On Motherhood

The Hard Choice to Red Shirt Your Child

Deciding to Red Shirt

We knew before we sent her to pre-k that we would be choosing to repeat a year.  You see, my daughter Zadie’s birthday is in late May. We had already decided, we would want her to be older, rather than younger as she entered college.  It seems that it would be easier to send a barely 19 yo to college rather than a barely 18 yo… but I am sure both situations are equally grueling on a mother’s heart.

She entered pre-k barely 4 and she loved it.  She fell in love with her friends, and she was socially ahead.  As her work flooded home, I could tell she wasn’t on par with where her brother had been.  She was still struggling to write her name at Christmas. Other red flags popped up, only confirming our thoughts on giving her one more year to mature.

The year progressed, it was time for her spring conference.  We all three sat at a tiny table, the seasoned teacher setting gracefully across from us, as we tried to manage a conversation with our knees bent up to our necks from the preschool furniture.  “I would like to recommend that Zadie take one more year in our pre-k program,” she said.  “I see a mothering nature in her, and I feel that if she was given one more year to mature, she would evolve into a strong leader.”

When the Teacher Confirms Your Decision

Each word that came from her mouth was a blow to my heart.  The feelings of sadness were so unexpected.  Even though I knew that we were planning on “holding her back”, the confirmation from her teacher came with a guilt I wasn’t prepared for.  Suddenly, I felt so much heartache for her.  Knowing she will stay while her precious friends go.

We walked out of our conference, a bit defeated.  A feeling I wasn’t prepared for.  I had entered with a strong heart.  I was confident and secure, but afterward, the overwhelm of breaking the news to our precious daughter was more than my mommy-heart could bear.

After discussing it, we decided to tell Zadie at the end of the summer.  Luckily, she had two or three friends returning to Pre-k that year with her.  Having a few familiar classmates made the transition easier. Still, she began class with a bit of sadness.  Each time she would tell me how she saw her old friends on the play ground or how she passed them in the hallway, I tried my best to keep a strong steady face.  As the days went by, she became more and more comfortable with her new peers.  She began to make friends, and I noticed her developing into the leader her previous teacher promised she would become.

Seeing First Hand: The Benefit of Red Shirting

I definitely saw a turning point.  She transformed from the timid shy friend, to the one who took others by the hand and showed them how to work a puzzle.  It is a requirement at their school for parents to observe one day out of the year, and on the day I observed, I was amazed.  All those hard feelings were worth it when I saw her cut up an apple, and walk around the class, offering her friends a freshly sliced snack.  Her face bright and her shoulders back, showing off her new-found confidence.

Sometimes, we need to give them one more year.  Whether it is to gain some courage, or to develop focus… it is our responsibility as parents to put our emotions aside and if necessary, gift them with time.  Yes, it was muuuch more difficult than I was anticipating, but I could not be more happy with our decision.

If you are considering an extra year for your kid, as a parent and an educator, I could not encourage you more to follow through with that decision.  But, also, know that it will be hard… but the payoff is so much better.  You are not “holding them back”, you are “adding a year”, giving them the precious gift of time.  A sacrificial gift you’ll never regret.  One more year of childhood.


red shirting a child

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  • Reply Kelie Grounds

    Wonderful perspective. I am one of those teachers who makes that recommendation frequently and I appreciate hearing what it felt like for you as a parent. Would you give permission for me to share this blog with parents? I’ve always wanted to be able to say “Talk to this parent about their child’s experience” but I’m not allowed to divulge that information. Thank you for your honesty. (Side note-I know your in-laws from a past church & neighborhood. Loved that family!)

    August 13, 2016 at 1:03 pm
    • Reply Heather Duncan

      Kelie, Thanks so much for your encouraging words. Of course you can use this as a resource in your classroom. I would be flattered, and the purpose of sharing is to help others who are walking through the process or who are about to. Thank you for reaching out. And, how fun that you know Mike and Golda, they’re the very best! 🙂

      August 13, 2016 at 8:54 pm
  • Reply Heather Duncan's #1 Fan

    Excellent advice Heather!

    August 12, 2016 at 3:16 am
  • Reply Sohailah

    Big fans of red-shirting. Halle redid 6th grade. Seems like an awful time to do it but her mom wouldn’t agree before that. It was a beautiful choice. She will be 18 her whole year of 12th grade and will graduate two days before her 19th birthday. She wasn’t mainstreamed at all until she repeated. Now she is completely in all level classes. Well done, you made a great choice. And every child Should be considered, individually.

    August 11, 2016 at 10:09 pm
    • Reply Heather Duncan

      So glad it worked out for Halle! Sometimes transition years seem like a great opportunity to do it, because the kids are new. And, her success is great proof!

      August 13, 2016 at 4:00 am
  • Reply Debbie Priest

    SERIOUSLY, Heather, this should be “required reading” for all parents!! 👍🏼👍🏼

    August 11, 2016 at 8:07 pm
  • Reply Crissy Matlock

    Completely agree!!!! Great read!!!

    August 11, 2016 at 7:10 pm
  • Reply Cassie

    Jasmine had to do the same thing between Kindergarten and First grade. She wasn’t mature enough for the structure of First grade yet. It was the best decision we ever made. When she hit Seventh grade she was so far ahead of her peers she ended Sixth grade and went straight to Eighth.

    August 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm
    • Reply Heather Duncan

      I am so glad you were able to give her that opportunity to mature from kindergarten to first grade. Obviously it paid off in the end!! 🙂

      August 11, 2016 at 6:46 pm
  • Reply Lolly Duncan

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    August 11, 2016 at 5:25 pm
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