Helping Retained Children
Kids fear flunking a grade. Research has revealed that kids' fears of repeating a grade are almost equivalent to the stress they suffer due to a parent's death. That is paralyzing fear. Retention research also shows a correlation between the injured self-esteem of retained kids and their later weakened life-coping abilities.
If your child is one of the more than two million kids who will be retained this year (mostly in grades K-3), you need to use the remainder of the school year and the summer months as a time to heal his sadness and hurt, in addition to bolstering his sense of self-worth and optimism. Regardless of your attempts to downplay its significance, retention causes a child to feel that he is stupid, that he has failed. In a child's mind, if he has failed at first grade, his first attempt at "real school," he may reason that he will never succeed in school. His peers may be merciless in their reinforcement of this shameful belief.
How You Can Help
Some form of nurturing, a developmentally appropriate summer school program, and/or tutoring may offer a retained child a chance to feel "good about school" and himself again. During the early grades, children differ greatly in their abilities to learn and master basic academic skills, especially reading comprehension. For example, because kids' reading comprehension timetables are so varied, a struggling first grade reader in early June may become a competent, confident reader in late July. Parents of retained kids need to give them summer learning environments and opportunities to encourage and experience these natural cognitive growth spurts.
Work closely with your school's personnel before the school year closes, in order to insure that your child's retained year will be substantially different from his past academic experience. It's virtually impossible to convince a first-grader that he will be successful reliving the same academic year that he has just failed. Make sure that you can promise your child that his retained year will not be a repeat of his previous year. A different teaching style and approach to learning, a lower teacher-student ratio or even going to another school may contribute to a more successful retention year.
Don't brush off your child's sadness, fears and disappointment about being held back. This is a big deal to him. Acknowledge his feelings, express your belief in his academic abilities, and let him know that you are going to help him have a great school experience next year. Don't ever insinuate that he has let you down by repeating a grade. Make a point to offer him daily doses of support. Offer continual encouragement on anything he does well...anything. He needs to feel competent and appreciated, now more than ever.
End of Summer
As the summer wanes and the school year approaches, your retained child will experience increased anxiety and fears. His behavior may become erratic, his sleep disturbed, and he may complain of headaches and stomachaches. Don't dismiss, ignore, or punish these behaviors and feelings. Tell him that you understand why he's feeling these things and behaving in this manner. Physically comfort him while reassuring him that you and he will work as a team, along with his teacher, to make this coming school year a good one.
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