How to know if you should keep your child back a year

But first a personal story…. About me…. And why I still struggle with issues surrounding intelligence today, at age 43!

I was five and a half when I started school, back in the late 1970’s. Pre-primary was not big back in those days and so I had attended a play school for a year or two before starting in Sub A. Right off the bat I struggled. An emotionally immature child, I was painfully shy and very very timid, always baring the brunt of the class bully, having my lunch stolen, my pencil case ransacked. I hated school, my mom will tell you that still, to this very day, she can still hear my screams as she sat in the car park of the school, after dropping me.

“Mommy, don’t leave!”

“Mommy, come back!”

I hated every single minute of school. I remembered feeling fearful ALL the time.

Then a few months into my Sub A year, after some basic school readiness tests, like ruling a line, hopping on one leg etc, I was moved to a remedial class for kids with learning disabilities. I hated school even more then. I struggled all the time and I still remember having a distinct sensation of panic, daily at school.

There was a lot of talk amongst the adults, about me, about my struggles with school, my emotional immaturity. I may only have been 5 but kids are not dumb and they can and so often do, pick up on these undercurrents. There was covert conversations about whether or not I should be kept back a year or pushed ahead. My dad’s cousin was a remedial teacher, he came to our house and did a bunch of assessments with me but ultimately the school decided I should be pushed ahead.

I struggled through Sub B. I continued to hate school. Then I got to Std 1 and I had a horrible teacher…. I couldn’t stand her and I am pretty sure she didn’t much like me. It was only in later years that I learned that she had told my parents I was pretty much a hopeless case and the best thing would for me to get to 16, drop out of mainstream education and learn a trade because I was mostly just a breathing amoeba and would never amount to much.

I cottoned on to all of this. Like I said, I may have been a breathing emoeba but I was not completely dumb.

I got pushed through and pushed through and pushed through until Std 4. Always bottom of my class, always the dumb kid who struggled, when class marks were read out, mine was always last, the lowest marks in the class. Always.

But in Std 4 I just gave up. What was the point in trying right? I was just as thick as pig shit so why continue to try and try and try and just never be good enough? Never be smart enough? My brother was brilliant and my cousin was not far behind him, I was the one that was clearly absent the day they were handing out the brains, because I didn’t get any!

So I failed Std 4.

And it was the best bloody thing that could ever have happened to me! From that day on, I developed a passion for reading and writing and everything just clicked into place. I was by no means an academic, but I was no longer the dumb kid in my class.

The problem is… that label… the dumb kid, the kid who always struggled. It stayed with me. Throughout the course of my life, it’s something I still struggle with today as a mature, fairly intelligent woman of 43! I often will shy away from expressing an opinion on something for fear of being thought stupid, I hate making mistakes for fear that people will know I’m stupid. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! I have a hard time thinking of myself as anything more than a little bit dim!

Now…. Back to the point of my blog post…..

Ava is 5, she turns 6 in mid-December and she’s in Grade R, in some instances, she is almost a year younger than some of her class mates, she’s at least 8 to 9 months younger than almost everyone in her class. She is by far the youngest in her class and one of the youngest, if not the youngest in her grade. She has always been bright and always received 5 star school reports that is until the last two terms. In 8 out of the 10 assessment areas…. She needs “more focus”. She battles with writing, which we hope will improve now that she has glasses, she struggles with concentration and following through with an instruction. She gets bored easily and doesn’t like to finish tasks.

Having been the child that struggles, I think the reason she doesn’t finish tasks is because she’s struggling.

Her teacher says she is not flagged as one of the kids that should be kept back but that after reviewing this term progress and discussions with the foundation phase principal, they feel we may be right and it may be in her best interests.

Just to be sure, we’re booking an assessment with their in house School Psychologist and Play Therapist to have her assessed.

And while in my heart I know keeping her back is probably for the best, I’m scared. I’m scared of the long term effects this will have on her. Everyone says rather now than later and I agree, but I also know how this can affect a person, I am that person, I live with that stigma of being the dumb kid, I don’t want that to happen to her. I don’t want her to go through life experiencing what I have.

And lastly, how do I tell her? How do we explain this to her? How do we get her to turn this into a positive? How do we tell her that it’s a good thing that all her friends are moving on and she’s staying behind?

She’s only FIVE! 5 years old…. she has lived 1/5th of her life less than some of her class mates. My heart is breaking!

Thank to everyone that weight in on my cry for help on Twitter earlier, here are just some of the tweets that struck a chord with me:

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  • Reply Paula

    The twins birthday is in January which means they would either be the oldest or the very youngest in class. Everyone advised us to wait so that they turn 7 at the beginning of grade 1, as everyone (teachers, the principal, the OT) stressed the importance of emotional maturity. So they will actually turn 7 next year on the day school starts. A difficult decision but we are happy with it now. I went to school at 5 too and also struggled with shyness and making friends. Good luck and sterkte!

    September 22, 2015 at 7:00 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      Thanks Paula. It’s such a defining moment in a childs life and can either be a positive or a negative, I believe we’re doing the right thing, I’m just not sure how we make it positive for her.

      September 22, 2015 at 7:02 pm
  • Reply Emy

    She is 5 and will not recall being kept back as a bad thing. I know that schools here only take kids into grade 1 if they turn 7 before a mid year date. Because of this Jae will be starting grade 1 next year, she turns 7 in February. I think it’s a great thing. She is 100% ready for school next year! Go with your gut, you know what is best for her.

    September 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      I know this is the right decision, still doesn’t make it easy… I wish I knew how to make this a positive thing for her now.

      September 22, 2015 at 7:06 pm
      • Reply Emy Clarkee

        Jae was pushed forward a year once, which ultimately meant that she was also kept back a year to be with kids her own age. Her main problem was with her ‘friends’ moving on and her staying behind. I’m not going to lie, we had about 3 weeks of non stop tantrums about how much she hated school, how she had no friends etc. But you know what, she made new friends. Now I don’t want to call them better friends but the kids she has a friends now are much more ‘real’ to her. They make plans to see each other on weekends, sleepovers etc. And if you ask her about the time all her friends moved to the next class she can’t even remember it!

        September 23, 2015 at 3:44 pm
  • Reply laurakim

    My mom was told to put me in a remedial school because the teacher said I was retarded! Teachers don’t always know 🙂

    Sharon you know my feelings on this – pushing Kiara up is, in my mind, my biggest parenting fail. I did everything right but I still feel it was the wrong decision. Jack is set to do Gr R twice and so is Emma if that is how it works out. She passed all the tests and while she was on the same emotional level with the 6 year olds as a 5 year old – she didn’t keep up and so the difference, emotionally grew and grew. The knock to her confidence was HUGE. We still struggle with it despite having moved her to a new school where she is treated like a goddess.

    It was easier for us when Cam did it – their school has two Gr Rs, the kids doing it for the second time are moved to a new teacher and so they don’t really realise they are re-doing it. A few of his friends stayed back too so for us it wasn’t that tough to deal with so I can’t help there but the school should be able to help.

    September 22, 2015 at 7:14 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      Thanks Laura, I really appreciate your input. I’m really hoping the school educational psychologist will be able to guide us in the best way to handle this to turn it into a positive for her.

      September 22, 2015 at 7:16 pm
  • Reply laurakim

    Also I have a friend whose child is a December baby, she didn’t repeat so is the youngest and has ALWAYS been on the back foot, she is in extra classes and has to work extra hard to keep up.

    September 22, 2015 at 7:15 pm
  • Reply Rebecca

    I too feel strongly about this. In the uk at present we don’t have a choice. Your child starts depending on their date of birth. Legally they don’t have to be in school till the term after their 5th birthday but if you opt to keep them out they will miss reception and head straight into year 1 – a year behind all the other kids who have already had a year at school. Caleb is the 2nd youngest in his class. There are kids almost a year older. Academically he’s been okay but emotionally, starting a few weeks after his 4th birthday was too young. My second child is in the same boat and is due to start school in September 2016 – Just after he turns 4. The government are finally starting to talk about changing the law and the giving parents of summer born children the choice whether or not to let them start. This may or may not happen before Noah starts but if it does, without any doubt I’d want him to start a year later. All the top children in the class both emotionally and academically seem to be the oldest. There’s lots of research about summer born children and how they get on in schools and university compared to the children who are older when they start school. I think it’ll do her no harm at all holding her back a year but I understand that’s it’s hard as she’s already started. Good luck!!

    September 22, 2015 at 7:30 pm
  • Reply Cassie

    My sister’s birthday is the 31st December, she was also the youngest in her class and when it came to Grade 1, my folks made her repeat a year before she got to Grade 1. The best thing ever. She was a completely different child when she got to Grade 1, she would never have coped otherwise.

    Do what you feel is right, you know what is best for Ava

    September 22, 2015 at 7:36 pm
  • Reply Gen

    Olivia will be the same… Also being born end of December, I want her to enjoy life instead of having to be the child that always needs extra lessons because she needs to keep up.
    It’s a tough decision and I don’t know what I’m going to do myself …… I wish we could foresee the future now so we can make the best decision. …… I know that it won’t matter to them in a few years, but if I told Olivia today that she wasn’t moving forward, she would be shattered..

    September 22, 2015 at 7:56 pm
  • Reply clarissawitten

    Ahhh Sharon, I feel your anguish. At a recent school-preparation talk at Peyton’s pre-school, the grade 1 teachers couldn’t stress enough that certain skills are taught and learnt at a pre-school level and they don’t teach those particular skills at primary school. So if they come to primary school without those skills, they will be left behind. If it’s a skill that needs to be learnt at pre-school then it’s best to repeat grade R and start primary school the following year with a solid foundation and a complete, functional skill set. However, perhaps it would be different in a private school with smaller classes? I know government schools tend to have much bigger classes and less one-on-one attention.

    Would it be an option to put her in another pre-school for the additional year so that she feels like she’d moving on and not having the younger ones join her? Perhaps if she’s somewhere else it will feel like a new exciting adventure. I honestly don’t know.

    If at all possible, perhaps try to make contact with Dr Melody de Jager. I attended one of her talks last year at the primary school and it was mind blowing! If anyone can assist with school-readiness I think it would be her. And if I’m not mistaken, she’s from your part of the world. Here is one of her websites:

    Best of luck. I know whatever you decide it will be the right choice because you are an awesome mom who really goes the extra mile when it comes to her children.

    September 22, 2015 at 9:40 pm
  • Reply Glynis Marnitz

    SHaron, I worked at a pre primary for years, and when parents were faced with this enormous challenge, the principal would always say: your child is (say) the youngest in the class by 9 months. Think of a 3 month old compared to a 9 month old …. A huge difference!” Imagine Ava’s self esteem being king of the class, rather than the one battling. She will be fine and her self esteem, knowing that she is capable, will make her shine. I had a son who went to remedial school. As you know, it is a huge struggle, and just as huge for you the parents – the workload nowadays is enormous And emotional maturity can only stand them in good stead. I personally think you are doing the right thing re school readiness, but reading between the lines, another year at pre school can and will, only do her the world of good. Life is difficult enough at the best of times and she doesn’t need these pressures. You are such a level headed Mum and you will make the best decision for her. Go with your gut and don’t let emotions rule you! Good luck and let us know the outcome! Your girls are very precious! Lotsa love Glynis xx x

    September 22, 2015 at 9:56 pm
  • Reply elaine

    Kids are cruel, they will tease your daughter prepare her for it. My son would come home and tell me all his last year friends keep telling him he failed GrR, it breaks your heart. I kept telling him that I asked the school to let him wait because he was too young. Young not stupid, age not ability. Soon he made new friends and his last year friends are still his friends and they are too busy struggling along academically to worry about teasing my boy who is confident in his ability and able to take on the day and it’s challenges.

    So yes I have a tall boy in class photo’s but he does not consider the repeat of grade R as a failure and neither do I. I made a choice to hold him back. He is a gentle soul and was not ready to move to the dog eat dog life of Gr1. Grade R is readiness and if you are not ready then thats where you get ready… School starts at Gr1 my boy tgats when they keep count.. and I won’t let anyone tell him otherwise.

    September 22, 2015 at 11:04 pm
  • Reply Marina

    We’re debating the same thing for Claudio. He just turned 6 so also one of the youngest in Grade R. Academically he’s ready for Grade 1 but emotionally not so much. Done the school readiness assessment and the OT and child psychologist have suggested we move him to his new mainstream school as soon as next term instead of next year as the structured environment would benefit him more. He’s currently at a Montessori school which is not as structured and in hindsight not the best fit for Claudio. Tough decision and lots to think about but it will all be alright in the end. Good luck!

    September 22, 2015 at 11:11 pm
  • Reply Jenny

    Both my boys were the youngest in their respective classes for a few years. This year we kept them both back. They were devastated at first but are now thriving! Best thing we have ever done for them. Their confidence has sky rocketed, they have new friendships that are blossoming- it’s just great. We moved schools though, so that they wouldn’t always be “the kids who were kept back”. I will never regret this decision but it was a really tough one to make.

    September 22, 2015 at 11:13 pm
  • Reply Bianca

    My daughter is a September baby and we had to make this decision last year. She is an intelligent, capable, amazing child and at first I was quite taken aback that we needed to consider ‘keeping her back’. She is also a very sensitive child and struggled a bit with integrating with her peers. It wasn’t easy but in the end we decided to keep her in kindergarten another year and it has been the best decision! I can see how her confidence has grown and being one of the oldest in her class has really benefited her compared to being one of the youngest. She starts grade 1 next year and I definitely feel like emotionally she is better prepared and equipped than she was last year. It was disappointing for her when we told her last year but we did it in such a way that it wasn’t about her not being capable or there being anything wrong with her. Children are amazingly adaptable and resilient. At the end of the day, I think if you can be ok with it, your daughter will be ok with it because they pick up on our energy and feelings.

    September 23, 2015 at 8:12 am
  • Reply moonstormer

    I was pushed ahead in school, and then had to deal with the social difficulties of always being the youngest. Ended up taking two gap years after high school that made me much happier and more prepared for university. If she’s already the youngest, and might benefit from a bit more development before progressing to first grade, it sounds like the best thing for her. Of course explaining it to her is tricky, but perhaps just talk about the age differences instead of focusing on her “focus” levels?

    September 23, 2015 at 8:16 am
  • Reply catjuggles

    Oh Sharon – we have chatted about this and I think you know my thoughts 100%. I am all for keeping back. Honestly in our school quite a few kids were kept back and it always pays off. Lots of love

    September 23, 2015 at 8:47 am
  • Reply Supermama

    My heart just breaks for you reading this. I will tell you why. Your entire post reminded me vividly of my own sister. Word for word it could have been her you were talking about. Anyway all I want to say is if you focus on the positive and continue to see the entire scenario as positively as possible, that is how Ava will see it too. Too often the negativity rubs off unintentionally from parents and family too and that is where it all goes awry. My Sister will tell you too that staying back was the very best thing possible. Like the tweets have indicated she is still the youngest so she will never feel odd or out of place in that regard. Be strong xx

    September 23, 2015 at 9:09 am
  • Reply Caroline

    I feel you… It is so damn hard!
    Evan is born on 28 October (in grade 00, about to turn 5), but he has been diagnosed with ADHD and has sensory integration issues, he is at a private school. We have been going to the OT and Educational Psychologist since March last year. We made the tough decision to medicate him at the end of last year, and the improvement was immediately noticeable. I do still have doubts that he is emotionally equipped to go into grade 0 or 1 with his current classmates, of which some are 10 months older than him, that’s a HUGE difference! His best friend is turning 6 two months after he turns 5!
    The school has said that we might be able to motivate him staying back a year with all the specialists input, but then he really would be the oldest. the other alternative we have is to put him in a specialist (not quite remedial) school where there are only about 8 kids in the class and they get more attention, but that is also nearly twice the price we already pay… and as you know money does not grow on trees.

    You probably feel the same when I say… All I want is for him to be happy, have friends and not struggle with school like I did.
    Thinking of you!

    September 23, 2015 at 9:46 am
  • Reply Fun ways to encourage improved handwriting in children

    […] At our meeting with Ava’s amazing teacher yesterday, we also discussed different ways to encourage her to practise her writing, without it seeming like we’re pushing or forcing her. With my own education history, I have a huge issue with this. I won’t force her, I won’t scream and shout and get frustrated. She is FIVE years old. Still just a little girl and I refuse to push her like that and create a negative environment for learning. Her teacher agrees, she says that any negativity will stop the learning process. […]

    September 23, 2015 at 9:48 am
  • Reply Cindy

    Oh Sharon, this is so difficult. But kids adapt so easily while they are young – she will make new friends and be totally fine.

    September 23, 2015 at 10:45 am
    • Reply Anne-Marie

      Could you please help me as well?

      September 13, 2016 at 10:09 am
    • Reply Anne-Marie

      Hi. Have you gotten any help on how to keep your child back a year? I am in same situation as you!!

      September 13, 2016 at 10:08 am
      • Reply Sharon

        We did keep her back and it’s been the best thing for her. It was a tough decision to make but she is flying this year!

        September 13, 2016 at 10:12 am
        • Reply therealjulz

          Hi Sharon, I know this is a very late reply, but thank you for your honesty . My heart broke today when we took my 8 year old son to his new school for an assessment as he would be moving from a small farm school to a huge public school. We were told he is fairly behind in Maths etc. Unfortunately his reports have stated otherwise so I really didn’t know. We decided to start him a grade behind in the new school mid term. He is sad, but he has to make new friends anyway and there is a chance he would have to repeat grade 3 anyway. He is a late November baby. I remember being the youngest kid in class and always struggling and then I too gave up. The comments here have been so helpful. I just wish I had gone with my gut instinct and held him back in Grade R! So Grade 2 here he come!

          June 2, 2017 at 8:21 pm
          • Sharon

            It is a very hard decision, but without a doubt the best one! All the best to you all!

            June 3, 2017 at 8:12 am
  • Reply September Roundup and Linky - South African Mom Blogs

    […] has a post How to know if you should keep your child back a year. As an ex Grade One teacher who watched certain younger kids being pushed through, and not coping […]

    October 1, 2015 at 9:34 pm
  • Reply Dear Daughters – stand or fall, I’ll be right here for you…

    […] was notified beforehand, and I chatted with her teacher about what to do as she is only having her assessment with the educational psychologist later this week and as a result, we have not told her y… So we, along with her teacher, decided for now to let her go head and get fitted for the uniform […]

    October 20, 2015 at 8:46 pm
  • Reply Sanet Walkinshaw

    Good day all,

    I came across this link when I googled about knowing whether your kiddie is ready for school. My little boy was born on 7 December 2010. He should be going to Gr R next year, but after tests by an Occupational Therapist, it seemed better to wait a year. The decision is made, according to us. My question is… especially to some mommies here who kept their little ones back in Gr R… How did you manage it???!! The school just keeps on telling me that when I enroll him for 2017, he WILL be going to Gr 1, and not Gr R. That is the law. Our whole plan is for him to do Gr R at the little school he currently attends, and then have him do Gr R again at the Primary school my little girl is at already. But this school just refuses. Their every reply is, that he WILL be going to Gr 1 in the year he turns 7. If he then struggles, they will keep him back in Gr !, which to me, is cruel, and is exactly what I do NOT want. We will be doing tests again, we will hand in all paperwork etc. But does anyone here have some advise as to how to manage to have him enrolled for Gr R in 2017? I understand the whole scenario from the school’s point of view, but my little boy is not ready. How do they expect me to let him go to school, when I know in my hart that he should wait a year??

    November 16, 2015 at 3:27 pm
    • Reply Monique

      Dear all, 9 months after above posts I google ” should my child repeat grade R” and land on this discussion I’m in a similar situation. Bright boy, but December baby as well as physically small. My heart says…repeat. Teacher says…repeat. I’m just so scared that he would be teased and really need help in preparing this. So maybe this blog was meant to be seen by me tonight. What did you decide to do Sharon? And how is he doing?? Love, me

      August 17, 2016 at 9:26 pm
  • Reply Natasha

    My daughter is 8 years old and in Grade 2. We were called in today and her teacher recommends that she repeats the grade because she is struggling with English and they feel it would be the best for her. She goes for extra lessons and her tutor says that she will be okay to go through to the next grade with support! I really feel the same.. I’m so confused and sad. We really don’t know what to do!!!

    October 25, 2016 at 5:45 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      A year on and I can tell you with 100% certainty that it was the best decision we have ever made.

      October 26, 2016 at 8:31 am
  • Reply Mandy

    Hi, I’ve read through the comments with interest. My issue however with this hasn’t been brought up. My son is an August baby but was born almost two months prem. He’s poised to got to Grade R next year, but we and his preschool teacher think he needs more time to mature before heading into a new school, bigger, more demanding environment. So she’s suggested another year at preschool. He’s 4 going on 5, next year he’ll be 5 going on 6. That means in Grade R he’ll be 6 going on 7. My worry is that he’ll feel stigmatised as an older kid as he goes through, though he’ll only get older towards the end of the year. Thoughts?

    March 9, 2017 at 3:40 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      I really don’t think you need to worry about that. Ava faced some tough times when she stayed back but it’s done incredible things for her confidence. Yes, she’s now older than the other kids in her grade, but she’s also now the leader and not the follower. Trust you instincts, trust your teachers if they’re advising it and you’re feeling it, don’t over think it, just do it. I can say, from experience, it’s the greatest gift I could have given my child.

      March 9, 2017 at 8:12 pm
  • Reply Mandy

    Thanks for the feedback

    March 15, 2017 at 4:25 pm
  • Reply Levona

    Hi Sharon. I thank you for your article and would like to ask you for advice about the situation my daughter Gabby is facing. She is 7 going to be 8 on 2 march 2018. She has just started at a new school grade 3. They want to put her back to grade 2 because they feel from her work for the past two weeks back at school that she will not be able to cope. She loves school and loves learning. I think its a bit premature to suggest that she will not cope because her pass marks from last year are not a case of allowing her to proceed. She even took the award in her grade for most improved learner. Please advise what may I do or say to convince her current grade 3 teacher that she will cope and that she is a fast learner.

    February 7, 2018 at 7:53 am
    • Reply Sharon

      I also think it’s very premature. It’s only been two weeks and she is at a new school, so she should be given a chance to settle.
      Having said that, I would really encourage you to get her assessed by the schools educational psychologist or externally if the school doesn’t have one. The information they provide is invaluable. You won’t regret it. All the best to the both of you!

      February 7, 2018 at 5:48 pm
  • Reply Christien

    Hi Sharon,

    I have just come accross this blog. Did your daughter start Grade 1 the year she turns 8? My son was born 27 December 2012 and is going to Grade R next year and starting grade 1 in 2020. He will be 7 when he starts grade 1. I just want to check that I have done the right thing. Emotionally he is not ready for big school.

    Thank you

    April 11, 2018 at 10:54 am
    • Reply Sharon

      Yes, she turned 8 at the end of Grade 1. She is in Grade 2 this year and will be 9 in December.

      April 11, 2018 at 1:23 pm

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