The perennial "hold back or not?" question

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  January 31, 2011 04:42 PM

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My son was born in early August. He turns five this year, and I expect him to attend kindergarten in the fall. I get a lot of questions about whether I am holding him back. One mom even went so far as to say that she respected my decision since everyone else would probably hold their child back. I have talked to his pre-K teachers and they think he will do fine. I have seen a lot of change in him over the past few months and expect more before the fall. I am not sure I like the practice of holding back children so they will be older, bigger, etc. I would be curious to see what your view is. Kindergarten registration is around the corner.

From: JennR, Westwood

Hi JennR,

I absolutely agree with you! Holding back has become fashionable for all the wrong reasons, like thinking it will give a child an athletic or academic edge. When this came up two years ago here, I advised predicating ready-or-not on a social/developmental yardstick, rather than academic on: Can he follow directions? Sit in a circle for story time and not pester his neighbor? Put on his boots by himself?

I would put a lot of weight into the opinion of his current teachers, assuming they aren't all teaching for the first time, because they have a basis for comparison on what makes a child ready or not.

It also helps to find out what your school system's expectations are for kindergarten. The best way to do that is to visit a K classroom. It's impossible to imagine what your child will be like a year from now, but you can get an idea.

My best advice is always to go with your gut, not with the crowd.

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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9 comments so far...
  1. If you click on Barbara's link to one of the other times this question was asked, you will find my response there and it has not changed.

    Now my son is a "young" second grader and oh! How well he is doing!

    He just received his second report card and it made me do a happy dance. So I'm just another Mom here that sent her son to school "on time" and although "the crowd" constantly forces me to look back and evaluate on whether it was the right choice, I am confident that he is in the right place. He's happy, thriving, learning, and social. Loves school. Loves his friends. Loves his teacher. His teacher loves him. Amen.

    No one ever mentions this kind of thing, but as he gets older and I start to think about what challenges will face him/us in high school, I am actually glad he won't be the first to get his driver's license, the first one old enough to buy beer in college, etc.

    There are pros and cons to being the youngest AND to being the oldest. Parents of the kids with summer birthdays need to be aware of BOTH, not just assuming that being oldest is best. Because it isn't always.

    It depends on the kid.

    PS - my daughter, who is three, also has a July birthday. I have zero doubts. She's going to school on time.

    Posted by RH February 1, 11 07:51 AM
  1. I agree with the comment to go with your gut. I also think that teachers have helpful feedback and can give more of an objective opinion.

    My son has a July birthday, and we gave him an extra year, so he is an older second grader. He's in the right place for him. With that extra year, he fits right in with his group of peers socially and academically. In preschool, he was always struggling to keep up.

    No matter what decision you make, you're going to get feedback from people who think that you should have done the opposite, or who did the opposite themselves and advocate strongly for that approach. You just need to go with what works best for your child, and you and your child's teachers have the opinions that really matter.

    Posted by Ellie February 1, 11 09:24 AM
  1. My brother was a July kid, and my parents thought about holding him back and chose not to. He did just fine. I was born in September, and my parents decided not to push for me to enter K "early" (I missed the cut-off by 3 weeks). While sometimes I wish I had been allowed to start K early instead of essentially being held back a year, I'm pretty much fine now, and my brother was also fine. So I think it's much ado about nothing, especially in the LW's case, since her son seems ready to start K.

    Posted by sabend February 1, 11 09:54 AM
  1. As the mother of a boy born in the middle of this past August, I'm already wondering about this question myself. He and his 3 yo sister attend daycare full time, so I do not expect him to have issues with a classroom setting by the time he gets there, but I do wonder, as a boy, about maturity - physically and emotionally- in the teenaged years. My Dad was a highschool teacher and has always commented on the boys (young men by then I suppose) who started early (the cut off was in the fall sometime where I grew up) and how it did them no favors. Does Barbara or anyone else have any thoughts on this?

    I also agree with many posters here and in the original article that all the pushing and pulling on deadlines is not doing anyone any favors - I imgine it must make things more challenging for the teachers as well to have a 21 month range of ages in the early grades.

    Posted by canuk February 1, 11 11:49 AM
  1. It isn't about chronological age but about emotional readiness. And that should be judged based on where the child is at the time of entry into into kindergarten -- not where the child might theoretically be in 10 years. Because you can't predict that.

    For example, I have one boy on the older end of the spectrum in his grade; I have another on the younger end of the spectrum. (I did not hold either back or push either in early -- it's just about where their birthdays happened to fall). My son on the older side is, emotionally, young for his age. The one on the younger side is not. If you had asked me back when they were each starting school how they would be, I would have expected the boys' emotional maturity to be switched.

    FYI, parents holding their kids back to give them an "advantage" was such a problem in my school district that the school now forbids it. If you hold your child back from kindergarten (unless for special ed type reasons or on recommendation of the school), that child will enter 1st grade the next year. The school didn't like the wrangling of parents to get their child an "advantage" -- and frankly, it messes with the curriculum and classroom management. Kindergarten is designed for a certain age; teachers have arranged their curriculum to handle 5 and 6 year olds, not 6 and 7 year olds; the differences in social skills and academic capabilities can be quite large at these ages and it doesn't help the class to have a bigger spread than the grade is meant to handle.

    Posted by jjlen February 1, 11 01:10 PM
  1. My son has an early August birthday; we sent him to K "on time". He's done great -- in fact, he is two years ahead in math, so imagine if we had held him back.

    On the other hand, my daughter has an end of August birthday, and the consensus between her preK teachers and I is that we're going to keep her in preschool one more year. The teachers feel she's socially quite young and academically she may not be behind, but she's certainly behind all her peers who are months older than her. I had been inclined to send her on to K, but recently noticed that all her friends are younger and she just does not seem ready.

    From all I have read, I really had been against holding her "back", but for so many reasons, it just seems the right move (or non-move). So, I agree with some of the others that it really depends on the kid.

    Posted by SandyE February 1, 11 04:45 PM
  1. It is not just about emotional maturity at age five or six. It is also about physical development and thriving socially throughout school years. I was born in late August. By High School, all my friends were my age or younger, fall birthdays pushed into school. The only exception was a kid named Geoff, born in March. He hanged out with me, but he skipped a grade!

    Being my friend in HS meant only one thing: You were a loser like me. I was not at all popular in school and neither were the half dozen odd balls I hanged out with. We were inferior and we knew it. This is not a joke or an exaggeration.

    You may want to believe that it does not matter how big or athletic a kid is, it only matters if he can sit still and take orders. But there is more to life than just getting by and pleasing mommy with respect to school reports.

    I think for boys especially it is nice if they can be a little older, more mature and physically competitive with their classmates. It is not about creating advantages in team sports for the sake of the sport, so much as giving your son a chance to thrive and be valued by their classmates for their talents which are as fully developed as their classmates, not much less so.

    And I'm by no means certain that a kindergarten teacher has any insight into any of this, so their opinion will not incorporate the concerns I'm raising, so be aware of the limitedness of the advice when you get it.


    Posted by neil paul February 1, 11 05:56 PM
  1. It really frosts me when I hear "everyone else would probably...." Some people just like to believe that their opinion is the one held by "everyone." I say you can safely ignore such people.

    Posted by geocool February 2, 11 02:19 PM
  1. I faced this a several years ago with my two kids who both have August birthdates, a son who is now 10 and a daughter, now 8. Unfortunately, many teachers have bought into the hold back mentality so I had to take their input with a large grain of salt. Both of my kids are a little young socially but are very bright, two grades ahead in math for example. There was no way I or my husband, who remembers being very bored in school, wanted to keep them back as they would have suffered academically. Additionally, my son is tall for his age so I knew he wouldn't be the shortest in class, something that is important for boys. Height has been a problem for his cousin who is one of the shortest boys. So far everything has worked out although we've pulled them from the public school in favor of private as the academics weren't challenging enough. And this was at a top public school. If they weren't so bright, I may have very well have held them back. Physically, being the youngest has been a problem, particularly, in group sports like soccer or T-ball. If you don't hold your child back I would recommend you put them a year back in sports if they are not physically at the same level as their peers.

    Posted by kat February 3, 11 12:08 PM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. If you click on Barbara's link to one of the other times this question was asked, you will find my response there and it has not changed.

    Now my son is a "young" second grader and oh! How well he is doing!

    He just received his second report card and it made me do a happy dance. So I'm just another Mom here that sent her son to school "on time" and although "the crowd" constantly forces me to look back and evaluate on whether it was the right choice, I am confident that he is in the right place. He's happy, thriving, learning, and social. Loves school. Loves his friends. Loves his teacher. His teacher loves him. Amen.

    No one ever mentions this kind of thing, but as he gets older and I start to think about what challenges will face him/us in high school, I am actually glad he won't be the first to get his driver's license, the first one old enough to buy beer in college, etc.

    There are pros and cons to being the youngest AND to being the oldest. Parents of the kids with summer birthdays need to be aware of BOTH, not just assuming that being oldest is best. Because it isn't always.

    It depends on the kid.

    PS - my daughter, who is three, also has a July birthday. I have zero doubts. She's going to school on time.

    Posted by RH February 1, 11 07:51 AM
  1. I agree with the comment to go with your gut. I also think that teachers have helpful feedback and can give more of an objective opinion.

    My son has a July birthday, and we gave him an extra year, so he is an older second grader. He's in the right place for him. With that extra year, he fits right in with his group of peers socially and academically. In preschool, he was always struggling to keep up.

    No matter what decision you make, you're going to get feedback from people who think that you should have done the opposite, or who did the opposite themselves and advocate strongly for that approach. You just need to go with what works best for your child, and you and your child's teachers have the opinions that really matter.

    Posted by Ellie February 1, 11 09:24 AM
  1. My brother was a July kid, and my parents thought about holding him back and chose not to. He did just fine. I was born in September, and my parents decided not to push for me to enter K "early" (I missed the cut-off by 3 weeks). While sometimes I wish I had been allowed to start K early instead of essentially being held back a year, I'm pretty much fine now, and my brother was also fine. So I think it's much ado about nothing, especially in the LW's case, since her son seems ready to start K.

    Posted by sabend February 1, 11 09:54 AM
  1. As the mother of a boy born in the middle of this past August, I'm already wondering about this question myself. He and his 3 yo sister attend daycare full time, so I do not expect him to have issues with a classroom setting by the time he gets there, but I do wonder, as a boy, about maturity - physically and emotionally- in the teenaged years. My Dad was a highschool teacher and has always commented on the boys (young men by then I suppose) who started early (the cut off was in the fall sometime where I grew up) and how it did them no favors. Does Barbara or anyone else have any thoughts on this?

    I also agree with many posters here and in the original article that all the pushing and pulling on deadlines is not doing anyone any favors - I imgine it must make things more challenging for the teachers as well to have a 21 month range of ages in the early grades.

    Posted by canuk February 1, 11 11:49 AM
  1. It isn't about chronological age but about emotional readiness. And that should be judged based on where the child is at the time of entry into into kindergarten -- not where the child might theoretically be in 10 years. Because you can't predict that.

    For example, I have one boy on the older end of the spectrum in his grade; I have another on the younger end of the spectrum. (I did not hold either back or push either in early -- it's just about where their birthdays happened to fall). My son on the older side is, emotionally, young for his age. The one on the younger side is not. If you had asked me back when they were each starting school how they would be, I would have expected the boys' emotional maturity to be switched.

    FYI, parents holding their kids back to give them an "advantage" was such a problem in my school district that the school now forbids it. If you hold your child back from kindergarten (unless for special ed type reasons or on recommendation of the school), that child will enter 1st grade the next year. The school didn't like the wrangling of parents to get their child an "advantage" -- and frankly, it messes with the curriculum and classroom management. Kindergarten is designed for a certain age; teachers have arranged their curriculum to handle 5 and 6 year olds, not 6 and 7 year olds; the differences in social skills and academic capabilities can be quite large at these ages and it doesn't help the class to have a bigger spread than the grade is meant to handle.

    Posted by jjlen February 1, 11 01:10 PM
  1. My son has an early August birthday; we sent him to K "on time". He's done great -- in fact, he is two years ahead in math, so imagine if we had held him back.

    On the other hand, my daughter has an end of August birthday, and the consensus between her preK teachers and I is that we're going to keep her in preschool one more year. The teachers feel she's socially quite young and academically she may not be behind, but she's certainly behind all her peers who are months older than her. I had been inclined to send her on to K, but recently noticed that all her friends are younger and she just does not seem ready.

    From all I have read, I really had been against holding her "back", but for so many reasons, it just seems the right move (or non-move). So, I agree with some of the others that it really depends on the kid.

    Posted by SandyE February 1, 11 04:45 PM
  1. It is not just about emotional maturity at age five or six. It is also about physical development and thriving socially throughout school years. I was born in late August. By High School, all my friends were my age or younger, fall birthdays pushed into school. The only exception was a kid named Geoff, born in March. He hanged out with me, but he skipped a grade!

    Being my friend in HS meant only one thing: You were a loser like me. I was not at all popular in school and neither were the half dozen odd balls I hanged out with. We were inferior and we knew it. This is not a joke or an exaggeration.

    You may want to believe that it does not matter how big or athletic a kid is, it only matters if he can sit still and take orders. But there is more to life than just getting by and pleasing mommy with respect to school reports.

    I think for boys especially it is nice if they can be a little older, more mature and physically competitive with their classmates. It is not about creating advantages in team sports for the sake of the sport, so much as giving your son a chance to thrive and be valued by their classmates for their talents which are as fully developed as their classmates, not much less so.

    And I'm by no means certain that a kindergarten teacher has any insight into any of this, so their opinion will not incorporate the concerns I'm raising, so be aware of the limitedness of the advice when you get it.


    Posted by neil paul February 1, 11 05:56 PM
  1. It really frosts me when I hear "everyone else would probably...." Some people just like to believe that their opinion is the one held by "everyone." I say you can safely ignore such people.

    Posted by geocool February 2, 11 02:19 PM
  1. I faced this a several years ago with my two kids who both have August birthdates, a son who is now 10 and a daughter, now 8. Unfortunately, many teachers have bought into the hold back mentality so I had to take their input with a large grain of salt. Both of my kids are a little young socially but are very bright, two grades ahead in math for example. There was no way I or my husband, who remembers being very bored in school, wanted to keep them back as they would have suffered academically. Additionally, my son is tall for his age so I knew he wouldn't be the shortest in class, something that is important for boys. Height has been a problem for his cousin who is one of the shortest boys. So far everything has worked out although we've pulled them from the public school in favor of private as the academics weren't challenging enough. And this was at a top public school. If they weren't so bright, I may have very well have held them back. Physically, being the youngest has been a problem, particularly, in group sports like soccer or T-ball. If you don't hold your child back I would recommend you put them a year back in sports if they are not physically at the same level as their peers.

    Posted by kat February 3, 11 12:08 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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