Parenting comes with a giant helping of second-guessing and a large dose of pressure to get things “right.” Nowhere else is this truer than in process of helping your child on his academic journey. One question that parents sometimes must consider is whether their child needs to be retained a grade.


The practice of retention means that rather than progressing to the next grade level with peers, a child is “held back” to repeat the current grade for another full year. A child might be retained for several reasons, including not meeting grade level academic requirements, poor school attendance or socialemotional concerns. Most commonly, an elementary student is retained for reasons related to reading issues or socialemotional concerns and a high school student is retained for failure to earn course credits.


Deciding Not to Retain

If your family has decided not to retain, then what can you do to help your child if he is behind academically, socially/emotionally?


  1. Take action
    . Early intervention is key. If you are concerned about your child’s academic or social/emotional progress, trust your instinct and take action. The worst thing that can happen is that your worries are unfounded, which is much preferable to realizing that you’ve lost valuable intervention time.

  2. Call a meeting.
    The first step that parents should take is to call a meeting of important members of your child’s school. This should include the teacher(s), the counselor and relevant academic support personnel.

  3. Request a support team.
    Once the initial meeting occurs and a game plan is discussed, request that a support team be formed to assess your child, identify the appropriate interventions, monitor progress and re-assess regularly.

  4. Get it in writing.
    A good intervention plan will formalize necessary assessments, define specific and measurable goals and include a timeline for reassessments and goal completion.

  5. Help at home.
    Find out what you can do to support your child at home. That might include working at home with your child on concepts he is struggling with or connecting him with a tutor for after school reinforcement. Perhaps you can find a good therapist or group therapy program for your child.

Deciding to Retain

Although research has shown that retention can have a negative effect on a child, one size does not fit all. For some families, retention is the best choice to help their child succeed in school.

If you decide that retention is what’s best for your child, there are things you can do to ease the transition.


  1. Delay entrance to kindergarten. If you have a child who is significantly behind his peers, academically or socially/emotionally, consider delaying entrance into kindergarten to give your child more time to mature. It can be helpful to have your child in a preschool program that includes a kindergarten year.
  2. Involve your child’s teacher. Your child’s teacher is a wonderful resource for supporting your decision to retain. He or she can give you tips on how to best frame the decision for your child and can also help him feel good about repeating the school year.
  3. Ease the friend transition. Your child will likely feel some anxiety about his friends moving on to the next grade without him. Support his connections by setting up playdates with favorite friends. Also, if possible, arrange get-togethers with children in his new grade so that he can form friendships before the new year starts.
  4. Consider switching schools. For some children, a fresh start is the best start. It helps him focus on making new friends and learn about a new environment, rather than on what he is no longer experiencing.
  5. Communicate with your child. A child will form his own ideas about why he is retained if parents don’t share a reason for it. Sometimes a child will internalize it as something being “wrong” with him or a failure on his part. Talk with your child about why you think retention is best, and what he will gain from an extra year of learning. Normalize any feelings of loss that may arise, while also pointing out the exciting feelings that can come with knowing how the grade works already, feeling more successful and making new friends.

Determining how to help your child who is struggling academically, behaviorally or socially/emotionally can be stressful. The important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Take action and speak to your child’s teacher and others who can help your family. Early intervention is key and with it, your child stands the best chance at improvement and eventual success.


Alison Bogle is a writer living in Austin with her husband and three children. A former fourth-grade teacher, she now enjoys writing about children and education. You can also catch her talking about articles from Austin Family magazine each Thursday morning on FOX 7 Austin.

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