My son's the baby of his class and it breaks my heart

Having a child whose birth date is at the tail end of the academic year means worrying that he lags behind his peers in development

I don't read nearly as many books as I should, but one that's always stuck with me is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In the first chapter, he discusses the fascinating observation that, statistically, most of the best professional ice hockey players are born in January, February and March.

Were they predisposed from birth to favour the cold, wintry weather of Canada? No, but their birth date results in them being the oldest in their classes.

As it is for most schools in Singapore, the school year there begins in January and, therefore, the children whose birth dates are in January and February will be the oldest in their school year.

For these young potential ice hockey players, this meant that their advanced physical maturity during primary school gave them an advantage in sports. They were faster and stronger, they were consistently picked for the best teams, they received the best coaching and they went on to succeed more in professional sports.

Another study, by the University of Florida, of public school students between 1994 and 2000, concluded that those who were the eldest in their school year were more likely to grow up to be confident, were more likely to graduate from university, were less likely to end up in prison and, overall, had better lives.

These studies and statistics have been bothering me intensely in the past few weeks because my elder son is five years old and is surrounded by six-year-olds - he is one of the youngest in his class.

In an average classroom, there is a very significant difference between a child who is 5½ and one who is 6½. Physique, maturity and intellect are all potential markers.

A few weeks ago, we were invited to one of those six-year-olds' birthday party at the Turf City playing fields, where the kids got to play touch rugby.

Suddenly, seeing the varying heights of the players, the concept of age hit home for me like a thunderous All Blacks second-row spear tackling me.

There was one kid who was clearly the oldest of the bunch and seeing him alongside the other rugby kids was like watching a Great Dane gallop past a bunch of yelping Jack Russell puppies.

In an average classroom, there is a very significant difference between a child who is 5½ and one who is 6½. Physique, maturity and intellect are all potential markers.

And so it is that my son Ciaran, the baby of his class, is behind in certain respects and it breaks my heart when he tells me he "doesn't like school because I can't read as well as the other boys".

On many occasions, I have exclaimed something along the lines of "My boy's only young, I'm never going to pressure him about academics" or "Let him enjoy his playful childhood, he has the rest of his life to learn reading and writing".

But even now, when he is only five, I am experiencing the creeping paranoia of comparing scholastic performance. This anxious road leads to study guides on holiday, enrichment classes and weekend tuition marathons.

I pray that I will battle these Tiger Dad instincts, but when I see Ciaran's handwritten worksheet on the wall beside the rest of his classmates', the fear spreads through me like cold shivers at the telling of a ghost story.

Is there a solution? I have heard of kids who have been "held back a year", transporting them from the youngest to the oldest in their school year. I understand that this is not very common in schools in Singapore. But even if it were an option, some parents might be put off by the stigma that if a child is held back a year, it's because he isn't very bright.

I am also reluctant to consider this because I am a die-hard stickler for rules. The cut-off age for student enrolment is December/ January. Everybody knows this. Why should my child be an exception to distort this calendar institution?

But what if holding him back a year could transform his entire life? Surely it is worth bending the rules - and perhaps enduring a temporary stigma - if it means his exam results, self-esteem and job prospects are suddenly sky-high. You never know, he could be President, a Nobel Prize winner or even a left winger for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Many people in Singapore are aware of a bias towards certain Chinese zodiac characters and statistics show higher birth rates in particular years.

My wife and I were auspiciously blessed to have Ciaran in 2012, making him a Year of the Dragon baby, but little did I know we were aiming for the wrong "conception window".

I wish now I had been more calculating and deliberate with my wife's advances.

"Sorry, not tonight, honey. It's March."

• Shan Wee is a radio DJ and the author of 99 Rules For New Dads.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 22, 2017, with the headline 'My son's the baby of his class and it breaks my heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe