THE BLOG
08/09/2013 02:54 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2013

Does 'Redshirting' Your Kid Ever Backfire?

Jackie Morgan MacDougall

It's that time of year again, when bathing suits and boogie boards are replaced with backpacks and stiff new shoes. As schools prepare to open their doors across the country, kindergarten teachers brace themselves for a new crop of fresh-faced first years.

But not every 5-year-old will be pulling out the crayons and pencils when school starts in the coming days. Because many parents will exercise their right to "red shirt," holding a child (who may be on the cusp of the cutoff date) back from starting school with his peers.

It was a choice my husband and I agonized over two years ago, carefully considering the pros and cons of delaying kindergarten. While many states have a cutoff date of September 1, California allowed any child who turned five before December 2 to start kindergarten -- our son's birthday is September 26th. Ultimately, we chose to keep him in preschool a year longer and avoid sending him to kindergarten six weeks shy of his 5th birthday.

For us, it was one of the best parenting decisions we've made to date. It wasn't about academics, but his emotional maturity and ability to sit for long periods of time staying on task. Not for one second do we regret it. In fact, I notice a clear split in those who contemplated starting later but ultimately opted to send a child -- for every parent who feels good about it is another one second-guessing their choice. Yet, of all the people I've asked, I don't come across many who are sorry for holding off.

Pam: My son, now 14, has an October birthday. We started him in school when we were supposed to. Two months into kindergarten, his teacher recommended we withdraw him and wait a year, as his maturity level was not quite where it should have been. We took her advice, put him in a transitional K class and started the following year. While he may be older than most kids in his class, it has proven to be a good decision. He has done very well in school academically and socially. I don't regret the decision at all.

Gretchen: I had the choice to start my daughter, born in September, in kindergarten when she was 4. The cutoff in our state was October 1. She turned five a few weeks into the school year and was the youngest in her class. She did totally fine. That could be because she's our sixth child and was already socially savvy and able to keep up with kids of all ages. I like the idea she won't be the first girl to hit puberty in her class, she won't be the first to drive (with all the pressure to haul other kids around). She's also really proud of herself, too. She was ready, one of those kids who was dying to go to school from the moment she realized it existed.

Liz: When in doubt ... hold them out!

For Camille, waiting to start kindergarten was a carefully considered consideration based on several factors.

• People mature and develop emotionally at their own pace. There is no way to speed up that process, and why would you want to? It's in no way a failure if a 5-year-old isn't ready for kindergarten, it's just their individual growth.

• Kindergarten is not about academics. It's about a new social environment and structure to get ready to learn for life. If a child isn't ready to learn in that kind of structure at 5 years old, it could teach them that learning is hard and not fun. And that's a lifelong lesson.

• If a child at 5 is not ready for kindergarten, that same child at 11-12 will likely not be ready for middle school and could be introduced to a junior high environment of tough peer pressure, decisions about drugs, boy/girl relationships, etc. without a sound maturity level to handle it.

• Following that same thought process into high school, he/she may be starting to date, drive, make more grown up decisions before they are ready. Even college decisions may be skewed, especially if the child has decided long ago that learning is not fun.

• If their birthday is so close to the end of the cutoff for this year, next year, they'll be a couple of weeks/months older than those kids from last year who were not in the cutoff. Not a big deal. They'll be set up for leading rather than following... for life.

• Look at it as giving them an extra year of childhood. They only get to be kids for 17-18 years...let them enjoy it. And you won't be sending an ill-prepared 17 year old out into the big scary adult world before he/she is ready.

But Karen disagrees.

Holding boys back means that by the time you get to 8th grade, you have 15-year-old boys in the same class as 13-year-old girls, and then the next year you have 16-year-old boys with 14-year-old girls, and I am not allowing my 14-year-old girl to go out on dates with a 16-year-old boy. And i hope you aren't going to allow your 16-year-old boy to date my 14-year-old girl. Just something to think about.

Have you been faced with the choice of "redshirting"? What did you do and do you regret your choice?

Related articles:

Can kindergarten wait? Pros and cons of delaying kindergarten

When your baby goes to kindergarten

Teachers Weigh In: What Kindergarten Kids Should Know