Holding back in middle school

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 4, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hi -

I was just reading your post to a parent who was considering holding back her kindergartner. I have a similar dilemma with a 5th grader getting ready to go to middle school, but the reasons are mainly maturity, not academic.

My son was a very early sight reader, and was really bored in preschool unless there was a pretty challenging curriculum, so I always had him in a class where he was the youngest (he has a late October birthday) and I was able to find a great 4-year-old preschool where they basically covered kindergarten. After that, we moved to Hawaii where the age cutoff for school is December 31st, so he was tested and determined to be fully ready for 1st grade, and not too young there, so he was enrolled in 1st grade at a private school.

He did well there, and we didn't have a lot of issues with school or academics until this year. He has been the object of a lot of verbal bullying lately and seems to have a lot of anxiety about school. His academic performance is still good (he makes mostly B's, some A's in a fairly challenging curriculum), but he has lost interest in a lot of school and other activities.

His Dad is deployed for a year, which definitely doesn't help. Since he is a year younger than many of his peers now in Florida, with an August 31st cutoff, we are considering enrolling him in a private school where he has the option of being in a 5th grade class that does 6th grade work. I really feel that it would be good for him to rebuild his confidence in himself, which seems to be really low right now. He is really adamant that he doesn't want to go to the private school and wants to go to the big public middle school with all of his "friends." I can only name about 3 or 4 of these so called "friends" who haven't been mean to him in some way in the past year.

He is a Korean adoptee in a sea of white people which doesn't help. He has been teased about being Korean, being adopted (one of his so-called friends in a younger grade called him a "poor orphan" yesterday). I want him to feel he has some choice in a life as a military kid where he doesn't have a lot of choices, but on the other hand, I want to be able to look back when he's grown and know I gave him the very best opportunities to thrive and flourish.

If he was your kid, what would you do?

From: Laura, Niceville, FL

Hi Laura,

Being the youngest almost always puts undue social pressure on a kid. Some kids have the temperament to handle it, some don't. But this isn't going to get easier in middle school, in fact, middle school is probably the toughest time socially for kids out of their entire school career.

If you think this is a good school for him (and hopefully you've talked to the school about issues of diversity, including adoption), I would support the move to a private school. Holding back in middle school is not as common as in kindergarten and it can be tricky, but it's not unheard of, especially when going from public to private.

However, since it's not something he wants, and since this is a stage of development when kids really resent feeling they have no control over their lives, I would tell him that as his parents, this is your decision; that you'd like him to try it for a year, and to really give it a chance; and that you will reevaluate after a year. That will give him some sense of control. With any luck, he will be happier at the new school!

Are there other readers who have made similar decisions?

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11 comments so far...
  1. i feel bad for this kid. when i read this part: he “was really bored in preschool unless there was a pretty challenging curriculum...”
    i'm forcing myself to hold back my snarky comment.

    if he wants to stay with his FRIENDS let him. all kids are mean at some point (stinks but true). He's doing well in school, he likes the kids, he's getting good grades. what do his teachers recommend? it sounds like your son is happy where he is, you're the one with issues.

    And i agree, holding back a kindergartner is MUCH different then a 5th grader. i think it'll be a bigger blow to his self-confidence.

    Good luck to you & your son!

    Posted by polly June 4, 10 08:45 AM
  1. A year ago I would have said holding a middle school kid back for social not academic reasons was a bad idea. I was always the youngest in my grade and one of the top students. I would have been bored to tears if the curriculum had been easier. But a family we have gotten to know over the past year did just that with their sixth grade girl. She's quite smart but since she was young they decided to have her repeat the 6th grade--at the same school. I thought that would be hard for her, but she seems to be thriving, having made new friends (perhaps more at her maturity level?). The key was that the school is very academically challenging. To me it sounds like your private school would be good in this way, so repeating a grade wouldn't really be repeating the same material. That would be so demoralizing for a kid with above average intelligence.

    My son is always the youngest in his class--also because we decided to put him into school before he was five because he needed more academic stimulation. It's been tough for him socially sometimes--there's been bullying. But I actually believe it's got more to do with the fact that he's smart and that makes some kids (more often the kind that bully) uncomfortable. We live in a culture that values athletic ability and sports knowledge/know-how over intelligence and academic achievements. I suggest you talk frankly about that with your son. He's old enough to get it. And tell him that you believe the private school will offer him better opportunities for his future. I hope it works out. Good luck.

    Posted by mom of two June 4, 10 09:30 AM
  1. I don't think I'd do it. There's no academic reason to do it, and the kid himself doesn't want to do it. That's enough for me. I assume this will be a bigger school where he will be meeting many more kids from other schools in addition to his existing group of "friends." He will very quickly make new friends and slowly but surely grow apart from many of his existing ones. His social life could be totally different very quickly. I say give middle school a chance to work.

    Posted by geocool June 4, 10 10:31 AM
  1. I think what the child wants to do should be your number one concern. When I was younger I was asked to skip 4th grade. Academically I could have easily, but my biggest concern was leaving my friends behind and moving to a class where I didn't know anyone. My parents respected my wish, and I remained with my class. I don't think of it as a missed opportunity, but I do think had I been forced to move ahead, I would have been dealing with issues surrounding that for years to come.

    Posted by HuskyAlum June 4, 10 11:55 AM
  1. Honestly, it sounds like a typical fifth grade experience, so I don't see any reason to repeat it.

    He doesn't want to, there is no reason academically, and middle school is a tough age for everyone. Kids who bully will pick on others for any reason they can find, and they exist in private schools too so there is no way to know he won't meet mean kids there.

    How about instead enroll him in the public school, and help him find ways to be active in the clubs they offer so he can meet more kids he can relate to?

    Posted by Kate June 4, 10 12:12 PM
  1. If calling your son "a poor orphan" is the worst of it, then believe me, his school life is a cake-walk. Hopefully he gives as good as he gets, but you wouldn't know that. (-; not MY child... ;-)
    A younger kid taunted him? There's no guarantee that won't happen in private school. In fact private school cliques and hazing can be equally or more brutal than in the public schools. Read "The Chocolate War."
    If school is still in session, take a ride over the the middle school as classes are ending and get a look at the demographic. I'd be surprised to find that a large Florida middle school is largely homogenous.

    Your son doesn't want to retreat! I think that speaks volumes. He is tougher than you think. If he does attend the middle school, by all means continue keep your finger on the pulse. Sounds like the private school will be happy to enroll him mid-year or next year if your son is not thriving.
    Good Luck! I really think he's going to turn out fine no matter what.

    Posted by Sherry Lane June 4, 10 01:26 PM
  1. I vote for the private school / holding back a year. In my experience, kids who were picked on in elementary school got picked on even worse in middle school. It's understandable that your son would want to go to the public middle school with all his "friends." Probably seems to him like a more palatable option than a completely new school with completely new people. However, he probably does not realize at this young age that by putting him in a new school you are giving him the chance to really grow and thrive in a new setting and meet some new, real, hopefully non-racist friends. Good luck!

    Posted by another mom of two June 4, 10 01:45 PM
  1. I'd take a middle road - send him to the private school, but in grade 6. Why hold him back academically if he's ok? Even if the fifth grade is doing 6th grade work, he will have to stay at the private school in order to not repeat some work.

    Posted by Delilah June 4, 10 02:10 PM
  1. Keep in mind that a child may way above grade level at first, but as the work gets harder, he or she may not be ready for extra challenging courses.

    Because I was an early reader, I was "one of the smartest kids" in grade school....but when I started having more/harder math and science classes, I was much more "average".

    I thought Hawaii was the land of diversity....I'm troubled by the teasing....

    Posted by Just-Cos June 4, 10 04:26 PM
  1. Our family is also experiencing the same issue. My daughter went to 2 years of preschool, 1 year of 1/2 day Kindergarten at a private school, then moved into the public K2 program, where most children her age were completing their second year of Kindergarten. After 6-8 weeks, the teacher suggested moving her to first grade because the K curriculum was not challenging enough and she was bord. We agreed, but it hasn't been right for her socially since. She has friends who are in the fourth grade now, she's going into 6th and she actually wants to repeat fifth grades. She has NO friends in her current clasll and does not wnt to be part of the drama most of the girls are experiencing. . She is not very organized, is very forgetful, and may even be considered to be ADHD or on the very high end of the autistic spectrum. I believe that middle school is going to be VERY challenging for her and since she is not officially diagnosed and does not have an I.E.P, I don't feel confident that the midde school teachers will accomodate her needs. I've spoken to the other fifth grade teacher and we discussed how we could challenge her should she repeat fifth grade. I am a certified teacher and am willing to do what I can to help her so that she doesn't have an extra "thing" to do. My daughter and I have been discussing some of the possible "bad" sides of repeating, and she sounds very confident that
    she wouldn't care if people teased her since she knows she's not being held back for academic reasons. She simply feels that this is the group in which she belongs, and doesn't mind waiting a year to enter middle school. I enjoyed your comments since, this is indeed, a very unusual situation. I'd love to hear your views.

    Posted by Gloria June 7, 10 09:20 PM
  1. I feel that this business of class socialization is a major problem.

    I was accelerated from grade one through grade three in two years--no academic issues at all, teachers were great and knew what they were doing, there was a group of about 8 kids doing this fast track.

    Bang up against the nastiest pack of fourth graders I could imagine--they all refused to be my friend "because I had not gone through grade three with them" and this persisted until the end of grade six. Some teachers fostered the pack mentality because it made teaching easier for them.

    Looking at those report cards many years later, it is clear that this daily dose of hostility at school was the cause of a lot of stress and emotional acting out.

    Thank Heaven my mother insisted that I go to the closest high school for Grade Seven instead of the middle school that these monsters all went to. Her primary argument was that I needed a change from that mentality.

    My Grade Seven was the start of a wonderful six years of school--there were kids from so many elementary schools and some refugees all mixed up, the snobbishness never got a foothold. The academic standards were high and the sports/music activities equally challenging, you had your pick of stuff to do.

    So there is a good reason for a parent to insist on academic interests ahead of social ones. In Laura's case, the father being away on service makes things a lot harder--maybe they can find a local Big Brothers chapter to help.

    Posted by Irene June 11, 10 02:37 PM
 
11 comments so far...
  1. i feel bad for this kid. when i read this part: he “was really bored in preschool unless there was a pretty challenging curriculum...”
    i'm forcing myself to hold back my snarky comment.

    if he wants to stay with his FRIENDS let him. all kids are mean at some point (stinks but true). He's doing well in school, he likes the kids, he's getting good grades. what do his teachers recommend? it sounds like your son is happy where he is, you're the one with issues.

    And i agree, holding back a kindergartner is MUCH different then a 5th grader. i think it'll be a bigger blow to his self-confidence.

    Good luck to you & your son!

    Posted by polly June 4, 10 08:45 AM
  1. A year ago I would have said holding a middle school kid back for social not academic reasons was a bad idea. I was always the youngest in my grade and one of the top students. I would have been bored to tears if the curriculum had been easier. But a family we have gotten to know over the past year did just that with their sixth grade girl. She's quite smart but since she was young they decided to have her repeat the 6th grade--at the same school. I thought that would be hard for her, but she seems to be thriving, having made new friends (perhaps more at her maturity level?). The key was that the school is very academically challenging. To me it sounds like your private school would be good in this way, so repeating a grade wouldn't really be repeating the same material. That would be so demoralizing for a kid with above average intelligence.

    My son is always the youngest in his class--also because we decided to put him into school before he was five because he needed more academic stimulation. It's been tough for him socially sometimes--there's been bullying. But I actually believe it's got more to do with the fact that he's smart and that makes some kids (more often the kind that bully) uncomfortable. We live in a culture that values athletic ability and sports knowledge/know-how over intelligence and academic achievements. I suggest you talk frankly about that with your son. He's old enough to get it. And tell him that you believe the private school will offer him better opportunities for his future. I hope it works out. Good luck.

    Posted by mom of two June 4, 10 09:30 AM
  1. I don't think I'd do it. There's no academic reason to do it, and the kid himself doesn't want to do it. That's enough for me. I assume this will be a bigger school where he will be meeting many more kids from other schools in addition to his existing group of "friends." He will very quickly make new friends and slowly but surely grow apart from many of his existing ones. His social life could be totally different very quickly. I say give middle school a chance to work.

    Posted by geocool June 4, 10 10:31 AM
  1. I think what the child wants to do should be your number one concern. When I was younger I was asked to skip 4th grade. Academically I could have easily, but my biggest concern was leaving my friends behind and moving to a class where I didn't know anyone. My parents respected my wish, and I remained with my class. I don't think of it as a missed opportunity, but I do think had I been forced to move ahead, I would have been dealing with issues surrounding that for years to come.

    Posted by HuskyAlum June 4, 10 11:55 AM
  1. Honestly, it sounds like a typical fifth grade experience, so I don't see any reason to repeat it.

    He doesn't want to, there is no reason academically, and middle school is a tough age for everyone. Kids who bully will pick on others for any reason they can find, and they exist in private schools too so there is no way to know he won't meet mean kids there.

    How about instead enroll him in the public school, and help him find ways to be active in the clubs they offer so he can meet more kids he can relate to?

    Posted by Kate June 4, 10 12:12 PM
  1. If calling your son "a poor orphan" is the worst of it, then believe me, his school life is a cake-walk. Hopefully he gives as good as he gets, but you wouldn't know that. (-; not MY child... ;-)
    A younger kid taunted him? There's no guarantee that won't happen in private school. In fact private school cliques and hazing can be equally or more brutal than in the public schools. Read "The Chocolate War."
    If school is still in session, take a ride over the the middle school as classes are ending and get a look at the demographic. I'd be surprised to find that a large Florida middle school is largely homogenous.

    Your son doesn't want to retreat! I think that speaks volumes. He is tougher than you think. If he does attend the middle school, by all means continue keep your finger on the pulse. Sounds like the private school will be happy to enroll him mid-year or next year if your son is not thriving.
    Good Luck! I really think he's going to turn out fine no matter what.

    Posted by Sherry Lane June 4, 10 01:26 PM
  1. I vote for the private school / holding back a year. In my experience, kids who were picked on in elementary school got picked on even worse in middle school. It's understandable that your son would want to go to the public middle school with all his "friends." Probably seems to him like a more palatable option than a completely new school with completely new people. However, he probably does not realize at this young age that by putting him in a new school you are giving him the chance to really grow and thrive in a new setting and meet some new, real, hopefully non-racist friends. Good luck!

    Posted by another mom of two June 4, 10 01:45 PM
  1. I'd take a middle road - send him to the private school, but in grade 6. Why hold him back academically if he's ok? Even if the fifth grade is doing 6th grade work, he will have to stay at the private school in order to not repeat some work.

    Posted by Delilah June 4, 10 02:10 PM
  1. Keep in mind that a child may way above grade level at first, but as the work gets harder, he or she may not be ready for extra challenging courses.

    Because I was an early reader, I was "one of the smartest kids" in grade school....but when I started having more/harder math and science classes, I was much more "average".

    I thought Hawaii was the land of diversity....I'm troubled by the teasing....

    Posted by Just-Cos June 4, 10 04:26 PM
  1. Our family is also experiencing the same issue. My daughter went to 2 years of preschool, 1 year of 1/2 day Kindergarten at a private school, then moved into the public K2 program, where most children her age were completing their second year of Kindergarten. After 6-8 weeks, the teacher suggested moving her to first grade because the K curriculum was not challenging enough and she was bord. We agreed, but it hasn't been right for her socially since. She has friends who are in the fourth grade now, she's going into 6th and she actually wants to repeat fifth grades. She has NO friends in her current clasll and does not wnt to be part of the drama most of the girls are experiencing. . She is not very organized, is very forgetful, and may even be considered to be ADHD or on the very high end of the autistic spectrum. I believe that middle school is going to be VERY challenging for her and since she is not officially diagnosed and does not have an I.E.P, I don't feel confident that the midde school teachers will accomodate her needs. I've spoken to the other fifth grade teacher and we discussed how we could challenge her should she repeat fifth grade. I am a certified teacher and am willing to do what I can to help her so that she doesn't have an extra "thing" to do. My daughter and I have been discussing some of the possible "bad" sides of repeating, and she sounds very confident that
    she wouldn't care if people teased her since she knows she's not being held back for academic reasons. She simply feels that this is the group in which she belongs, and doesn't mind waiting a year to enter middle school. I enjoyed your comments since, this is indeed, a very unusual situation. I'd love to hear your views.

    Posted by Gloria June 7, 10 09:20 PM
  1. I feel that this business of class socialization is a major problem.

    I was accelerated from grade one through grade three in two years--no academic issues at all, teachers were great and knew what they were doing, there was a group of about 8 kids doing this fast track.

    Bang up against the nastiest pack of fourth graders I could imagine--they all refused to be my friend "because I had not gone through grade three with them" and this persisted until the end of grade six. Some teachers fostered the pack mentality because it made teaching easier for them.

    Looking at those report cards many years later, it is clear that this daily dose of hostility at school was the cause of a lot of stress and emotional acting out.

    Thank Heaven my mother insisted that I go to the closest high school for Grade Seven instead of the middle school that these monsters all went to. Her primary argument was that I needed a change from that mentality.

    My Grade Seven was the start of a wonderful six years of school--there were kids from so many elementary schools and some refugees all mixed up, the snobbishness never got a foothold. The academic standards were high and the sports/music activities equally challenging, you had your pick of stuff to do.

    So there is a good reason for a parent to insist on academic interests ahead of social ones. In Laura's case, the father being away on service makes things a lot harder--maybe they can find a local Big Brothers chapter to help.

    Posted by Irene June 11, 10 02:37 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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