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Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from readers who have questions about their child’s behavior.Today’s question comes from Karen who asks,

“My son with autism is in 2nd grade and struggling with academics along with his social challenges. I am wondering if we should hold him back and keep him in 2nd grade next year. What are the things we should consider to help us with this decision?”

All parents ask this question from time to time–regardless of whether their child has a disability. Some parents hold children back so they will be older when they graduate. Others hold their children back so they will have a greater likelihood of excelling in sports. So, the good news is that you are not alone in thinking about this.

I think there are several issues to consider. Personally, I am opposed to holding a child back once they start school. Thus, if you intentionally start them a year later than their similar aged peers, I don’t believe the consequences are as severe as when you hold a child back once they have started school.

Peer Relationships are Formed

Children begin forming their peer groups on the first day of school. Yes, children begin forming relationships as early as preschool. Friendships formed at that age, can potentially last a lifetime. Once your child develops relationships, it will be detrimental to him/her to lose those relationships. Sometimes the mere separation from teacher to teacher can be enough to interfere with friendships. However, if the children remain in the same grade with different teachers, they will continue to share lunch time, recess, and some specials.

Holding your child back to repeat a grade separates him/her from friends. They must learn to fit in with social groups that have already been formed. They must eat lunch and play outside with a whole new crop of friends. If your child has issues socially, this could be an even more difficult time for him/her.

Child’s Self-Esteem

A child’s self-esteem may take a blow when they are asked to repeat a grade. Children know when their friends move on. Children know when they have to say “I’m in first grade again”. Even if you think your child is unaware, chances are he/she is fully aware, she just may lack the verbal skills to tell you.

Fitting In Size Wise

Depending on the month of your child’s birthday, when you first enrolled him/her in school, and general family genetics, your child’s height and weight (and subsequent puberty) may be an issue if you choose to hold them back. For example, if your child holds an August birthday and you choose to start 1st grade at age 7 rather than age 6 but then a couple of years later, your child repeats a grade, your child is now almost 2 years older than her classmates. Your child could be hitting puberty much sooner than her peers and she could be the victim of negative social attention for it. Moreover, the last thing you want is for your daughter to be the tallest girl in the grade (unless of course Basketball is in her future).

Research Shows Retention is Ineffective

A number of studies have been conducted on the long-term effects of grade retention, including social effects as well as academic effects. The research shows that grade retention does not result in the intended outcomes. In fact, some negative long-term effects include a greater risk of high school drop out as well as poor academic achievement.

Children Know and Remember

Finally, your child’s peers will know and remember that your child was held back. They will carry it with them over the years, “Oh yes, that’s Suzie, she was in 2nd grade with me and she had to repeat 2nd grade”. Children have so many other issues to over come, it seems odd that we would purposefully add another source of stress for them.

Resources

Here are some other resources you may find helpful:

Center for Development and Learning

National Association for School Psychologists (NASP)

A second post by NASP

Weigh In

I would love to hear from our readers on this one. Have you held your child back? How did it go or how is it going? Did your friends? Teachers and behavior analysts, what have your experiences been?

If you have a behavior question for Missy, email askmissy at applied behavioral strategies dot com.

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