I have a son who was born in August. He is very smart, but a bit immature. Throughout all of his schooling so far, including preschool, we have struggled with the decision to hold him back a year. In Kindergarten, we asked his teacher again if we should hold him back a year. He was clearly immature for his class. The teacher, whom I adore, told us that he was too smart to be held back. She was concerned that if we held him back, he would become bored and then turn into a behavior problem. She also suggested for us to have him tested for the Gifted Program.
That son is now in third grade and I am now a teacher. He is in the Gifted Program, but he is still the youngest and a very immature boy. I wish now that we would have just listened to our gut and held him back when he was younger. He makes straight As for the most part, but does tend to lag in the maturity area, which causes problems like missing assignments and a lack of many friends his age. As a parent, it’s very sad to watch.
Now that I teach, I see this issue more and I get the question more often. Many parents think that if their child is academically ready for the next grade, then that is all there is to think about. However, I see that as one of the smaller things to think about in terms of making this difficult decision. In many classes, there will be children ranging over a year apart in age. The age isn’t near as important as the maturity level, though.
There are three main areas I look for when evaluating whether or not a student is ready to move on to the next grade level. First is academically, of course. Then, I look at their social and emotional maturity. There are several students who are smart and ready academically to move on, but who lack the social and/or emotional maturity to move to the next grade.
Why are those important?
Socially mature students are able to make friends and handle social situations at an age appropriate level. For instance, let’s pretend that two preschool students are arguing over a building block or other toy. The more mature student will stand up for himself, usually verbally and explain why they should have the toy. Now, they may not be correct in their explanation because they are still very self centered at this age. However, a less socially mature child will typically just yank the toy away and cry or pitch a fit if they do no get their way. Many of these social skills must be taught at the beginning of the year and reinforced throughout the year. The younger the child is socially, the harder this is to learn and put into action, though.
An emotionally immature child will also cry a lot for little things. An example here is a child who does not know how to play with a toy. Instead of asking for help, they will many times just sit and cry. A piece of advice I often give to parents to help with this is to stop anticipating their needs. How do you do that? Basically, unless it is an emergency, do not automatically do things for them or help them. Teach them to ask so that they start becoming a bit more self sufficient. When children learn and are able to do tasks themselves, they develop self esteem. Many children who are emotionally immature tend to have low self esteem. Give them tasks to do which they can master. Then, make sure they are comfortable asking for help when they need it. Don’t fuss at them for asking for help. Although you don’t want to do things for them that they are able to do for themselves, you want them to be comfortable asking for help when it is truly needed.
If you are questioning whether or not to hold your child back, talk to their teacher. While they may not always be 100% certain either, they can give you insight to how your child interacts in a classroom that may help you with a decision. Also, I have never once heard a parent say that they wished they would not have held their children back a year. However, I have heard many parents say they wish they had held the child back a year.