Sunday 23 October 2016

Should I hold my son back in first class?

Published 07/07/2015 | 02:30

David Coleman
David Coleman

Clinical psychologist David Coleman advises on the consequences of keeping a child back in school for a year, and what you can do to get a toilet trained child to poo in the toilet.

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Question: I was wondering if I should hold my child back in first class? I was talking to his teacher who suggested to me that it would be a good idea. He has had a language delay but this is largely resolved and his language is at an age appropriate level. He didn't do well in his maths Sigma-T tests recently. I understand that there are possibly good academic reasons for keeping him back, but I have concerns that if he stays back he will lose his confidence. He can be very anxious generally, and I worry this will damage his self-esteem.

David replies: Your choice seems stark. Keep your son back, potentially disadvantaging him socially, or let him move forward with his peers, possibly disadvantaging him academically.There is a lot of research on the effects of retaining students. Studies with the strongest research methods compare pupils who were retained with similar pupils who were not.

These kinds of studies try to identify if repeating a grade makes a difference in achievement as well as personal and social adjustment over the short term and in the long term.

Because there is so much research available, you could pick any individual study to support any conclusion. So, rather than look at specific studies, we are best to look at the overall trend of what the research seems to show.

Overall, the majority of the studies conclude that pupils who repeat a class are no better off, and are sometimes worse off, than if they had continued to the next class with their classmates. The rules for schools, on retaining children in the same class for a subsequent year, are very clear. Children can only be retained in exceptional circumstances, and may only repeat one grade in their primary school years.

A principal may only retain a child following consultation with the learning support/resource teacher, the class teacher and the parents of the child. There must be very clear educational reasons for the child repeating.

The school must keep a record, outlining the educational basis for the decision to retain a child, and there should be a clear programme outlined for such a pupil that records precisely what new approach will be used for her/him and what its expected benefit will be.

It is this individualised plan that is the key to assessing the educational merit of keeping your son back. His IEP (Individual Education Plan) needs to specifically detail what it is that he still needs to learn and how the teachers will try to achieve this.

Unless this plan is clearly differentiated from what the school have tried to do this year to support your son, then there is little point in simply repeating the same approaches, in the same class settings, that haven't helped him to date.

Not having a new plan with clear learning targets and alternative teaching approaches is one of the reasons that children may not make the expected advances even if they are held back.

So, in your discussions with the principal and teachers do try to identify what it is that they will be doing differently to help your child if he stays back in first class.

You can also raise your concerns about the emotional impact of him staying back and see what, if any, support the school may be able to give him to help him cope with his confidence and self-esteem.

If the educational reasons for keeping him back are overwhelming, then you may just have to accept that, even if it knocks his confidence somewhat, the benefit will outweigh the cost.

You can do lots of work with him, at home, to help him build his self-esteem, if he does seem to be knocked by staying back, focusing on his sense of lovability and capability, both in school and out of school.

But, if the educational imperative is not there to retain him in second class (and it is up to the school to demonstrate the strong reasons to you) then I think you should let him go forward with the rest of his classmates into second class.

How can I get my toddler to poo in the toilet nearly a year after toilet training him?

Question: I need your help to get my three-and-a-half-year-old son to do a poo in the toilet. I started toilet training him last June. He got his weeing sorted really quickly, in the day and the night. At the beginning we had some success with poos too. He used the potty for it maybe twice or three times in the first few weeks but then just stopped. I feel that he didn't like the smell/look of it. Now he just does it in his pants. Should I get firm with him about it or is it a case of keep reminding him and hope it will happen? One year on it is really wearing.

David replies: The proper title for pooing in your pants is encopresis. Primary encopresis occurs when a child never establishes a consistent habit of using the toilet to poo. It is as if the toilet training never took root.

This sounds like the issue for your son. It seems he has just never got in the habit of using the toilet to poo. It is as if some children don't seem to take on the responsibility, relying on their parents to remind them to use the loo.

Before starting to address it, however, it is worth taking him for a check up with your GP to make sure there are no physical problems present, or that he isn't constipated.

I am not sure what kind of approach you took to toilet training, the first time around. I imagine it was some variation of behavioural training where your son was rewarded for successfully using the toilet.

I recommend that you try this approach again. When we use behavioural reinforcement we have to adopt a high energy, high commitment and enthusiastic attitude to it.

We need to believe that the behavioural training will be fun, easy and enjoyable for our child. Essentially, we want to sell the concept to them so that they "buy in" to it and want to achieve the rewards that will be on offer. We have to appear excited by it if we want them to be excited and enthusiastic too.

So, the first step is to decide what behaviour you will reinforce or reward. With pooing, I think the initial behaviour to reinforce is simply sitting on the open toilet for two minutes, being ready to go to the toilet.

The next step is to decide what the reinforcement will be. It is important that it is something that he will want and value and that is something he mightn't otherwise get, so that it is worth putting the effort in. It has to be motivating for him. Whatever reinforcement you and he choose, it has to be something that he can get immediately after sitting on the toilet for the few minutes.

So, things to consider might be a chocolate button, or a 10 cent coin, or a few minutes of story time.

You and he might prefer to use the classic star/sticker chart where either the stickers themselves are worth getting, or the stickers eventually add up to a bigger reward.

Next, knowing his pooing habits, you plan to sit him on the toilet at times that you know he is likely to want to poo. For many children that is some time after they have eaten (often 10-30 minutes after a meal).

You continue to put him on the toilet regularly for about a week or so. If he also does a poo, while he is there, you can give him lots of verbal praise and double his small reward.

Then, after the habit of sitting on the loo, being ready to poo is established you discuss with him how he now will get double the reward (more reason to start small) every time he poos in the toilet and that he is welcome to go and poo any time he likes.

Adopt a "no fuss" attitude for any pooing-in-pants accidents and stay focused on the positive opportunities for gaining his rewards for pooing in the toilet.

Your energy and enthusiasm for the behavioural reward programme will be as effective and as influential as the rewards themselves.

So it is really important that you maintain your positivity and your commitment to getting this sorted with him.

Most behavioural reward programmes last just a few weeks, during which time the new behaviour hopefully becomes established. The desire for, and need for, the rewards tends to drop off naturally over time.

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