More (complicated) holding back questions, this time for fourth grade

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 8, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hi...I have 9-year-old twin boys in 4th grade. They turned 9 in August, and Sept. 1st birthdays turned 10. A lot of the kids are almost a year older than they are. They have struggled academically every year, but I was a teacher until I quit so I could spend more time working on their homework with them (sometimes it takes 3 hours a night!). They took the dreaded FCATS in 3rd grade and both got level 3's on math and reading. All the grades they get (As, Bs, Cs) come from really hard work, tears, and fights. They are not liking school very much! This year is even more challenging already!

My question...is it possible for me to request they be held back? And is this even the right decision to make for them, since their friends are all in 4th grade? I just don't want them in middle school and high school like this. I really don't know if they can ever "catch up" and if their self esteem is going to be ruined!

From: J, Florida

Dear J,

Questions about holding back always generate lots of heated discussion, as did this one, just last month.

Is it possible to request that they be held back? You can request anything.

You're absolutely right that kids who struggle all the time will start to not like school and think they are stupid. Self-esteem will absolutely suffer.


Get your boys tested now, before the situation gets worse. See where their deficits are, what help they need and what help they can get, and then see where that takes you. Holding back may -- or may not -- be the answer. I will say this, though; if they are really far behind and holding back does seem appropriate, it will be easier for them to start a new grade at a new school. You don't say what grade you taught, but if a parent had come to you with this problem, how would you have advised them?

But why did you wait so long to act on this?

There must have been feedback in the early years; did no one pick up on their struggles, or did you hide the struggles from the teachers? As an educator yourself, did you not recognize that first, second, or third graders who take three hours to do homework is a sign of a problem? Was this a matter of personal pride? That as a former teacher, you thought you could "save" your boys?

Sorry, I don't mean to beat up on you. I hope you will take this in the spirit in which I am giving it: that there's a lesson here for others of us who think we can be objective about our own children.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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7 comments so far...
  1. Ask your boys what they want - from school, from you, from life. Make it clear that they must go to school, but listen to any ideas they have other than outright quitting. I don't mean you need to obey them, just that you need to listen with an open mind.
    My gut says, yes, hold them back. Also investigate other schools, including private schools. You may be able to teach again and afford private school. Or teach at the school you transfer them to. Or something you haven't thought of yet.
    Oh yes, don't ignore Barbara's advice to get them evaluated, for level and for learning disabilities. Maybe it's a relatively simple problem. Maybe not, but we can hope.

    Posted by Lizzie October 8, 10 07:56 AM
  1. "A lot of the kids are almost a year older than they are"

    Isn't that just about enough reason to have held them back a year ago?

    And isn't that better done before the beginning of a school year?

    Posted by Irene October 8, 10 09:51 PM
  1. I think this is an easier than usual hold-back question, because there are two of them. They'll still have each other. If it was just one of them, I'd be worried about splitting them up; about one feeling like the "dumb twin." And if it's just a single student, you worry about them fitting in and making new friends. But these kids will already have a built-in friend in each other. There's huge upside from holding them back and just not as much downside as there usually is.

    Posted by Q October 11, 10 09:41 AM
  1. "Ask your boys what they want - from school, from you, from life." - I actually choked on my coffee when I read that. Just substitute "school" with "work " and "you" with "significant other" and the question could be applied to adults as well - which a vast majority couldn't answer. But let's give the nine year olds a crack at formulating a solid life strategy that they can act upon. I'm all for encouraging kids to think about their futures, but that's a bit extreme. Too funny.

    Posted by Frank October 12, 10 08:39 AM
  1. Not as funny as you might think, Frank. I have a son (age 10) who was struggling in school and we had a similar conversation that was very enlightening to me. We discussed his troubles with homework, his goals in school, how involved he wanted me to be in helping him, and how his overall life was. Since homework was causing so much friction, I had his teachers' blessing to try a hands-off approach. I thought he'd love the idea of me butting out and agree that if he didn't get his work done, he'd accept the consequences at school. Surprisingly, he looked startled when I suggested it and quickly said that he still wanted me to supervise him. That led to to further discussions about life in general and his need for downtime and what amount of sports and music could fit into his afterschool time. We didn't formulate a life strategy in one conversation but we've moved beyond the "I hate homework, life isn't fair" gridlock.

    Posted by Cordelia October 12, 10 12:22 PM
  1. Thanks Cordelia, that's what I meant. No, they probably don't know exactly what they want, but they may have some ideas about what they want now and it's not fair to exclude fourth-graders from a discussion about what to do about their life. And not smart, either. If they have a strong preference, they can make it work. They can certainly make options NOT work.

    Maybe it's time to back off the fighting and really listen to what they perceive as the issue(s). When I manage to do that, I find my child often has some surprising insights.

    Posted by Lizzie October 12, 10 04:32 PM
  1. If repeating a year can be framed positively then I think it is a good idea.

    Who wants to be the only junior in high school who can't drive?

    Who wants to be the smallest boy on the ball field?

    Many boys mature more slowly than boys in general and especially girls and it is arguably child abuse to leave struggling boys in a class where they are younger than the average.

    Repeating a grade would have been good for me and I was always regarded as a smart kid, just not a very mature or happy one.

    Posted by neilpaul October 26, 10 05:02 PM
 
7 comments so far...
  1. Ask your boys what they want - from school, from you, from life. Make it clear that they must go to school, but listen to any ideas they have other than outright quitting. I don't mean you need to obey them, just that you need to listen with an open mind.
    My gut says, yes, hold them back. Also investigate other schools, including private schools. You may be able to teach again and afford private school. Or teach at the school you transfer them to. Or something you haven't thought of yet.
    Oh yes, don't ignore Barbara's advice to get them evaluated, for level and for learning disabilities. Maybe it's a relatively simple problem. Maybe not, but we can hope.

    Posted by Lizzie October 8, 10 07:56 AM
  1. "A lot of the kids are almost a year older than they are"

    Isn't that just about enough reason to have held them back a year ago?

    And isn't that better done before the beginning of a school year?

    Posted by Irene October 8, 10 09:51 PM
  1. I think this is an easier than usual hold-back question, because there are two of them. They'll still have each other. If it was just one of them, I'd be worried about splitting them up; about one feeling like the "dumb twin." And if it's just a single student, you worry about them fitting in and making new friends. But these kids will already have a built-in friend in each other. There's huge upside from holding them back and just not as much downside as there usually is.

    Posted by Q October 11, 10 09:41 AM
  1. "Ask your boys what they want - from school, from you, from life." - I actually choked on my coffee when I read that. Just substitute "school" with "work " and "you" with "significant other" and the question could be applied to adults as well - which a vast majority couldn't answer. But let's give the nine year olds a crack at formulating a solid life strategy that they can act upon. I'm all for encouraging kids to think about their futures, but that's a bit extreme. Too funny.

    Posted by Frank October 12, 10 08:39 AM
  1. Not as funny as you might think, Frank. I have a son (age 10) who was struggling in school and we had a similar conversation that was very enlightening to me. We discussed his troubles with homework, his goals in school, how involved he wanted me to be in helping him, and how his overall life was. Since homework was causing so much friction, I had his teachers' blessing to try a hands-off approach. I thought he'd love the idea of me butting out and agree that if he didn't get his work done, he'd accept the consequences at school. Surprisingly, he looked startled when I suggested it and quickly said that he still wanted me to supervise him. That led to to further discussions about life in general and his need for downtime and what amount of sports and music could fit into his afterschool time. We didn't formulate a life strategy in one conversation but we've moved beyond the "I hate homework, life isn't fair" gridlock.

    Posted by Cordelia October 12, 10 12:22 PM
  1. Thanks Cordelia, that's what I meant. No, they probably don't know exactly what they want, but they may have some ideas about what they want now and it's not fair to exclude fourth-graders from a discussion about what to do about their life. And not smart, either. If they have a strong preference, they can make it work. They can certainly make options NOT work.

    Maybe it's time to back off the fighting and really listen to what they perceive as the issue(s). When I manage to do that, I find my child often has some surprising insights.

    Posted by Lizzie October 12, 10 04:32 PM
  1. If repeating a year can be framed positively then I think it is a good idea.

    Who wants to be the only junior in high school who can't drive?

    Who wants to be the smallest boy on the ball field?

    Many boys mature more slowly than boys in general and especially girls and it is arguably child abuse to leave struggling boys in a class where they are younger than the average.

    Repeating a grade would have been good for me and I was always regarded as a smart kid, just not a very mature or happy one.

    Posted by neilpaul October 26, 10 05:02 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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