My Child is Struggling in School! What Should I Do? Should I Hold My Child Back a Grade?

school2Probably not…

The right school placement for your child is a very important decision to make, if you have a choice.  Most children attend the public school linked to their address, and the only decision might be whether or not to retain your student (hold them back a year) if they are struggling. In general, this is not a good idea.  Your child will notice that their friends and peers have moved on and they have not and this leaves a life-long scar on their psyche. You can sometimes repeat kindergarten if they attend a different kindergarten when your child just isn’t ready.  It does take longer for some children to mature and be school ready.

As a child reaches higher grades, I find it extremely disruptive to hold a child back and almost never worth it. When you think about the large range of learning challenges, from ADD and ADHD to autism, specific learning disabilities, and different capabilities, it becomes clear that traditional sit and focus on the teacher learning in a large group just won’t be very effective for some children.  Spending another year in the same grade level rarely helps much once they are in the older grades.  

Things that do help are accommodations (IEP – Individualized Education Plan, or a 504 – which allows for accommodations). The schools are set up to provide these for children who qualify for them, either by being 2 grade levels behind or having a medical diagnosis that qualifies (ADD, ADHD, and Autism, for example). It sometimes is just better to find a school that fits your child.  There may be academic or social pressures that are making your school a poor fit and causing your child to either give up or rebel.  Sometimes alternative schools work, sometimes it’s just a different school that is needed.

Data from about 80,000 7th graders in North Carolina is reviewed (read the study here… ) and the findings are clear:

Seventh-grade students who attend school with many old for grade or retained peers are more likely to commit offenses and be suspended. Retained and old for grade students are more vulnerable to these peer influences than other students. 

Conclusions: We find an increase in negative behavior across all students who have higher levels of retained and old for grade peers. Increased opportunities to interact with deviant peers can influence the behavior of youth who do not share the same risk factors for deviant behavior.”


If your child is struggling, ask the school (in writing) to do a comprehensive educational and psychological evaluation.  This is for those who are really a grade or two behind.  This evaluation can help determine special learning disabilities, ADD or ADHD issues, and more.  An evaluation by your pediatrician is also helpful. On my web site are links to the Vanderbilt assessment forms (see them here… )  for teachers and for parents, which can be brought to your pediatrician and may help figure out what is going on.  Dyslexia is a special situation. The schools are not qualified to make the diagnosis and pediatricians are typically not qualified to make the diagnosis. There are dyslexia centers in most cities where you can have an evaluation.  I find they are quick to make the diagnosis of dyslexia and then of course they are the ones to treat that.  Having said that, the treatment (working with your child) can have profound benefits, so if you can afford to do this and it is needed, go for it.

Always be sure your child sees normally and doesn’t need glasses and that they hear normally. It would be tragic if they were struggling for those reasons.


Dr. Paul

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