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Should You Hold Your Child Back a Grade?

Expert advice for when it does and doesn’t make sense to redshirt your kid.

As parents, we play an important role in keeping our children on track academically. And recently, the Texas legislature gave parents an even stronger voice in their child’s early education. A law passed last year allows families to decide to hold back their children in pre-K ­through third grade.

Surprisingly, about one in 10 students across the country repeat at least one grade. Similarly, many parents elect to “redshirt” their kids—postponing kindergarten by a year to give them more time for socioemotional, intellectual or even physical growth.

But knowing that these early grades provide a strong foundation for both academic and social skills, there’s a lot to think about when making that decision. If you’re considering holding your child back, here are some things to keep in mind.

Important Considerations for Holding Back a Grade

If you’re considering redshirting a kindergartner, it’s often because you have a suspicion that something’s not quite right. So, what’s next?

“First, consider your child’s birth date,” says Ann DeVille, a certified teacher and therapeutic educational consultant with Student Solutions in Southlake. “Sometimes kids born later in the year are not as ready to start school. Maybe they’re on the hyperactive side, or they’re a little too shy to interact with other kids their age.” If they go to preschool or daycare, ask their teachers if they’re keeping up in class and able to follow simple directions.

RELATED: Is Your Child Ready for Preschool?

With older students, there’s more to consider. “Of course, we’re always going to look at grades, but that doesn’t always give a clear picture,” says Brittany Lopez, a certified teacher and educational therapist with Brighter Futures in Arlington. “Ask about the biggest foundational skills in your child’s grade level and if your child grasps those concepts at all, because that’s what they’re going to be building on from year to year.”

Also take note of what you’re seeing at home: How’s homework going? What’s the frustration level? How’s your child’s self-esteem?

Before making any big decisions, meet with your child’s teacher and school administrators to discuss your options. Consider a transitional or extension program for kids that aren’t quite ready for kindergarten. “Look at a summer program, some reinforcement during the school year or extra tutoring over the summer for older kids,” DeVille says.

Also consider diagnostic testing such as a psychoeducational evaluation to detect potential underlying issues. “Sometimes they’re offered at school, sometimes parents go to a private psychologist because schools don’t always catch learning disabilities,” DeVille says. “It’s a way for parents to get more concrete data.”

Lopez agrees. “Sometimes the problem’s just a specific teacher, in a specific environment that’s not a good fit,” she says.

Pros and Cons of Holding Your Child Back

In years past, research focused on the potential pitfalls of grade retention, such as fitting in with younger classmates now and in the future and the perceived stigma attached to being a year behind. But new studies focus on something different: holding back kids who don’t meet academic standards gives them an advantage in academic achievement.

“Holding back a child can really give them the foundational skills they need,” Lopez says. “School’s going to be a lot easier going forward. If you don’t step in and say, ‘Let’s slow down a little bit,’ school might always be difficult.” DeVille agrees. “It snowballs unless there’s some interventions put into place.”

“Be mindful of how you frame that decision as a parent and how teachers, principals or school administrators do, too.”

That’s true beyond academics. “If your child is not quite academically ready to sit still or maintain focus for extended periods or socially ready to connect with other peers, it could give them an edge ahead,” DeVille says. “Your kid has a little bit more maturity, experience, self-control, ability to focus.”

But she cautions parents about the socioemotional pitfalls. “I don’t think it’s always the best idea to hold older kids back, unless you’re moving from one school to another,” she says. “That makes it a little easier because there’s no pre-existing peer group to tease them. Even in kindergarten, kids start making relationships and friendships, and if they get held back it’s like a cloud that follows them.” Plus, if an older child has already been through that grade level, there’s a chance they can get bored and distracted easily, considering they’ve already learned the material.

“To me, it’s a real balancing act,” Lopez says. “Is the child’s self-esteem going to be more hurt by knowing they’re being held back and separated from friendships they’ve made or are they really just being ‘held back’ from constantly struggling and not feeling capable? We need to look at the mental and emotional aspects for the child and ask which one will affect them more.”

If you do decide to hold back your child, look on the bright side. “Be mindful of how you frame that decision as a parent and how teachers, principals or school administrators do, too,” DeVille says. “Say to your child, ‘This is your chance to get ahead. You have done all this. Maybe this time you can help other kids too. This is a fresh start.’”

RELATED: Emotionally Preparing Your Toddler for Preschool

This article was originally published in December 2022.

Image: iStock