2009-11-05 / Church

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Holding Your Child Back A Grade May Not Improve Development

Question: Is retention in the same grade ever advisable for a child who is not a late bloomer? How about the slow learner?

Dr. Dobson: There are some students who can profit from a second year at the same grade level and many who will not. The best guideline is this: Retain only the child for whom something will be different next year. A youngster who is sick for seven months in an academic year might profit from another run-through when he or she is healthy. And as I've indicated, a late-developing child should be held back in kindergarten (or the first grade at the latest) to place him or her with youngsters of comparable development. For the slow learner, however — the child who has below-average ability — a second journey through the same grade will not help. If he was failing the fourth grade in June, he will continue to fail the fourth grade in September. The findings from research on this issue are crystal clear.

It is not often realized that the curricular content of each grade level is very similar to the year before and the year after. There is considerable redundancy in the concepts taught; the students in each grade are taken a little further, but much of the time is spent in review. The arithmetical methods of addition and subtraction, for example, are taught in the primary years, but considerable work is done on these tasks in the sixth grade, too. Nouns and verbs are taught repeatedly for several years.

Thus, the most unjustifiable reason for retention is to give the slow learner another year of exposure to easier concepts. He will not do better the second time around! Nor is there much magic in summer school. Some parents hope that a six-week program in July and August will accomplish what was impossible in the ten months between September and June. They are often disappointed.

Question: I hear so much about children who have ADHD. Can you describe this problem for me and tell me how I might recognize it in my son?

Dr. Dobson: The term ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is an inherited neurological syndrome that affects approximately 5 percent of children in the United States. It refers to individuals who are easily distracted, have a low tolerance for boredom or frustration, and tend to be impulsive and flighty.

Children with ADHD have a pattern of behavior that sets them up for failure in school and conflict with their parents. They have difficulty finishing tasks, remembering details, focusing on a book or assignment, or even remaining seated for more than a few minutes. Some appear to be driven from within as they race wildly from one thing to another. They are often very bright and creative, yet they're seen as lazy, disruptive and terribly disorganized. ADHD children often suffer from low self-esteem because they have been berated as goof-offs and anarchists who refuse to follow the rules. They sometimes have few friends because they can drive everyone crazy — even those their own age.

As for how you can recognize such a child in your home, it is unwise for a parent to attempt to do so. There are many other problems, both psychological and physical, that can cause similar symptoms. Disorders of the thyroid, for example, can make a child hyperactive or sluggish; depression and anxiety can cause the distractibility associated with ADHD. Therefore, you must have assistance from a physician, a child developmentalist or a psychologist who can confirm the diagnosis.

If you see in your child the symptoms I've described, I urge you to have him or her seen professionally. Again, you should not try to diagnose your child! The sooner you can get that youngster in to see a person who specializes in this disorder, the better.

Dr. Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995 (www.focusonthefamily.org).

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