My son hadn’t even started Kindergarten and other moms started questioning my decision. “You should hold him back! He’s going to be the youngest in his class and you will regret it forever!” they kept telling me. My husband and I remained firm. We know our child. As an August baby, our son would be the youngest child in his class, but he was mature enough and seemed totally prepared for Kindergarten.
But the opinions continued to pour in … “Think of sports: if you hold him back he’ll be taller and stronger than his classmates.” While I agree that sports are important to an extent, they are not so important that I would make my son repeat Pre-K in order to have a competitive edge at five years old. The voices of doom said that I would regret our decision in third grade — and that beyond that, middle school would be even worse.
I admit, at times we doubted ourselves and the decision we had made. So we had the school counselor evaluate whether he was ready for elementary school. She agreed with us and said she would not recommend holding him back. But still, there were other concerns we had. We know that boys tend to mature later than girls and there is so much research touting the advantages of being the oldest versus the youngest in the classroom. But then again, I was the youngest in my class and despite a few middle school bullying episodes, it didn’t bother me at all.
After going back and forth, we shut out the noise and decided to leave him where he was and allow our little boy to start Kindergarten a few days shy of his fifth birthday. My son is now in seventh grade and all I can say is thank goodness my husband and I decided to trust how well we knew our boy.
Though I didn’t appreciate all the doubt we were met with for our son, I can appreciate the benefits of having a child that’s older than her classmates. Our daughter was a September baby, which meant that in Florida she would be the oldest in her class. At her preschool they considered her too advanced, so they moved her ahead. When the time came for Kindergarten, once again we were faced with the dilemma of whether to hold her back so she would be the oldest in her class (and comply with Florida regulations, that establish a September 1st cutoff) or to keep her as the youngest and request special placement in her case.
Again, we sought an expert opinion. This time, he confirmed what we thought: that she would be much better off being the oldest instead of the youngest. It had nothing to do with her abilities, but everything to do with her own maturity level.
Those who had criticized us when we didn’t hold back our son now applauded us for “seeing the light” and even thought we regretted what we had done with him and were now “correcting the mistake” we had made.
They were wrong. Each child is different and no matter what the research says, any parent that is faced with placement decisions needs to shut out the noise and concentrate on their kid. You know your child better than anybody else. If he or she is constantly struggling in preschool, whether academically or socially, ask yourself whether holding them back a year might make sense. On the other hand, if your child is thriving, don’t just have them repeat pre-K so they can get their driver’s license before everybody else. If they seem okay and you’re not sure because their birthday is right next to your school’s cutoff date, seek the opinion of a child psychologist, counselor, or even your kid’s teachers.
Then be honest with yourself. In our case, our children’s happiness has always been more important than being the tallest, getting their driver’s permit before the rest of their classmates, or having an advantage in sports. It also meant choosing differently for each one of them and until now, seeing them excel in school has shown us we did the right thing for them.
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