Is Retention Ever a Good Idea?

We’re getting to that time of year that some parents are getting the news that their child is “in danger of retention.”

“In danger” indicates that retention is a bad thing.  While it is something that should certainly be decided with careful thought, there are there times when retention is actually a good idea.

Children grow and develop at different rates, especially in those early years.  It is not unusual for a child, particularly a boy, to be developmentally young for his (or her) chronological age.  Developmental age is not about achievement or intelligence, but rather the child’s overall maturity level – the age at which he is functioning as a total organism – socially, emotionally, intellectually, and physically.

Children who are chronologically young for their grade – those whose birthdate is within 3 months of the cut-off date for entering kindergarten – tend to be at a disadvantage as they go through school.  They’re always just a little behind the rest in truly being ready for the expectations of the grade level.  Many perform in school just fine, but there is often a cost in increased stress, dependence, or time.  They have to work harder to manage the demands.  There is a true advantage to being one of the older kids in the class.

When should a child be retained in a grade?

The only solution to being young is time.  If your child is struggling in school because he is chronologically or developmentally young, he needs the gift of time.  Another year in pre-school, kindergarten, or even first grade will give him the time he needs to mature and be ready for the attention and learning demands of the grade level.  This is a gift that given once, will support him throughout his school career.

What are the risks of retention to consider?

The older a child gets, the harder it is to retain, even if you know they would benefit.  Young children believe what their parents say and will usually be fine with whatever is decided, but by second or third grade, the child and his peers may begin to look at retention as a failure.  This adds a whole new layer of challenge.  The whole family, including the child, need to be on board with retention at this age, and success with it may require a change in schools.

What will my child say to friends?

Both of my children had fall birthdates and were a bit young for their age.  This is a double whammy – being both chronologically and developmentally young – so we kept them in pre-school an extra year before starting kindergarten.  This meant that they were always among the oldest in their class.

When classmates started to ask, “Why are you six and I’m only five?” we told our kids to say, “My parents thought I was too young to start kindergarten last year.”  They got to blame it on us and it gave them something to say.  Whether their peers understood the explanation or not it didn’t matter because they really didn’t care that much.  Sometimes, we just have to give our kids something to say.

Signs that your child might be chronologically or developmentally young for his grade:

  • Gravitates to younger playmates
  • Excessively tired after school
  • Still taking naps when other children have outgrown them
  • Always get a slow start in the new school year and start to catch up in the second semester
  • Not showing learning disabilities, but always seem to need more help or time
  • Whiny about school
  • Less coordinated than their peers
  • Writing seems larger and less mature than their classmates

Will retention solve a learning challenge?

This question gets a resounding NO!  Immaturity or lack of school attendance for an extended period of time are really the only reasons to retain.  Learning and attention challenges, learning disabilities, and dyslexia will not go away with time.

These challenges are nearly always the result of weak underlying learning/processing skills.  The only way to effectively and permanently change learning challenges is to identify the weak underlying skills and develop them through targeted and intensive cognitive training.  Once the brain is receiving clear, complete, and accurate information to think with, the reading, math, and other academic skills can be remediated.

Most students with learning or attention challenges can and should become comfortable, independent learners at grade level.  Retention is not the answer for these students and school and traditional tutoring are not solving the problem, but the needed underlying learning and academic skills CAN be developed.

If you or your child are dealing with a learning or attention challenge and looking for real solutions, for real and permanent changes, here’s your next step:


If you’re feeling alone as a parent trying to help your struggling student, we have a FREE parent support group (P.E.A.C.E.) that’s just for you.

For information and RSVP go to

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