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
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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