Common Myths About Grade Retention

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Certain myths about holding children back a grade level never seem to go away. If you are a parent who is frustrated and looking for a way to help your struggling child succeed, then holding your child back — also called retention or grade failure — may seem like an easy and obvious solution. Before you make such a dramatic decision, make sure you aren't putting your faith in any of these common myths.

Myth 1: Failing a Grade Will "Teach Them a Lesson" 

School-age children are terrified of being held back a grade. Parents know this, and many parents use the threat of grade failure to get their child to do school work that the child doesn't want to do. This myth is also easy for adults to buy into because it has the illusion of matching real-life consequences.

Retention should never be used to punish a child. If you believe that the reason your child is not doing school work is caused by some sort of behavior problem, then you need to find a discipline answer that will teach them to do their work. 

Holding your child back a grade will change their peer group and be a lasting decision that will affect the rest of their k-12 education. Simply having a child repeat a year of schooling will not teach them to do their work. Instead, try looking for other ways to motivate your child, such as rewards and loss of privileges to encourage your child to do school work.

You should also take a deeper look to see if your child is missing key skills or may have a learning disability. It is common for children and teens who are struggling to simply give up and become difficult students at the school.

Myth 2: Holding Them Back Will Give Them a Chance to Mature 

Immaturity is one of the factors that can contribute to the overall picture of a school child who would benefit from repeating a grade, but grade retention by itself does not encourage maturity. Children who are behind socially or academically need extra help and direction to gain the skills that they lack. Simply repeating a grade without a plan to get the missing skills does not ensure that your child will get what they need. 

If you feel your child needs maturity is affecting their school performance, speak with your child's teacher or school counselor about ways to encourage maturity or help a younger acting child.

Myth 3: Retention Is the Answer to Missing Academic Skills 

This myth stems from a very real fact — that each grade level is teaching a specific set of academic skills.

While each grade level has specific standards that students are expected to master each year, repeating a grade does not guarantee your child will learn those skills.

It is important to look for the underlying cause that led your child to not understand the material the first time it was presented. Often. doing the same thing again will get the same result as the first time.

Instead, look at different alternatives to retention. As stated before in this article, it is important to look at the real underlying cause that led to the current struggle in school and address that underlying issue. Many of the alternatives to retention can help a child fill in any gaps that they have in understanding material.

If you have looked over these myths and are still strongly considering holding your child back a grade, be aware that you will still need to address the factors that led you to seek retention to help your child. Holding your child back alone will not change anything for the better. It will be important that you work with your child's school to make the repeat year a great year to help your child get back on track.

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  1. Peterson LS, Hughes JN. The differences between retained and promoted children in educational services receivedPsychol Sch. 2011;48(2):156-165. doi:10.1002/pits.20534

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Should My Child Repeat a Grade? Updated September 23, 2019.