ATTENTION: The following is a PSA (parent service announcement) about academically redshirting your kids and avoiding years of regret.
You’re the parent of a perfectly beautiful 5-year-old. A summer baby, this little bundle of joy is smart, funny, athletic and well-adjusted to their surroundings.
Surely they’re ready to take the next step and enter kindergarten. After all, your 60 Minutes-style interview with their preschool teacher has revealed exactly what you had hoped to hear: They’re academically and socially ready to take the next big step.
But before you make the plunge and forever change their lives, please remember these three easy words: Don’t. Do. It.
It’s the anti-Nike motto: Don’t do it.
Hold them back—or redshirt them, as you might say in college football circles. Wait until they’re nearly a year older than the summer birthday kids whose parents failed to read this column.
Yes, this is a confessional of sorts—the confession of a parent of a pair of awesome summer birthday children who would give his 401K (or what’s left of it now) to be back in that same conversation with those preschool teachers.
I would redshirt my kids every day of the week and twice on Super Bowl Sunday.
There are two debates I will never lose: 1) Never find out the gender of your baby until your wife pops them out, and 2) The Houston Astros should have to hand over their trophy and rings to every member of the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers.
Now I’ve got a third one: 3) Redshirt your summer birthday kids.
I get the reason people don’t. Believe me, I get it.
For five years you’ve watched literally every step in your child’s development. You’ve changed the diapers, posted their first steps on your Facebook feed, read to them every chance you had and forced them listen to Bach because, heck—you never know.
You’ve also saved their life more time than you can count—from falling down the stairs, walking in front of a car in the parking lot, eating whatever that was on the floor …
And you’ve also watched how they mix in with others the same age. And, of course, you compare. And you compare. And you compare.
By the time it’s decision day, an unhealthy competitiveness washes over you—and in my case, it gets the best of you. Why in the world would you wait to send your child to kindergarten if they’re ready to roll with the big boys and girls? Why would you “hold them back” when they seem smart enough, athletic enough and mature enough to hang with kids in their age bracket?
Well, let me tell you why. Because being the youngest kid in class—or at least among the youngest—stinks.
Look, my kids are awesome. I’ve said that already, but it bears repeating over and over. One is a junior at Texas Tech; the other is a sophomore in high school. Both are hard-working, great kids.
But throughout their adolescence, I watched them always having to play catch-up. Both missed making the final cuts on a sports team—teams they would have made a year later when they were among the oldest kids in their grade. Neither has taken leadership roles in classes, on teams or with their friends. Despite having a pair of Type A parents, both my kids are relatively shy to step forward.
Kids who are on the older side have a decided advantage. They’re the leaders. They’re more confident. They’re more likely to step forward. That’s just the way it’s always been since probably second or third grade, and research says things don’t always even out in junior high or high school.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called Outliers, and unfortunately I read the dang thing after I decided to send my kids to kindergarten “on time.” In it, Gladwell breaks down the keys to success for youth players in Canadian hockey leagues. It all boils down to when they were born: On roster after roster of successful youth teams, a majority of the kids were all born in the same months of the year—the months that would put those kids on the older side of the eligibility age.
It was a compelling case.
After reading that I started examining rosters of the local youth leagues I was coaching in and found that the same rule applied: Kids that were so-called superstars in 8U dad pitch were often 10 or 11 months older than my son. Those same kids were then propped up and propelled into select programs earlier, thus getting better coaching, more games against good competition and so on and so forth. The young kids are playing catch-up from the jump.
If I knew then what I know now … I loathe that sentence and live that sentence like the rest of us. Zigging when you should have zagged will keep you up at night and is likely the reason drug company executives live like kings.
Regret is a beating and we should all just leave it in the rearview mirror and move on. (Yeah, sounds good doesn’t it? Wish it were that easy.) Obviously, I’m writing this column as both a warning to others and perhaps as therapy for myself.
I’m hoping it serves as both.
Rudy Klancnik is a freelance writer in Flower Mound who in his spare time runs the partnership programs for the UIL and Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.
Image courtesy of iStock.