HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

What should I do with a disrespectful child?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


This year my 6-year-old is repeating kindergarten at the request of her teacher last year who said that although her skills were developed, she was "not emotionally ready" for first grade.

While last year she enjoyed school, this year she claims she doesn't. On the second week of school, I got a call from the principal's office saying she had been sent there for the first time ever for discipline. I was told that she did not listen to the teacher for three times in a row and on the fourth direction, she yelled "No!" back at the teacher.

What can I do to support my daughter treating her teachers with respect? Is it possible she is bored with the repeat of curriculum?


Common factors in determining a child's "emotional readiness" for kindergarten are age and previous preschool experience. Children start kindergarten at different emotional, behavioral and academic levels. It can be helpful and appropriate for children to repeat a grade based on a variety of issues that can include both academic and "emotional readiness." Regardless of the reasons, how the retention was explained to your child is the key to ensuring that your daughter does not feel that she has failed or is being punished by repeating.

First, make sure you and the teacher are giving your daughter the same explanation for her retention and that it is understandable to a 6-year-old. It is also important that you convey a positive non-punishing feeling about her retention.

In order to further support your child, consider the following: Have a good understanding of what is meant by "emotional readiness." We can assist children in maturing by having clear behavioral expectations. The teacher should construct a behavior plan that you and your child understand and that is within the range of age-appropriate behaviors. Behavior plans have a higher success rate when the teacher, student and parents have participated in setting and maintaining the goals together.

Does the school counseling program have a social skills group? If not, do they have referrals in the community? Social skills groups can help children strengthen appropriate coping skills, problem solving and peer interactions.

How is your child doing academically? Are any interventions needed?

Having a clear plan and strategy for your child's retention can help lessen everyone's anxiety and increase your child's school performance.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"Where was all of this information back in 2001 when I needed it?!"
"I am a person whose parents made the decision to push me on in school, even though my teacher told them I was a bit immature and it wouldn't hurt to hold me out a year and start kindergarten a year later. I was born very close to the cut off date. My parents insisted that I start school and I can tell you it was a big mistake in my mind. I was always the youngest and could not do what all my peers could do. Date, Get a drivers license, and going to college was a challenge. I had it academically, it was social and emotion development that I struggled with. I now have a grandchild that is on the border off the cutoff date and everyone questions why my daughter does not put her in Kindergarten. Her pat Answer is: I'm not in a hurry to get rid of her and I'd rather her be older and more mature than younger and maybe struggle. I also have a friend that has held her two boys back and they are now graduating high school at the top, where they may have struggled if pushed. ! Relax, know your child and listen to all options. When your child gets a degree... no one ever asked me how old I was! Also, I had trouble getting permanent work after high school because I was too young for employers and had to wait till I turned 18."
"My daughter's birthday is Dec 1st,and she made the cut off date for Public school in Southern California to start Kindergarten when she was still 4yrs old in September, she's always ahead of everybody in class at pre-K she was already reading books at a 2nd grade level. She's now in 2nd grade and I dreaded the thought of holding her back before. Like almost all parents, they want their child to be the best in everything. When she started 1st grade, most of the kids are turning 7yrs old, while she is not even 6yrs old. I spoke to her Kindergarten teacher and I wanted to hold my daughter back, but her teacher told me that she will be so bored and will just get in trouble. She is very smart and very vocal. She's always been in the top reading group and Math group. And for her age she is more mature than half of her classmates. She is my only child and I am a stay at home mom and I volunteered a lot at her school and especially inside their classroom. I guess the key for your c! hild's sucess in learning is being involved and spent a lot of time with them, which my husband and I do. She has also a lot of after school activities. It's actually wearing me down driving her around. So far I don't regret not holding her back. I guess my main concerned before was that being the youngest that she will be the follower and it turns out she's actually the leader in most cases at her school. She also a very strong willed child. I think I will go and buy myself the book 'Strong Willed Child', by Dr. James Dobson "
"Before my son started school, we applied to a private school who had him tested. According to that school, due to my son's birthday being in May and I assume responses on the test, they recommended he be held back a year. I was very concerned about holding my son back, how he would feel with his friends moving on, possibly teasing from the other kids when they found out he had to repeat a grade, etc. I consulted the teachers at his preschool and they completely disagreed and said my son was ready for Kindergarten and would be bored if we held him back. Since they knew him better than the private school we had him start Kindergarten in the public school. Truthfully, I was beginning to question if the private school was after the $8K tuition for pre-school. The first and second semester in Kindergarten were a bit rough and I really started questioning our decision to not hold my son back. I started working with him more and thankfully, by the third semester everything started to click for my son and his reading and grades dramatically improved. This year, he's in 1st grade, and is reading now at the 2nd grade level and his report card is wonderful. He rarely has behavior issues. I'm so glad we did not hold my son back. I truly believe we would have made a bigger mistake and hurt his self-esteem. "
"Both my boys' birthdays are in the fall. When they finished pre-K 2 most people assumed I would wait another year to start kindergarten when they were five instead of 4 and 10 months saying how important it is for boys to be older. This is boloney. My now 10 and 8 year olds are both in GATE and are the youngest in their clases. Sure, we had some discipline issues in kindergarten, what boy doesn't, but if we had held them back for that they would be so bored instead of challenged. Don't be so quick to hold them back. The brightest ones are usually the most fidgetty and restless until you can pique their interest!"
"I am in complete agreement with Ms. Collins' response. As an Elementary Principal in a K-2 building, I know first-hand how difficult the decision to retain can be. Sometimes it is in the best interest of the child to give the 'gift of time,' however, if students are made to feel like failures, the process is doomed, and we have failed the child. We have had MANY success stories of students who we have chosen to allow another year to grow and mature before moving on to the rigors of the next grade level. However, if parents feel that somehow they have failed their child, or something is 'wrong' with the child, a retention can truly be devasting. Presentation IS everything, and it is up to the ADULTS to make the decision. Many times, parents will ask their 5 or 6 year old what THEY want. This is not a child's decision, but one that adults need to make for them."
"I love these newsletters!"
"I was advised to retain my twin boys in kindergarten on the basis that while they were academically doing well, they were not mature enough. That was a little understandable because they started kindergarten at age 4 and didn't turn 5 until a month and a half into the school year (year round end of July through mid June). I find that while I was a little upset and felt that I had failed them in some way that they are excelling this year. They are both in the top reading groups in their classes and are recommended to test for the gifted program. Hopefully, we'll never have to travel down this road again, but overall I feel that the retention in kindergarten was best for them. The good news, they'll still only be six when they start 1st grade this fall."
"My son who is in the first grade is in danger of being held over for the next school year if he does not improve his academics and behavior. It is the middle of January right now. Is there a way I can help improve improve so that he does not get held over? If he does get held over is summer school an option?"
"The expert never addressed the parent's question of whether her child could be bored by the repeat curriculum - nor told how to deal with it. It sounds as if the child is with the same teacher again...which could be a mistake in this case. Agreed, the explanation for the retention is important, but more than that now is what to do with this defiant, unhappy child. I suggest talking a lot with the teacher about how to help your child get over their unhappiness with the situation. Defiance is the result of the child feeling a lack of control over what's being done to them. They want their feelings to at least be recognized. Mom could talk with child to see what child is feeling as a good first step. Listen without judging. Be empathetic....think how you would act if you felt like your child. Mom is on the right track."
"I would recommend the book 'Dare to Discipline' and 'Strong Willed Child', both by Dr. James Dobson to the parent. The counselor's pat answer to every thing is 'make a behavior plan', which puts a burden on the teacher, not the child! Start now- or pay the price heavily in years to come."
"I am in a somewhat similar situation. My son has a speech IEP but was having difficulty socially so they put him in developmentally delayed special education. He has a 1:1 para who escorts him everywhere and he is the only Kindergartener in the pull-out special ed. classroom. He turns 6 in May and will repeat K at a different school. I hope it helps him w/social skills."