How hard should I try to hold back my son from primary school? Expat Ed
March 24, 2021 4:06 AM   Subscribe

My son is HUGE for his age but also the youngest in his cohort. To me it would be a no brainer to hold him back- but its complicated. Can you help me decide how hard to try? Details below the fold.

We are expats with our kids in an international school kindergarten. My older son would technically be able to stay back a year according to the structure of local schools. Academically he is fine, but emotionally and socially he is drawn to the group below him. He is 5 and a half and wants to play with kids who have just turned 5. My younger son is only 11 months younger so they have ended up forming a friendship group with some kids who's age is right between them. His teachers are encouraging him to play with the older kids in his group who have all just turned 6 and he is really really digging in his heels about this. I suspect that his size is partly an issue- he is off the charts and quite articulate so comes across as much older. Anyway, his teachers are not keen on him staying back, they want him split from his brother. We are considering the potential option of giving him another year of kindergarten at the local kindergarten down the street. I'm not sure how easy this would be for him because its a lot of change. But he has some proprioseption and attention issues and I think he's going to struggle a bit in school. Also, we don't speak the local language and in my dream world he would stay back for a year, learn the language, make some local friends, go to occupational therapy and just be more ready. It doesn't help that this year has been so crazy with corona and we are in a place that is preparing for a 3rd wave. I am also concerned that he might struggle again in a new place because of his size. I would be very curious to hear how you guys think and what advice you might give.
posted by catspajammies to Education (19 answers total)
Social development comes in spurts, so his desire for the younger kids may not be the same or present the same way in Sept as it does now. I'd ask for opinions on additional supports, and If the first few weeks of 1st grade don't go well if you could switch him back.

This was done for me (but i was a small kid) because i just didn't adjust to first grade well for some reason (ultimately my guess is that was home life related but was coming out at school). I don't quite remember why except I had headaches.

Regardless, they held me in kindergarden. In my small school district it completely changed the cohort I went to school with through 5th grade.
It caused a few problems with programs that had age comparisons because for some things I was conpared to kids who had completed a year of school that I had't had the chance to do yet! And I know if I would have stayed in my orginal cohort I would have been eligible for some stuff I wasn't otherwise.

If you want to hold back, now is the time to do so. It's way easier to do now than it is later as kids become more aware of the social pressure about it. If he is the youngest, it might not make him the oldest in next years class. I think you have some good reasons to argue for it, or aleast some additional support.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:37 AM on March 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

Strictly anecdotal, but we had a similar situation with our son (who is now a freshman a college). Being born in the summer, he was on that weird cusp where we had the choice to start him in school earlier or waiting a year. We ended up starting him a year earlier, so he was among the youngest in his cohort but because genetics, he was among the tallest.

He also had a similar profile socially and even similar attention issues.

We ended up regretting our decision, not in a major way, but enough to be measurable I guess. In fact, due to medical reasons, much later in life he ended up repeating junior year of HS and I think it was absolutely a "correction" of sorts and he ended up being much happier.

One thing I will say from our experience is forget what the school "wants", they might be good people etc, but you know your son best not an administration who has preset values of the way things are "supposed" to be. If he enjoys playing with the group below him, then in my opinion you should follow that path. Childhood is fleeting enough and there's little reason to put your foot on the gas pedal for it.

These physical differences tend to even out down the road, our kiddo was almost 6 feet by age 13, played center on his basketball team, etc. and then he just...stopped growing.

Finally, circling back to the proprioception & attention issues you mentioned, I can also tell you from experience that this will be challenging enough as it is, never-mind adding the additional pressure of being in an older cohort.

Tl;dr If our family were in a similar situation today, we would absolutely give him another year of kindergarten.
posted by jeremias at 4:44 AM on March 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

Are the teachers at all reassuring about working with a kid who is both on the cusp and developmentally young? I have a big kid with a cusp birthday, and the teachers were trained to deal with kids in his age range and completely met him where he was. For a few years he was near the bottom end of the class, but the teachers had no concerns and he is now pretty well in the middle of the pack.

However, the cusp kid who was a whole year+ older than him in kindergarten was clearly bored and dealt with it by picking on the class baby, and I ended up feeling a lot of resentment towards those parents for making that choice.

(Also, neither of us is especially large, but my husband and I were both born within two weeks of the cutoff. He stayed back in kindergarten, I was sent a year late and immediately skipped to first grade, and we’re both successful people by most metrics. So with my own kid I went into it pretty confident that things would work out no matter what.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:11 AM on March 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

A pediatrician in our area always gives the same advice in these situations, and she's has been spot on for our family, though you know your child best:

Is your child a risk taker and outgoing, or does he sit back and watch? If he a risk taker, not tiny for his age (doesn't sound like your situation), and there are no other significant delays or learning disabilities, it will probably work out if you send him. If he's not a risk taker and is generally shy, it's better to wait because even though the academics will be ok, the social stresses will be significant.

That said, I've never heard of a situation where a family regrets waiting a year, but know of many examples where they wish they had waited.
posted by defreckled at 5:44 AM on March 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

Oh goodness go with your gut! It's easier to add challenges and much harder to take them away in my experience as a parent. Is the only real issue his size? Kids are all sizes in school -- some of the older kids are tiny but in my daughter's class the youngest girl towers over everyone else by a lot. No one notices or cares and eventually I'm sure it will even out (or not -- but again really, who cares?)

And agree you know your kid best. Schools often mean well but they don't know him or your family (and don't have to suffer the consequences as you might.) You say what you want in your "dream world" and it's totally do-able!
posted by heavenknows at 6:16 AM on March 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

As possibly tangential anecdata: I was very young for my grade for dumb reasons like my Dad wanted me to advance, and it was kind of an issue for me for most of my childhood. Like your son I was oriented toward younger kids my age (b/c they mirrored my maturity) but then got teased for being friends with kids a grade below me, or questioned/pushed by adults about that. It was really only into college when there is a bit more mixing of ages that I ever felt consistently socially comfortable.

Anyway, it all works out in the end, I'm pretty normal - but why not let your kid be comfortable in their own skin at school, sounds like he's given you a lot of hints, and you'd be kind to take account of that.
posted by RajahKing at 7:08 AM on March 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

If I were you I'd keep him with his friends. Friends are important.
posted by amtho at 7:30 AM on March 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all your help so far. I do want to clarify a couple of things. I don't think his current teachers would be amenable to letting him stay back in this group. And I'm not in the position to make that happen. But, if we got a spot at a local kindergarten then he could enroll there for a year (hopefully learn the local language!) and rejoin his preferred group the year after. I do feel that he has been disadvantaged due to his size and is often misunderstood. He looks much older than he is (Especially now with my corona buzz cuts, which are epic fails!) but he has also had early intervention when he was very young, between 3 and 4, it went well and he has come so far but that's definitly a factor for me. He is definitly happier with the kids running his age and younger...It would be tough to hold him back because it would be an all new place and in a different language- but maybe he would grow and be more ready? That is my hope!
posted by catspajammies at 8:23 AM on March 24, 2021

I'm not a tall person, so take this as you will, but: any person who seems stronger, smarter, richer, or bigger needs to work extra hard to reach out to other people to make real connections. If the new school, or learning the language, will help him do that, that might be helpful.

I say this because I'm wondering if he's going to end up being extra big even if he's kept with older children.

I do think that social and emotional maturity is more important than physical size -- but, again, I'm not a teacher, just a person with disadvantages in both those qualities :)
posted by amtho at 8:33 AM on March 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you do this, will both boys then be in the same grade, even the same class going forward. I'm wondering what that would be like in terms of comparisons/competition between the boys.
posted by metahawk at 9:17 AM on March 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

How prone is your son to getting into fights?

My midsummer birthday made me one of the youngest in my grade, but I was always about the second biggest in my grade through elementary school, and I got suspended from kindergarten on my first day because I got in a fight with a first grader who had to be sent for some kind of medical attention, which kind of set the tone for those years.

It would have been a disaster for me to be held back, and I think the school might have been tempted because I didn’t learn to read or write until the third grade, but the thought of putting me in among even smaller kids gave everyone pause.
posted by jamjam at 9:34 AM on March 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: He is not at all prone to getting into fights. When he joined the group at the beginning of the year it was, in fact, him that was bullied by one of the boys in his cohort and he was quite passive tried to ignore it.
posted by catspajammies at 9:41 AM on March 24, 2021

So holding him back means he and his sibling would be in the same grade and perhaps the same class? I don't think that's an advantage here at all. In fact, I think it's a disadvantage of your plan.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:18 AM on March 24, 2021 [11 favorites]

My kid is usually the youngest in her cohort and was smack in the middle size-wise at kindy and well advanced verbally in comparison. We just started high school and she is still one of the youngest, hasn't hit puberty and is one of the smallest, and is absolutely loving it. She is an only child, and very much took time to become social. She enjoyed being with other kids, and all that, but took a good six months of kindy to find her peers (two other very similar little girls, a little boy much like her cousin).

Size-wise things change a lot. I was a normal age for my cohort but I hit puberty early and hard, and looked much older than my peers for many years. It sucked. I was smart, but emotionally still a child. I had fears my daughter would have the same experience but she hasn't (strong dad genes) because a mismatch between externally read age and actual age leads to a lot of difficulties. Which will be exacerbated by holding back.

It is compounded by being so close to his brother. I wasn't as close in age to my sister but translated and interceded for her until I got sent to school. At which point she had to learn to engage as herself. My ex was very close in age to his brother and they almost always socialised together and the first year they were separated by distance (as adults!) was extremely rough. It's still hard for my ex to make sense of a social life that isn't dominated by his brother (which caused many a marital issue). Creating codependency is going to be an issue if your son is already struggling to create his own identity.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:16 PM on March 24, 2021

Teacher here. I was skipped and finished high school at 16. Horrible idea all the way through. Don't know what my parents were thinking. I was bullied the year I was skipped and it went downhill from there.
My own kid was on the young side for first grade but I went ahead and put them in. Probably not a great idea. The big upside was they weren't old enough to drive when their classmates were running into trees and flipping their cars.
I taught in a boys' school for twenty five years, and my "red-shirted" kids who were old for their grade were the most successful, most mature, and often the least likely to get into trouble.

Short answer: our method of teaching in age cohorts often disadvantages kids in subtle ways.
posted by Peach at 4:42 PM on March 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Have dealt with a similar situation and chose to hold back for many of the reasons you and others have mentioned. The school we were in at the time helped us to make the decision. One part of it was thinking a few years into the future. For example - what will it be like for your son to be a year younger than other kids when his classmates start going through puberty?
posted by Viola Swamp at 5:35 PM on March 24, 2021

Little eirias is the second youngest in her class. We never even considered red shirting her because she was confident and a strong reader, and we worried about her being bored. If I had known how school would go, I would have rethought this. It’s been fine academically, but she has coordination and attention issues that have at times absolutely dominated her gifts intellectually, to the point where a year and a half ago we were staring possible school failure in the face. Our situation is extreme for a few reasons but I do wonder sometimes whether we could have saved ourselves an ocean of grief by holding her back.
posted by eirias at 7:57 PM on March 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! There were a few answers that were particularly helpful, especially when they addressed the physical coordination and attention issues. There is indeed a lot to weigh up!
posted by catspajammies at 1:56 AM on March 25, 2021

Response by poster: Hi Everyone, I just wanted to come on here and give an update. I have got an awesome outcome- we got offered a spot in a Schulvorbereitende Einrichtung, which means School Prep Facility in German. So my kiddo will go in the mornings on the bus to a small class of 10, learn German, and get ready for school by trained professionals who prep kids for school for a living. Then two afternoons a week he can go to his kindergarten and see his old friends. So I am thrilled. It was a battle to get the 2 days a week but worth it. Anyway. Over the moon here. Thanks for all the support!

In case anyone has an interest:

During this process I learned that in Germany there are multiple pathways into elementry school and parents can refer their own children, they don't wait for the kid to fail and they don't demand a diagnosis. There are the SVE's which is like a gap year as I have described, and then Diagnostic classes which are the first 2 years of primary spread out over 3 years and taught in smaller groups in multi sensory ways... and then a couple more options. We were able to refer ourselves and get an assesment about which group would be best within a few weeks and I am taking my next kiddo in tomorrow for his assesment. It really is fantastic and we're going to be telling out politicians about it when we get back.
posted by catspajammies at 1:08 AM on June 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

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