Just read your article on retention. My son is a kindergartener this year and is performing below grade level. His birthday is 3/28, so he has turned 6. We have decided based on emotional maturity and his academic performance to retain him. Here’s the problem… He is a very anxious little guy. He is very attached to his friends and he is having a very hard time now that the realization hit him that he will be in Kindergarten while they move on. He swears he doesn’t want to stay back, and why does he have to? After all, his big sister didn’t? Why should he? We are trying to be positive about this, and I totally understand the reasons for retention. I just need some advice on how to make this positive. Right now, he can’t see any of that. I can’t expect him to, he’s six. He doesn’t understand that if he goes ahead that he’ll struggle and that we are trying to give him every chance to succeed.

I know this is a difficult decision, one that I’m sure you have debated and gave a lot of thought to. So having decided, be confident that you are doing the right thing. Not that it will matter to him right now, but this decision in the long run should result in a number of benefits. If he moved on, he may well have been burdened with years, maybe even a lifetime, of academic failure and low self-esteem. On the other hand, children that are retained quite often turn out to be real leaders. He may never tell you, but when he is old enough to understand and appreciate your reasoning, he will be thankful for your decision.

For now, keep the explanations simple. Be sympathetic, but be firm. Tell him that you and his Daddy have decided that this is what is best for him. Let him know that you want to make sure he has all of the background learning down before he moves on to other grades. If you want, also tell him that he was young compared to many students in his grade when you enrolled him in school, and that you have since decided that it would be better for him to be one of the older kids in his grade. Explain that when he plays sports as he gets older, he’ll be a lot stronger and more coordinated than many kids in his class. Be enthusiastic in promising him that he’ll meet new friends.

If possible, have him meet and play with some of the students who will be in his new class before school starts. Speak to the teacher before school begins and mention that your son is having a hard time with the transition. Ask the teacher to be aware of the situation so that he or she can help by making your son feel successful and important. Ask that he be given one of the “helper jobs” assigned to students (i.e. line leader) at the beginning of the year. If he seems to remain anxious, you may want to volunteer in the classroom so that he feels more secure. It is natural to question the decisions we make on behalf of our children, but as the years pass, you will become more assured and thankful that you gave your child this gift of extra time. In the meantime, be sure to hide any doubt or signs of wavering from your son: remain confident and positive in your decision.