Can you hold back a child in middle school?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 27, 2009 06:00 AM

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Question: My 11-year-old son is in the 7th grade, and we are now kicking ourselves that we didn't hold him back in Kindergarten. Although he's intelligent and happy, his performance in school is inconsistent - he'll do really well in some subjects but not others, or do well for a while and then suddenly do poorly. Eventually he gets Bs and B-pluses, which he's fine with, but we feel he could be doing much better. He has several very nice friends, but often prefers to be alone, is laid back, and loves to daydream. We try not to overschedule him with activities so he'll have enough down time. He does some sports for enjoyment and exercise, but is not very competitive. Is there a way to give him an extra year in Middle School? I'm really worried that come 9th grade, he'll not have the discipline to do well in our very rigorous High School.

From: Judy, Scarsdale, NY

Hi Judy,

This is not very common, but it's not as rare as it once was and it rarely is it the disaster it was years ago when it was a serious trauma for the child. But before you seriously consider holding back, I hope you re-examine your motives. That he's getting B's and B+ instead of A's? That his performance is inconsistent? That he has friends but likes to be by himself, too? That he enjoys sports? Sounds like a pretty typical kid to me.

That said, I know of several families where parents have given their child an extra year in middle school with great success. I know of one where it was a disaster.

Here's what happened with the disaster: (1) They didn't discuss it with their son, they just told him it was happening; (2) They had him repeat a year at his current school against the advice of the administration. He was mercilessly teased by classmates from his original grade and consequently marginalized by his new classmates. (3) The school was small and there was no way for him to have all new teachers, so he essentially repeated the exact same year he had just had. He was bored and miserable on every level.

In the success stories, the child switched to a new school. One family was able to register their child out-of-district within their public school system. They had to deal with transportation issues but there was no social stigma for him in repeating a grade because he barely knew anyone. Because it was a new school, teachers didn't have preconceived notions about him and, while some of the material was the same, the approaches were different enough for him not to be bored. I also know of one family who moved to a new town in order for their child to repeat, kind of an extreme reaction but the boy did well and, in fact, never knew that was why the family moved.

Other families have gone the private school route. (Before you dismiss this out of hand, more private schools than you may realize offer a combination of financial aid, scholarships and tuition payment plans and they accept new students in varying numbers each year.) The advantages here are obvious, especially if you catch it at an entry level year when your child is entering with an entire new class. Even if not, there are always a few new students and, because this is something the schools do routinely, the entries tend to be pretty smooth.

In any case, even if, in the end, there is a certain amount of parental insistence ("I know you don't want to do this, but we think it's what's best for you, and it's our job to make this decision."), there must be a process by which a child has a chance to be part of discussions. (You may do lots of investigation first, though, without his involvement.) I know of one family where the daughter agreed to repeat a grade at a different middle school only because she would end up at the same high school as her elementary school friends. She was a year behind them, of course, but she had a great time because she had friends in both grades.

Lastly, before you make any decisions, let the school know what you are thinking and why. This is their business, after all, They may have some ideas for you.


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16 comments so far...
  1. Just wanted to add to Barbara's advice about the possibility of the private school route. Some private elementary schools offer a ninth grade option for kids who just don't quite seem ready for high school. They can then proceed to tenth grade somewhere else, or do a second ninth grade year at a high school.

    It might also be possible that this child might find a better fit at another school, regardless of grade placement.

    Posted by gastrogal October 27, 09 06:48 AM
  1. Sounds like Mom wants her son to be something that he is not. What in the world is wrong with a 7th grader who is laid back, likes to be alone, daydreams, and plays some sports?? Is the only reason she wants to hold him back is to bring those B's to A's? Very strange.

    Posted by B.B. October 27, 09 07:35 AM
  1. Mom, you need to think back to where you were at that age. He sounds like a typical 7th grader to me. And, what's wrong with doing well in some classes and not as well in others? Being laid back is a trait that is sorely missing in this insane world. Let him alone and stop knitpicking.

    Posted by Dotwelder October 27, 09 09:18 AM
  1. 7th grade is often when school gets harder, and so it is not at all unusual for a child to be inconsistent in performance -- it takes getting used to. And honestly *most* kids are better in some subjects and worse in others. That describes most people. And many kids struggle with keeping effort and performance up consistently -- so that his performance drops off after a while is not something to worry about, really. He pulls up to Bs and B+s by the end? Great! Those are honor roll grades and something to be proud of.

    I understand a parent's worry when a child could do better but is not. However, here is something to remember: Most of us, at one point or another, got this cliche comment on our report card: "Not working up to potential."

    As for the social aspects, he is laid back rather than competitive. That isn't something to cure; and it is not the sort of thing a year back will change. He is who he is. He does not sound like a social butterfly, but again that isn't something to cure; as long as his alone time does not isolate him. he sounds just fine.

    Posted by jlen October 27, 09 09:41 AM
  1. One word -- Scarsdale. Sort of like Lake Wobegon, where everyone's child is "above average." Why would another year of middle school suddenly light a fire under a laid-back kid? Unless he switches into a much more challenging program for another 7th and then 8th grade, why couldn't they use the regularly scheduled 9th grade year to "ramp up" into higher level academic work? Sounds like they expect the son to be competitive right from the start....but there's no guarantee of that, no matter how many times he repeats 7th grade! Why not go the tutoring route now, or academic clubs or enrichment, rather than repeating? If high academic achievement is just not his thing, why not spend the time getting to know what *is*?

    Posted by serafina October 27, 09 09:44 AM
  1. I think the mom needs to be VERY specific about what HER issues are with this typical 11-year-old. Either there are things going on that she's not telling or she's disappointed that she doesn't have a Super-Achiever.

    Maybe he's not mastering all subjects with ease like he might have in elementary school. This happened to me, too. I was "the brain" in grade school, but once subjects like math and science got more difficult in junior high, I was not an all-A student anymore either. Not to mention the change in social issues, starting hormones, and more fun!

    I'm sure glad my parents didn't consider me a failure and humiliate me by keeping me back a grade.

    He plays sports, he has nice friends, he's making B's, he's "intelligent and happy". Sounds like someone with whom most parents would be delighted.

    So, truly, what IS your problem?

    Posted by just_cos October 27, 09 10:47 AM
  1. My kid is also a B student, who enjoys being alone and tinkering with mechanical stuff. That is just who he is. His brother is an A student who prefers the company of female friends to male friends. That's just who he is. Why not just go out on a limb and accept your kids as they are, rather than what you wish them to be?

    Posted by BMS October 27, 09 11:03 AM
  1. Sounds like my son, who is so very different from me!

    I was a super-achiever who got one B in her lifetime, organized, motivated, with lots of friends. But you know, I was also one to two years younger than everyone else in my grade. So it's not the age thing; being older isn't a guarantee of maturity. I was just a different person. Holding someone back won't change that person fundamentally.

    It may be hard, Judy--especially in your circle of friends, I'm guessing--but you should probably accept that your son might not ever want the same things that you do for him. I would LOVE for my son to go to my alma mater (Harvard) but I doubt it's going to happen. He's much less driven. But he's HAPPY.

    Besides, it sounds as though your son is on track to go to a very respectable college where he could finally find THE thing that lights a fire underneath him. Some people are late bloomers, but even if not, at least you won't drive him into therapy!

    Posted by mom of 11 year old boy October 27, 09 11:07 AM
  1. ..........."we feel he could do better." The problem here is not the 7th grader, but the parents.

    Posted by lovinknit October 27, 09 01:55 PM
  1. In all probability, this B-B+ student from SCARSDALE is going to be in the top 10% of all students in the US when he gets to college. But it's SCARSDALE, where less than perfect does not count. I hope that the guidance counselor and principal laugh in this woman's face and send her to counseling, which she, not her poor son, desperately needs.

    Posted by delilah October 27, 09 02:50 PM
  1. Excellent point, delilah!

    Posted by just_cos October 27, 09 04:08 PM
  1. I haven't read the other comments, but it seems like he's a regular kid. We all have ups and downs, times we prefer to be alone and times we want to be social.

    Maybe the poster isn't being totally forthright, and the concern is based on something more radical with the question being tempered so as not to face judgment. If that's the case, how about getting the child evaluated by a professional to see if there are emotional problems present.

    If not, if the post is truly indicative of how things really are, it sounds like he could do well from extra challenge if it's presented well at home. I tutored a kid in math where I had to teach him math and the mother to stop telling him why he's bad in math. She was his problem, and she was only trying to protect his feelings. Once I had them both trained, he did much better.

    Posted by Kar Giver October 27, 09 04:24 PM
  1. Substitute NEWTON for SCARSDALE and you have the same issue. Why not just move to Pootstown Falls, Ohio so that your kid can be the biggest, smartest, fastest...valedictorian and head of the football team. Then he can go to [INSERT PRESTIGIOUS NAME BRAND SCHOOL HERE] (based on geographic diversity), which is what you are really looking for. Good grief. Delilah is right.

    Posted by ischmidlapp October 27, 09 06:15 PM
  1. Your son's behavior sounds a great deal like my son in 7th grade. I couldn't figure out why his grades were so inconsistent. A's one day and C's or D's the next. He is also a great day dreamer. He is a very quiet kid so it was hard for his teachers to tell when he wasn't paying attention in class. My son also had challenges with keeping his binder clean and organized. It was always a mess. Although I thought about getting help for him in 7th grade, I did not follow through as I was not sure what direction to go in.

    In 9th grade things seemed to get worse, his grades continued to be inconsistent and he was spending 4 1/2 hours on homework a night which was 3 to 4 times more than the typical 9th grader in his school.

    At that point I took him to his pediatrician and he was diagnosed with ADD inattentive and put on medication. Within a couple of weeks his grades went up a full letter grade and he started spending 1 hour to 1 at1/2 hours a night on homework.

    Before you keep your son back a grade I suggest you consult your pediatrician/school system and see if you can get your son evaluated by a professional for learning disabilities. It may mean he can stay in his current grade, he just needs some accomodations to make him successful.

    Posted by Linda H October 27, 09 10:05 PM
  1. "I would LOVE for my son to go to my alma mater (Harvard) but I doubt it's going to happen. He's much less driven. But he's HAPPY."

    And besides, the population is growing a lot faster than Harvard's capacity is! Chances are there will be a lot more 16-18 year olds on Earth when your son turns that age and applies to college then there were when you were that age and applying to college, but a similar % of that age group's population applying to Harvard. No wonder Harvard's acceptance rate is dropping and it's rejecting more and more qualified students who can do the work there!

    "Sounds like Mom wants her son to be something that he is not. What in the world is wrong with a 7th grader who is laid back, likes to be alone, daydreams, and plays some sports?? Is the only reason she wants to hold him back is to bring those B's to A's? Very strange."

    She said "He has several very nice friends, but often prefers to be alone, is laid back, and loves to daydream." Is her problem that he sometimes prefers to be alone, or that he has several very nice friends and sometimes prefers to be with them?

    Some people do have a problem with their kids wanting to be social and interact with people outside the family instead of being unsocial enough for the rest of the family. Check out the exchange here:

    http://www.aspiesforfreedom.com/showthread.php?tid=12544

    Shnoing wrote:

    "I've got a bit of a bad conscience regarding our NT son because I've got the impression that I should have put more pressure on him when it comes to performance at school."

    tenaciouscj looked on the bright side of having a son like that with:

    "Networking, interpersonal skills and just plain old hard work and a bit of luck seem to be the factors most likely to be associated with financial success in later life. Good marks are but part of that equation."

    Louise18 backlashed against that on page 4 of the thread with:

    "Don't you want your children to be self starters who are their own person? I would want my children to be stronger than to conform to peer pressure, or to laze around just because they were bored. If you aren't good with people then the other way to be successful is to do well academically and either enter the professions, or if you are intelligent enough academia."

    Posted by Leslie October 31, 09 09:26 AM
  1. people in scarsdale need to calm down and realize not every kids from there is going to IVY league, there are only so many spots. I have friends who have moved there and already greatly assumed that the kids will get into IVY schools,. I think alot of it is up to the kid. Not all kids excel be it Scarsdale or some other similar school.

    Posted by KK September 25, 10 11:44 PM
 
16 comments so far...
  1. Just wanted to add to Barbara's advice about the possibility of the private school route. Some private elementary schools offer a ninth grade option for kids who just don't quite seem ready for high school. They can then proceed to tenth grade somewhere else, or do a second ninth grade year at a high school.

    It might also be possible that this child might find a better fit at another school, regardless of grade placement.

    Posted by gastrogal October 27, 09 06:48 AM
  1. Sounds like Mom wants her son to be something that he is not. What in the world is wrong with a 7th grader who is laid back, likes to be alone, daydreams, and plays some sports?? Is the only reason she wants to hold him back is to bring those B's to A's? Very strange.

    Posted by B.B. October 27, 09 07:35 AM
  1. Mom, you need to think back to where you were at that age. He sounds like a typical 7th grader to me. And, what's wrong with doing well in some classes and not as well in others? Being laid back is a trait that is sorely missing in this insane world. Let him alone and stop knitpicking.

    Posted by Dotwelder October 27, 09 09:18 AM
  1. 7th grade is often when school gets harder, and so it is not at all unusual for a child to be inconsistent in performance -- it takes getting used to. And honestly *most* kids are better in some subjects and worse in others. That describes most people. And many kids struggle with keeping effort and performance up consistently -- so that his performance drops off after a while is not something to worry about, really. He pulls up to Bs and B+s by the end? Great! Those are honor roll grades and something to be proud of.

    I understand a parent's worry when a child could do better but is not. However, here is something to remember: Most of us, at one point or another, got this cliche comment on our report card: "Not working up to potential."

    As for the social aspects, he is laid back rather than competitive. That isn't something to cure; and it is not the sort of thing a year back will change. He is who he is. He does not sound like a social butterfly, but again that isn't something to cure; as long as his alone time does not isolate him. he sounds just fine.

    Posted by jlen October 27, 09 09:41 AM
  1. One word -- Scarsdale. Sort of like Lake Wobegon, where everyone's child is "above average." Why would another year of middle school suddenly light a fire under a laid-back kid? Unless he switches into a much more challenging program for another 7th and then 8th grade, why couldn't they use the regularly scheduled 9th grade year to "ramp up" into higher level academic work? Sounds like they expect the son to be competitive right from the start....but there's no guarantee of that, no matter how many times he repeats 7th grade! Why not go the tutoring route now, or academic clubs or enrichment, rather than repeating? If high academic achievement is just not his thing, why not spend the time getting to know what *is*?

    Posted by serafina October 27, 09 09:44 AM
  1. I think the mom needs to be VERY specific about what HER issues are with this typical 11-year-old. Either there are things going on that she's not telling or she's disappointed that she doesn't have a Super-Achiever.

    Maybe he's not mastering all subjects with ease like he might have in elementary school. This happened to me, too. I was "the brain" in grade school, but once subjects like math and science got more difficult in junior high, I was not an all-A student anymore either. Not to mention the change in social issues, starting hormones, and more fun!

    I'm sure glad my parents didn't consider me a failure and humiliate me by keeping me back a grade.

    He plays sports, he has nice friends, he's making B's, he's "intelligent and happy". Sounds like someone with whom most parents would be delighted.

    So, truly, what IS your problem?

    Posted by just_cos October 27, 09 10:47 AM
  1. My kid is also a B student, who enjoys being alone and tinkering with mechanical stuff. That is just who he is. His brother is an A student who prefers the company of female friends to male friends. That's just who he is. Why not just go out on a limb and accept your kids as they are, rather than what you wish them to be?

    Posted by BMS October 27, 09 11:03 AM
  1. Sounds like my son, who is so very different from me!

    I was a super-achiever who got one B in her lifetime, organized, motivated, with lots of friends. But you know, I was also one to two years younger than everyone else in my grade. So it's not the age thing; being older isn't a guarantee of maturity. I was just a different person. Holding someone back won't change that person fundamentally.

    It may be hard, Judy--especially in your circle of friends, I'm guessing--but you should probably accept that your son might not ever want the same things that you do for him. I would LOVE for my son to go to my alma mater (Harvard) but I doubt it's going to happen. He's much less driven. But he's HAPPY.

    Besides, it sounds as though your son is on track to go to a very respectable college where he could finally find THE thing that lights a fire underneath him. Some people are late bloomers, but even if not, at least you won't drive him into therapy!

    Posted by mom of 11 year old boy October 27, 09 11:07 AM
  1. ..........."we feel he could do better." The problem here is not the 7th grader, but the parents.

    Posted by lovinknit October 27, 09 01:55 PM
  1. In all probability, this B-B+ student from SCARSDALE is going to be in the top 10% of all students in the US when he gets to college. But it's SCARSDALE, where less than perfect does not count. I hope that the guidance counselor and principal laugh in this woman's face and send her to counseling, which she, not her poor son, desperately needs.

    Posted by delilah October 27, 09 02:50 PM
  1. Excellent point, delilah!

    Posted by just_cos October 27, 09 04:08 PM
  1. I haven't read the other comments, but it seems like he's a regular kid. We all have ups and downs, times we prefer to be alone and times we want to be social.

    Maybe the poster isn't being totally forthright, and the concern is based on something more radical with the question being tempered so as not to face judgment. If that's the case, how about getting the child evaluated by a professional to see if there are emotional problems present.

    If not, if the post is truly indicative of how things really are, it sounds like he could do well from extra challenge if it's presented well at home. I tutored a kid in math where I had to teach him math and the mother to stop telling him why he's bad in math. She was his problem, and she was only trying to protect his feelings. Once I had them both trained, he did much better.

    Posted by Kar Giver October 27, 09 04:24 PM
  1. Substitute NEWTON for SCARSDALE and you have the same issue. Why not just move to Pootstown Falls, Ohio so that your kid can be the biggest, smartest, fastest...valedictorian and head of the football team. Then he can go to [INSERT PRESTIGIOUS NAME BRAND SCHOOL HERE] (based on geographic diversity), which is what you are really looking for. Good grief. Delilah is right.

    Posted by ischmidlapp October 27, 09 06:15 PM
  1. Your son's behavior sounds a great deal like my son in 7th grade. I couldn't figure out why his grades were so inconsistent. A's one day and C's or D's the next. He is also a great day dreamer. He is a very quiet kid so it was hard for his teachers to tell when he wasn't paying attention in class. My son also had challenges with keeping his binder clean and organized. It was always a mess. Although I thought about getting help for him in 7th grade, I did not follow through as I was not sure what direction to go in.

    In 9th grade things seemed to get worse, his grades continued to be inconsistent and he was spending 4 1/2 hours on homework a night which was 3 to 4 times more than the typical 9th grader in his school.

    At that point I took him to his pediatrician and he was diagnosed with ADD inattentive and put on medication. Within a couple of weeks his grades went up a full letter grade and he started spending 1 hour to 1 at1/2 hours a night on homework.

    Before you keep your son back a grade I suggest you consult your pediatrician/school system and see if you can get your son evaluated by a professional for learning disabilities. It may mean he can stay in his current grade, he just needs some accomodations to make him successful.

    Posted by Linda H October 27, 09 10:05 PM
  1. "I would LOVE for my son to go to my alma mater (Harvard) but I doubt it's going to happen. He's much less driven. But he's HAPPY."

    And besides, the population is growing a lot faster than Harvard's capacity is! Chances are there will be a lot more 16-18 year olds on Earth when your son turns that age and applies to college then there were when you were that age and applying to college, but a similar % of that age group's population applying to Harvard. No wonder Harvard's acceptance rate is dropping and it's rejecting more and more qualified students who can do the work there!

    "Sounds like Mom wants her son to be something that he is not. What in the world is wrong with a 7th grader who is laid back, likes to be alone, daydreams, and plays some sports?? Is the only reason she wants to hold him back is to bring those B's to A's? Very strange."

    She said "He has several very nice friends, but often prefers to be alone, is laid back, and loves to daydream." Is her problem that he sometimes prefers to be alone, or that he has several very nice friends and sometimes prefers to be with them?

    Some people do have a problem with their kids wanting to be social and interact with people outside the family instead of being unsocial enough for the rest of the family. Check out the exchange here:

    http://www.aspiesforfreedom.com/showthread.php?tid=12544

    Shnoing wrote:

    "I've got a bit of a bad conscience regarding our NT son because I've got the impression that I should have put more pressure on him when it comes to performance at school."

    tenaciouscj looked on the bright side of having a son like that with:

    "Networking, interpersonal skills and just plain old hard work and a bit of luck seem to be the factors most likely to be associated with financial success in later life. Good marks are but part of that equation."

    Louise18 backlashed against that on page 4 of the thread with:

    "Don't you want your children to be self starters who are their own person? I would want my children to be stronger than to conform to peer pressure, or to laze around just because they were bored. If you aren't good with people then the other way to be successful is to do well academically and either enter the professions, or if you are intelligent enough academia."

    Posted by Leslie October 31, 09 09:26 AM
  1. people in scarsdale need to calm down and realize not every kids from there is going to IVY league, there are only so many spots. I have friends who have moved there and already greatly assumed that the kids will get into IVY schools,. I think alot of it is up to the kid. Not all kids excel be it Scarsdale or some other similar school.

    Posted by KK September 25, 10 11:44 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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