Helping your child handle grade retention
Grade retention is a difficult topic. However, if your child was retained for the upcoming school year, it is time to have that tough talk with your child.
Children repeat a grade for many reasons, including a need to mature, a lack of academic success or excessive absences during the school year. Regardless of the reason, your child may take the news hard. Here are some tips for having this conversation.
Be clear. Talk to your child at his developmental level, and be clear about what is happening. You might say something like, “Your teacher and I have decided that it will be best if you are in first grade again next year so that you can learn everything you need to know and be ready for second grade.” Try to keep explanations simple.
Be sympathetic, but firm. Validate your child’s feelings. She will likely feel sad or angry or confused and that’s okay. Tell them it’s okay to feel her feelings, but be clear that the decision to repeat a grade has been made. Reassure your child that you are her parent and only want to what is best for her and what will help her to be her very best.
Be positive. Even if you are not sure about the decision to retain, be positive when talking with your child. He will take cues about how to feel based on how you feel. You might want to explain that not everyone does everything at the same time. When they were little, not everyone walked at the same time or now, not everyone learns to tie their shoes at the same time.
Be proactive. When children are retained, one worry that they have is that they won’t have any friends. Over the summer, try and help your child make some connections with children in her new class. Set up some play dates or invite some children over to your house. If you know who your child’s teacher will be, see if you can set up a time to meet the new teacher before school starts. Teachers have recommended the following books to read to your child about grade retention: "Leo the late bloomer," "First grade can wait" and "Ruby in her own time."
Be solution-focused. Children are retained for numerous reasons. Whatever the reason, try and find activities in the summer that will help your child grow in that area. For example, if he is immature, you might want to sign him up for a cooperative play sports team. If he is struggling with academics, you might want to find fun, recreational classes that also have a focus on academic skill development. As a parent, you want to do everything you can to make sure that your child can take advantage of this time.
Grade retention has often been called the gift of time. As your child repeats this grade, take extra time to consult with her teacher and make sure she is making the necessary gains to be successful in the next grade.
Last but not least, make sure that you are taking care of your needs as a parent. If you are struggling with the decision to retain, you might want to talk to other parents who have made the same decision. Validate your feelings as a parent. You, too, might be sad or angry or confused. Talk with friends or consult with professionals in your child’s school to best come to terms with this decision.
Tracy Christman is a psychologist with Milwaukee Public Schools and mom to two boys.