Should You Hold Your Child Back From Kindergarten? Why It's Common
"Every child is individual and should have their needs assessed," says Dr. Dixon. "Consider their maturity from not only a social level, but also from an ability standpoint, such as their motor skills, language level, and attention span."
A new study shows it's now common for parents to delay sending their young children to kindergarten, opting to hold them back for an extra year of preschool instead. This growing situation even now has a name: redshirting. So, why are parents so hesitant? Worries about a child being academically, socially and mature enough to start school are commonplace. But, what are the pros and cons to holding a child back? Here, Rebecca Dixon, MD, a pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, offers expert insight.
"Every child is individual and should have their needs assessed," says Dr. Dixon. "Consider their maturity from not only a social level, but also from an ability standpoint, such as their motor skills, language level, and attention span." But sometimes, as a parent, it's hard to know how your child measures up to other kids his age. It's hard to know, for example, if his motor skills are age-appropriate for a five-year old or if he is lagging behind. "This would be a good topic to address with your child's pediatrician." Your pediatrician can go through his chart, look through his progress over the years and see where his strengths and weaknesses are.
"Social maturity is also very important when considering whether your child is ready for school," emphasizes Dr. Dixon. "For example, a child who can read at the age of 5 years old, but is still too young to meet the attention demands of school is not ready." She notes that on the converse side, children who are academically ahead of their classroom peers may need additional work or advanced level work to maintain their interest and keep them motivated. It's important to talk to your child's preschool teacher to see where he falls within in the spectrum of the class. It's also important to discuss with her where your child is facing challenges.
How do you know if your child is ready academically? "Many schools have testing that can assess level of readiness. However, remember that simply being able to do things a five-year-old can do (like read and count) does not mean that a 4-year-old is ready to advance." You have to look at the big picture.
What are the cons of sending a child to school too soon? "Ramifications may be frustration and fear, early on. Some children will not show true problems in being sent to school until they are older and asked to do tasks they are not developmentally ready for such as independent study." Many experts agree, saying it's often not evident that a child should have been held back until they are more immersed into their school years.
If you're on the fence, what should you do? Staying back one year, especially if the child has a birthday that is very close to the cut-off stands to benefit them from the standpoint of social and academic maturity," says Dr. Dixon. But, if you're still confused on what you should do, seek advice not only from your pediatrician and preschool teacher, but talk to the elementary school principal and even a kindergarten teacher. They will be able to give you some good insight and perhaps even meet with your child and access what may be the best decision.
-- By Judy Koutsky