © 2006 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Public Domain Pictures, Pixabay (used under Creative Commons CC0)

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