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Does Holding Children Back In School Really Help Them?

March 14th, 2012 by MomsLA

What decisions have you made to help their children do better in their education?

Pay for private school? Homeschooling? Tutoring? Extra homework?

Now, have any of your decisions with your children’s education helped ensure they were more mature than their classmates? Smarter? Bigger? Maybe even more popular?

‘Redshirting’ has always been known as a term used for athletes, to hold them out of varsity competition to extend their eligibility. Now it is gaining popularity with parents of preschoolers. More and more parents are choosing to hold their child back for one more year so they are more mature and, according to some research, giving them an edge in their education and school activities.

The National Center for Educational Studies reported in the 2006-2007 school year 9% of American children were held back voluntarily. Statistically, male, Caucasian, wealthier preschoolers are more likely to be held back, with the caucasian rate double the African-American rates.

Which means, for an already stressed school system, teachers are now having to work with students with even more varied maturity and readiness levels, with classmates ranging from 4 1/2 to 6 years old in kindergarten.

Even if holding them back a year means they are more ready for the increasingly challenging kindergarten curriculum, does redshirting a child mean lasting educational benefits? Probably not.

Beyond students that were genuinely held back because they were not ready for kindergarten or had a learning disability, there are negligible educational benefits shown by redshirting a kindergartener.

One study shows that redshirting benefits disappear by third grade, noting the students are all being taught at the same rate throughout school. It also noted age has no effect on household income, marital status, wages home ownership or even college enrollment.

Another study even goes further, saying that redshirted children are more likely to drop out of school or get arrested.

Even though a parent may have in mind a better education for their child, redshirting a child seems more to be driven by the social and physical aspects rather than the educational one.

Even in a recent 20/20 news story a parent said her son’s preschool teacher urged her to hold her son back a year, even though he was excelling in class. She gave the reasons other parents recommended it, including-

“Like he’ll be the last to drive and he won’t get to go on dates like the other kids. There’s a lot of talk of, “I want my son to be a leader.” I mean academics were never mentioned.”- Holly Korbey


In a world of economic hardship, a struggling school system and a current focus on bullying, for some parents, redshirting is the answer to helping their child excel in the classroom and school activities.

Their hopes for their child? To be the older, more mature classmate. To have the bigger kids in class, the ones more likely to excel in sports in their grade. The ones old enough to drive before their peers, a jingle in their pocket potentially keys popularity and success.

What do you think of the rising popularity in redshirting? Would you consider it for your child? Have you redshirted one of your children?

Megan isn’t worried about whether or not to redshirt yet because her son is only two years old. You can find her, among other places, blogging at Sunshine Wonderland.

MomsLA (502 Posts)


  1. I am sorry I don’t agree with this. my son is one week from the cut off. there are studies that link kids being diagnosed with adhd and they aren’t it is just that they are not ready for a program that children one year older are, so they are getting mis-diagnosed.. I have thought heavily about this. I was a preschool director in my former life prior to children. The one who made the comment about the car is 100% right… but did not convey it more appropriately. Social and Development is extremely important. If your child is by far the youngest then they could have challenges making the right choices when it comes to what is right for them. Being 15 getting in the car with a 16 year old is not a good choice for anyone let alone another 16 year old. but due to pressures they may try and do things they are not ready for yet. Parents MUST be there child’s advocate, you know your child best. if you genuinely feel that your child is not ready thankfully you have choices!!

    • I totally agree that every parent needs to make the choice right for their child. I understand where you are coming from. I was still 12 when I started marching band practices with 18 year olds in the band. Dad was not happy ;)

  2. I held my youngest daughter back in kindergarten and I don’t regret it for a second. I know that she would have caught up (she is in 1st grade now but could easily do 2nd grade work) but I made the choice because she wasn’t ready at the time. We both struggled with her first year of kindergarten – she wasn’t reading, writing or even sitting still in her seat. I didn’t want to struggle in first grade and I didn’t want her to spend a year being behind until she finally caught up. She might be a year older than her friends right now, but she is at the top of her class, is enjoying school and loves to read. She just needed an extra year to get there.

  3. Im a mom of a 4 year old boy with an Oct. birthday, and I’m not sending him to kindergarden next year. Everyone that I have talked to from teachers to moms to friends that have fall birthdays…all say that waiting is what they would do. California is the last of 4 states to have kids start kindergarden when they are still 4 and that is changing over the next few years.
    I am not doing it in hope that he will be bigger, stronger and smarter then the other kids when he starts, I don’t see school as a competition but I just want to give him the extra time of he needs it- and I kind of love our preschool and don’t want to leave (but those are my own issues)

    • Courtney I think we are in the same place!!! I am not ready to leave and I know part of this is my own issue. But, if my issue is to give my child an extra year to be developmentally challenged when his whole life will be filled with academics then I just have to!

  4. I have mixed feelings on this. Kids are made from cookie cutters so not everyone is ready for school at the same time. On the other hand, I don’t think it ultimately benefits the child or community if parents hold kids back a year just so the child will excel and be at the top of the class. That’s not a great message for kids. But it comes down to individual factors. I just hope parents’ sense of competitiveness doesn’t become the main reason.

    • Typo–Kids are NOT made from cookie cutters….

    • I agree. I think what means so much more than just the age of the student is their home life. If they were held back to that purspose there is more support or pushing to succeed by parents. It’s a huge thing to narrow down to one element that makes the difference.

  5. My older son has an August birthday. He had severe expressive speech delay – he didn’t speak until almost 3 1/2. The speech delay caused a lag in his social skills. So although his speech was age appropriate by 5, his social skills still lagged behind. That’s why I held him back. Not so he’d be the oldest. Or the smartest. Or the tallest. It was one of the smartest decisions I ever made as a parent.

  6. I’m a homeschooler, so I didn’t have to make that decision for my own children, but I remember my good childhood friend was held back a grade by her parents (voluntarily) while I moved on to the next grade. Speaking of my friend, it hurt her self-esteem terribly, which was something that lasted well into high school for her.

  7. This is a very personal decision, because every kid is different. In my case I have a four year old that will be 5 and a half by the time he goes to kindergarten, and I’m ok with that. And I have a seven year old that when we started kindergarten at 5 years of age was very mature and academically advanced for his class. Parents know best for their kids. I think that when California moves the start and age date (a process will take 3 years) everything will be easier.

    • I think all the changes will be done the year my son enters school. Another reason why I’m not planning too far ahead, it will be a different world then.

  8. My now 6 year old daughter has an early September birthday, many friends suggested I “redshirt” her and wait a year to give her time to “mature” in all honesty I don’t believe in “redshirting” I asked her pediatrician for his opinion and asked a family friend who is a child psychologist they both agreed that my daughter was more than ready to start school. I have friends that did “redshirt” their kids and I don’t see the difference from a non-redshirted child who is only a week in age difference older. I do respect their decision and to each its own, but don’t think “redshirting” is the solution.

  9. I have had the same thing on my mind and actually wrote about this on my blog today, as well! My son is 4 and will make the kindergarten cutoff for fall by only a week, but unless kid preK teachers give me some game-changing news, he is going to kindergarten. I feel that parents hold their kids back in many areas, now, without any benefits that I can see.

  10. On the convex side of this, I was “double promoted” as a child. I spent the first half of the school year in the first grade and at the semester break I moved up to the second grade. Academically I did fine, I excelled even, doing 2 grade levels above me all throughout school. But socially, I sucked. I was younger than everyone all the time, I was immature and not ready for the jump.

  11. Since we homeschool we go at the pace of each child.
    I would assume holding a child back would also be like pacing the child for what he or she is ready to learn next. However, I am the first to admit I am not well-versed on conventional schooling statistics right now, and I really should be. I am really intrigued by your article!

  12. I am struggling with this right now as a matter of fact. Our daughter turns 5 mid-September this year, so technically she could enter kindergarten. Her preschool teacher feels she is academically ready, just needs more emotional and social maturity.

    I can see my daughter does have troubles regulating her emotions and following instructions, but I think a lot of kindergarteners have the same issues. Don’t they? I also know that in 1st grade, things become a lot more challenging, so it would be better for her to more prepared to handle it. I don’t care about competing with other parents, I mainly try to make parenting as stress-free as possible (which is impossible).

    Another factor in our decision is the extra costs of junior kindergarten in the school she;’ll likely attend. That would mean a whole year of extra costs for her schooling. I can’t wait for her to join her big sister in public school to cut out some of our preschool costs.

    So should I ask our pediatrician what she thinks? Attend the kindergarten open house and talk to the teachers? I’m on the fence! I want her to be with peers of her age group and not be the oldest or youngest. One of her friends her same age will be going on to kindergarten and she’s of the same maturity from what I can tell. Possibly a little less bratty though…

    Any advice from the peanut gallery?

  13. I find this topic particularly interesting mostly because I “redshirted” my own son. It was not without heavy debate and discussion with both his pre-school teacher and his Kindergarten teacher. Yes, his Kindergarten teacher. You see, I enrolled him in K for the 2010-2011. As a parent I felt he was very well prepared. After a month into it I made the decision to give him another year of development and placed him in a pre-K program. Is he better off from that additional year? YES! He entered K this past September much more confident this time around. And while most kids eventually even out (socially & academically) over the next few years of school, I think for my son, starting his school career off feeling confident will only serve him well as he continues.

  14. I thought about it with my oldest daughter because she is born in October, but I didn’t do it because I’m late born (December) and never had problems from not being held back. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t been bored if my parents waited until I was 5 to start me in kindergarten.

    I’m almost wishing I did hold her back though. She’s always struggled in school a bit. It doesn’t come easy to her. I think another year may have helped her a bit.

    So when my son, born in December, started kindergarten as a 4-year-old and just didn’t seem ready to move on, we talked with his teacher about having him repeat kindergarten and she agreed he may benefit. The difference between his first time through and the second year was huge. He was able to focus longer and really grasped the concepts much better. The difference between what he knew when going on to 1st grade vs where he was at a year before gave him so much more of a chance to actually understand 1st grade. I couldn’t imagine moving him on to 1st grade to learn new things when he barely had a handle on what was taught in kindergarten.

    I really didn’t want school to always be a frustrating confusing experience in those early years.

    I don’t think a child doing well in school should be held back though. Even if, in my son’s case, the effects or advantages diminish by 3rd grade, I still think there are other issues just with his view of school that would have been frustrating for both of us had be pushed him on to 1st grade vs holding him back.

  15. I agree with what Natalie stated above parents must be their children’s advocates and they must teach their kids to make the right decisions whether it be to succeed in school or make good choices.

  16. Can you believe that I had someone RECENTLY tell me that I should wait another year to put my son in Kinder? Because he is a BOY? Crazy! No way….I would rather give him the benefit of the doubt…the opportunity, support and tools he needs to succeed…

  17. Thanks this has been very helpful, I will enjoy my daughter for more time, yippee!!!

  18. My children are both the youngest in their grades (1st- daughter and 4th- son.) Their birthdays are in July and end of August. Both of them excel academically and physically. I do not believe in redshirting. I have read many neuroscience articles regarding this practice and how it can be detrimental to your childs development. One such article explained how the brain works at age 4 and how this is such a critical time in development. At that age, it’s better for those children to be starting reading and math concepts than coloring worksheets. I feel like both of my children have matured based on the peers in their grade, so that was never an issue. This practice of redshirting is largely American. In some South American countries, they send their children to full-time school when they are 2 years old. It’s interesting to me how so many parents spend the time to teach their children sign language, foreign languages, etc. when they are toddlers and then put the brakes on their development by redshirting them.

  19. I am actually sending my child to kindergarten when she is 4. I feel she is ready. I think this is a personal choice and parents know if their child is ready or not. I have a couple friends that are teachers with children born in January that are waiting to start their children. It’s a really hard decision when your child is born in January but I feel I am making the right decision for my daughter. I don’t think being 6 months to a year younger will really make your child any different then mine in the long run. Holding a child back so they are the best at everything if your own insecurity from childhood.

  20. Before holding your child back, really think about when they will be in Middle School. Do you want your son to be the only 6th grader with a mustache. Will the parents of girls in 6th grade appreciate your son following them around and asking them out when he is in 7th or 8th grade. At this point many “old” for the grade kids begin to act out and they are experiencing a rush of hormones. When they get to high school, the older ones will be driving in their sophomore year or even the summer before. If studies show that any academic benefit of “red shirting” kids in Kindergarten are gone by third grade, is it really worth it to make your child feel too old in middle and high school. Also, an older child (say aged 6) in a class with mostly 5 year olds is not going to mature at a normal rate. The younger, less mature kids are going to hold him or her back. All educators know that you should hold the bar high. If you teach at the higher level, the kids will strive to reach it, if you hold the bar low, they will only perform to that level. The same analogy can be used when determining whether a child should be held back. Of course, in cases of ADHD and other learning disabilities, holding back the Kindergartener is the right choice. But, if your child is born in July and is healthy and free of learning disabilities, entering Kindergarten at age 5 is not a stretch.

  21. I am truly struggling with this right now. My son is in 3rd grade. Since pre-k, he has been reading a year behind. He was diagnosed with ADHD. I have him on a gluten free, dairy free diet, I eventually at the direction of his pediatrician and school put him on concerta where I did see, with the food diet, a major improvement. He receives speech, OT, reading, etc. in school. Each year when we meet for his IEP meeting, I ask the question, should he be held back. The school tells me no.. and here we are again. He is in3rd grade, reading at a 2nd grade level, struggling with school. We do hours of home work where my 8 year old is going to be close to 9-10pm due to school work. I have done everything I can think of, looked for advice, ask the questions, but now feel my child is going to struggle the rest of his life with school, end up hating it, lowering his self esteem. When I mentioned today about maybe holding him back, he became devestated because of his “friends”. He has already been bullied this year, seriously wants to be accepted and I know he fears the kids will be mean if he stays back. I am at a total loss. I have a meeting next week with the school and they say he continues having problems attending… Other than upping his dose and turing my beautiful, happy child into a zombie, holding him back seems like the only option.. but at this age, I fear the ramifications with his self esteem could end up worse. I dont want him to feel like a failure. I just dont know what to do. :(

  22. I can’t speak for any of the parents, as you know your child better than anyone. But one thing I would caution, if your child has low self-esteem already, please think long and hard before you decide to hold your child back. I was held back in first grade, and it was a pretty devastating experience. Almost on par with loosing a parent. Just imagine that everyone at your job got a promotion except you. Then at the yearly company parties, they rub it in your face about how great it was or made fun of you because you didn’t get promoted. Or maybe they simply kept asking why you didn’t get promoted, and you had to come up with an answer that wouldn’t further embarrass or erode what little self-esteem you had left, by further making light of your inadequacies when trying to answer them. Now take it one step further and pretend that happened to you for the next 12 years in a row. That’s what being held back felt like during grades 1-12. Seeing all my friends move forward, while I stayed behind had a lasting affect on me. I always felt that I could never measure up. I never felt I was ever good enough, always lagging one grade back. I always felt I was forever one step behind them. I always felt I was never smart enough. I still struggle with self esteem and self confidence issues to this day.

    I’m not saying all children will go through what I went through if they are held back, but just be careful and make sure your child has a healthy self-esteem before you do decide to hold them back. When counselors or teachers say “your child is only 5, they’ll forget and get over it. They’re too young to know what’s going on.” Do not believe them. I’m 40 years old. I knew and understood what being held back meant when I was 5, I’m still not 100% over it, and I remember it as if it happened yesterday.

    Please, as a parent, if you take away anything from this post, do everything in your power to boost your child’s self esteem at an early age. Because self-confidence is much harder to build when you’re older. If I had a choice between raising a child to be over-confident and cocky vs one who had no self esteem, I would choose the former. A cocky child can always pick themselves up when they fall and with time, they will be humbled. A child who falls with no self esteem may not be able to pick themselves back up. Promoting self-esteem, and self confidence in your child is the greatest gift you can ever give them as a parent. The gift of loving yourself. Please be very careful and talk to them before you do decide to hold them back.


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