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“Redshirting” in Kindergarten: What are we thinking?

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Dr. Meg Meeker

The idea, of course, is to make sure that their student has every opportunity to “outshine” the other students. For boys in particular, one year of maturity can make a big difference in physical stature and cognitive maturity.

As a mother of a son, I get this. What parent doesn’t want his/her son to succeed? But here’s the rub: a child’s success isn’t the real incentive of redshirting parents. What really lies beneath their decision is a fierce need to compete. Parents want their child to beat out his peers in the classroom and on the athletic field so that they, the parents, can feel like more successful parents. No matter how you slice it, redshirting isn’t about what’s best for the child; rather, it’s about helping kids become high performers and thus make their parents look really good.

Life is competitive and certainly every parent wants his child to stay afloat in a competitive world. But I wonder, what price we are willing to pay to force our kids to be the ones who outshine the rest? Think of this gesture from a child’s perspective. The messages he receives from his parents are many (and they don’t feel very good.) First, he feels that he needs to be held back because he’s not able to play on level ground. He needs the age advantage because he’s not quite good enough as he is. Do you want your son to feel that way? Second, he knows exactly what his parents want: a high-performer, above all else. I’ve taken care of hundreds of these kids over the years and let me tell you, if you want to really rattle a kid’s self-esteem, communicate to him that his real value comes from his performance. These kids are unable to answer one of life’s most haunting questions: ‘am I loved for who I am or because I perform well?’ Never let your child doubt the answer.

Third, kids see right through us. Make no mistake: every kindergarten child knows his parents’ motives. They can read our intentions because they’re wired by a deep need to be connected to us. Uncovering our motives helps them see what they mean to us (and what they don’t mean to us.)

Let’s stop playing games with our kids and with ourselves.Raising kids isn’t a game. Let’s turn our focus from raising kids who outshine our friends’ kids to building strong character in our children. How dare we bypass the opportunity to raise kids who know deep in their souls how broad their inherent value and abilities are in their parents’ eyes?

Redshirt your child and you might leave him wondering what he’s really capable of and more importantly, what his life is really worth to you.

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