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Originally published Saturday, September 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Repeating a grade: stay in same school or go elsewhere?

Parenting columnist Jan Faull answers readers questions on whether a boy should be forced to repeat eighth grade in the same school and on how to talk to a 3-year-old about death.

Special to The Seattle Times


Q: Our son is repeating eighth grade. The start of school has been difficult for him. He's embarrassed and wants to switch schools. My husband says he should stay put and learn that mistakes have consequences. What do you say?

A: The consequence for not doing well in school is sometimes repeating a grade. Unfortunately, added to that consequence is the social humiliation and emotional strain a child endures from his peers. While repeating a grade is sometimes necessary and wise for the long-term academic benefit to the child, short term it can cause havoc with the child's feeling of self-worth, particularly for the preadolescent.

Repeating eighth grade is tough enough; facing peers makes it doubly tough. Help him save face by allowing him to choose to attend a different school. There's no need to add insult to adolescent injury by forcing him to stay at the same school. It might do more harm than good.

Also a new academic environment might offer him the opportunity to change his approach to schoolwork, developing new habits and approaches to studying. If he's forced to stay at the familiar school, he'll more likely fall back into his poor academic habits and routines.

In addition to supporting his decision to change schools, have him tested for a learning disability. It's a possibility that might help you and him understand his frustrations with schoolwork. Whether he's diagnosed with a learning disability or not, consider requesting a tutor through his school or hiring one for him.

Most important, your son needs to know that you, and particularly his dad, have his best interests in mind and are on his side.

Resist making this unfortunate circumstance more problematic and complicated than it already is.

Q: Can you direct me to a book on explaining death to a young child and helping him cope? My very bright, sensitive, 3-year-old grandson frequently asks about death since his grandfather passed away three months ago.

A: Read "Talking About Death: A Dialogue Between Parent and Child" by Earl Grollman (Beacon Press, $13.60).

You'll not only learn how to explain death to your grandson but also realize that children's understanding of death evolves. It's not until children are about age 10 that they grasp the permanence of death.

That said, Grollman encourages parents and grandparents to normalize the concept of death by referring to it honestly in everyday occurrences: flowers die, bugs die, pets die, and people (most when old) die. If religion is part of your grandson's life, explain death in religious terms.

Don't be surprised if you see your grandson playing about death. To come to terms with any new concept — birth, death, illness, travel or moving — children fare well when they play about it.


If you see your grandson playing out the concept of death erroneously, you can offer reality bites that in time he'll incorporate into his experience.

Just remember, he won't fully understand what it means to die until he's older. Until then, you'll hear him express immature thoughts about it which is not a major concern.

Jan Faull, a specialist in child development and behavior, answers readers' questions on parenting and development in her column. E-mail her at or write to: Jan Faull, c/o Families, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Parenting
Jan Faull's Saturday parenting column spans the ages from infancy through the teen years. She offers practical advice coupled with the expertise to tackle tough topics that concern parents most, everything from toddlers' temper tantrums to teenage smoking.