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My son is 9 years old, and currently in P3. Today we have been informed by his teacher that it would be best for him to repeat the school year to close the gap with the other children.

Some background facts:

  • my son is not autistic, but the teacher suspects Asperger syndrome
  • we have visited plenty of specialists without coming to any conclusion/diagnosis
  • the teacher in P1 and P2 was awful and did not do anything to support him or to request the school to support him
  • he is now followed by an external team for children with learning difficulties (even though they do not know exactly what) and can use a tablet to type instead of writing by hand (which he finds difficult)
  • he struggled to read until this year, when the new teacher tried a new method that has improved the situation (I forgot the name, sorry...). However, he essentially lost 2 years of reading
  • routines are very important for my son, and changing teacher and school mates will be tough (even though he claims that they are not his friends)

Given the fact that we trust this teacher, we are considering to agree with the school and let him repeat the school year. We also know the teacher that will most likely work in his class next year and we trust him as well.

We tried to speak with my son today, but he was desperate to have to "repeat everything". What do you advise me to try to convince him that this is in his best interest?

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First, I'd like to propose two alternatives, if you and your partner are willing to put in a significant number of hours over the summer so that your son does not have to repeat the year: homeschool over the summer and have your child tested a week or two before the next school year starts to see if he's made enough advances to move ahead with his class, or summer school. More later.


How to make a 9 years-old son accept that he will repeat the school year?

You can't make him feel something he doesn't feel. It might be a wording issue, but to assume you can make someone feel differently about something is to invalidate the child's emotions, and through that, the child himself. If he feels desperate not to repeat the grade, you need to validate that, no matter how uncomfortable it is. So let him emote: cry, plead, be angry, mourn, whatever, for a while, and empathize with him. (You don't have to agree with him, but you do need to listen with empathy.) Tell him when he's ready, you would like to discuss some plans with him. If he says he'll never be ready, empathize with that, too, and explain that even when we are not ready to face something, it will still happen, so it's good to talk about it sooner rather than later, but ok, how about tomorrow?

When you talk, it might help both of you to draw up a list together on paper of all the "cons", his seemingly unimportant ones as well as the obvious. That way, he'll know you've heard all of his fears. When neither of you can think of any more, it will be time to start the "pros" (maybe after a break): he will not be generally behind his classmates, but instead be ahead in some things, even with them in others, and maybe behind in a few areas, but it will not be as difficult for him to master the material as it was this year. He will know what to expect as far as subjects and skills go. His teacher will be a good one (if you know this to be true.) That it may well make all of his schooling from this grade on easier. There may be kids in the class that he will like as friends. List every positive you can think of that is truthful. Thinking outside the box, the biggest pro I can think of is that this is an opportunity to teach resilience: that not every setback is a failure, that disappointments are also opportunities to learn, that moving ahead sometimes requires a change in direction, that long-term views are as important, or more so, than the immediate goals, etc. Some in-depth reading about it is important if parents are to give children the very valuable gift of resilience.

Once the lists are drawn up, ask your son to read the list of pros whenever he feels sad or worried about repeating the year. He may still feel sad, but maybe he can see the value in repeating the year, too.


While homeschooling may seem daunting, it really shouldn't be. When you subtract all the time taken up in class by waiting for others (getting their books out, getting in their places, quieting down, answering other kids' questions, etc., etc.), in the early elementary grades, you can cover everything in well under half the time it takes in class. Summerschool is offered in many places and may be an alternative for your son as well.


Want to learn more about grade retention? Read about it in the link.

Resilience guide for parents and teachers
Essential Questions Concerning Grade Retention

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This is a National Institue of Health article about retaining a child in Kindergarten, but lists other studies that include retention in higher grades:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2864494/

"Summary and Conclusion

We found that retained children, relative to promoted children, benefited from retention in both the short and longer term with respect to decreased teacher-rated hyperactivity, peer-rated sadness and withdrawal, and increased teacher-rated behavioral engagement. Three years after retention, retained children reported higher academic competence than did matched promoted children.

Our findings also point to possible trouble on the horizon. Particularly troubling are results that show a short-term increase in peer-rated liking for the retained students, followed by a rapid decrease after the repeat year, as well as a short-term increase in school belonging that dissipated by Year 3.

The companion study by Wu et al. (2008a) showed short-term improvement in math and reading achievement during the repeat year, followed by a rapid decline relative to grade mates as the children encountered new material.

Future research is needed to test whether this “struggle–succeed–struggle” sequence for academic and social outcomes has long-term negative consequences for the academic motivation and achievement of retained children.

These negative trajectories, if maintained, may portend some of the negative effects of retention in grade that have been observed in well-controlled studies of the effects of grade retention that have followed children into adolescence (e.g., Alexander et al., 2003; Pagani et al., 2001)."


he was desperate to have to "repeat everything"

Your son's comment about "repeating everything" suggests that he may be bored. Bored children often struggle in school, with academics and behavior.

I respect your son's teacher in their daily observations of your son's struggles and successes, however, learning disabilities can present themselves in very subtle ways, ones that are hard to identify in a classroom.

I'm not sure who is included in the specialists your son has seen.

If your son hasn't had a full set of intelegence and functional testing, given by a Board Certified School Psycologists, that testing would give you a comprehensive view of your son's abilities and any deficits that he has, and in the process rule in, or out, a hidden learning disability.


Additionally, I second the suggestion from @anongoodnurse that your son can learn the skills he's missing over the Summer, be it in Summer School or at home, and that will directly address the areas where he needs extra help, and that gives him the best chance of progressing on the the next grade with his peers.

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