By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers
September 11, 2012
Your son was held back a year. How can you ease the burden of returning to the same grade while all his friends have moved on?
(from our panel of staff contributors)
Any chance he can carry out the redo year in another school? If not, emphasize how cool it is going to be to be the biggest/tallest one in class and how successful he will be because he is back to master skills that were introduced to him.
This happened to my brother; a teacher held him back for disciplinary reasons (he misbehaved because the material was too easy for him). The administrators wouldn't budge, so my mom put him in a different school. She couldn't undo the held-back ruling, but she could keep him from having to see all his former classmates every day.
Start by asking your son what's on his mind, says clinical psychologist Margret Nickels, director of the Erikson Institute Center for Children and Families.
"Let your child talk about how he's going to miss his friends and what's in his heart," Nickels says. "Validate those feelings: 'I know this is hard. I know you were hoping to move on with the rest of your class.'"
Then you can put a plan in place.
"Losing the friendships he's formed will probably be one worry for him," she says.
Find out which friends he feels closest to and make arrangements to plan family outings with those friends and, if possible, sign your son up for sports and other activities with them. Gently encourage your son to make new friends as well.
"You want to provide the opportunity to maintain his old friendships, but you want to help him see that once he settles in a new classroom he'll form new friendships there," Nickels says. "Sometimes, as parents, we underestimate a child's flexibility and capacity to adjust and navigate new situations."
Nickels says about 10 percent of children nationally are held back a grade each year. The decision doesn't have to be your child's social or academic undoing, even if he stays with the same teacher.
"I just did a consultation for a family whose 6-year-old was held back because of some social and emotional and cognitive immaturity," Nickels says. "We recommended he stay with the same teacher because it had taken him so long to form a relationship with her, and the school sought to build on that."
Seek advice from your child's teacher, who may have experienced the situation multiple times. And be mindful of the way you talk about the decision to your son.
"Regardless of how young your child is, there will be a sense of, 'Why am I not moving up? How am I different?'" Nickels says. "You don't want to phrase it as a failure. Instead of saying, 'You weren't good in these areas,' it's important to say, 'Remember how hard this was for you? We're giving you a little more time to get really good at it.'"
You'll all benefit if you can look at this in more nuanced terms than success or failure. "It's an opportunity to support your child through a difficult situation in a positive way," she says. "A parent's role is not so much to prevent difficult situations at all costs but, when difficult situations make sense, to help the child cope, because that's what they're going to have to do throughout life."
Have a solution?
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