The right school for your fam­ily

The way to choose the best pri­vate school is to fully in­clude your child in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process

The Kids Post - - School 101 - By Ju­dith Muster

For all the sage ad­vice out there about se­lect­ing a pri­vate school, most lists or col­umns side­step a crit­i­cal fact: the par­ents are not go­ing to the school — the child is. As a par­ent, you can weigh the var­i­ous fac­tors ad nau­seum and make your fi­nal choice us­ing data an­a­lyt­ics and a spread­sheet, but if your lit­tle learner isn’t on board with the se­lec­tion, it will still be the wrong choice.

Since your child and his or her fu­ture are at the heart of the de­ci­sion, why not let your child also be at the heart of the de­ci­sion mak­ing?

Fam­ily coun­sel­lor and par­ent­ing ex­pert Alyson Schafer ad­vo­cates this in­clu­sive, par­tic­i­pa­tory ap­proach, so long as it’s thought­ful.

“We want the child’s in­volve­ment in de­ci­sion mak­ing, but I also say we need to re­ally de­fine what that par­tic­i­pa­tion means,” Schafer ex­plains. “When I say in­clude the child in de­ci­sion mak­ing, I don’t mean aban­don your role as older, wiser, more well-rounded adult.”

That’s the key: bring­ing chil­dren into these im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tions and valu­ing their in­put, while manag­ing their ex­pec­ta­tions and ul­ti­mately still hav­ing fi­nal say in the de­ci­sion.

“Most kids would feel apoplec­tic at mak­ing the school de­ci­sion in iso­la­tion — that’s like ask­ing a 12-year-old to buy a house and ar­range the mort­gage,” says Schafer. “But you are deem­ing them pow­er­less when you don’t ask for in­put. In­put means you have a say, but you don’t al­ways get your way.”

For (nearly) ev­ery con­sid­er­a­tion you need to make in the school se­lec­tion process, you can so­licit your child’s in­put by ask­ing thought­ful, open-ended ques­tions.

A per­son-cen­tred ap­proach will give you es­sen­tial in­for­ma­tion to help with school choice, but more im­por­tantly, it will make your child feel in­cluded in the plan­ning and de­ci­sion mak­ing about his or her life.

The re­sults of this are twofold: your child’s mo­ti­va­tion and self-con­fi­dence will get a boost, and ul­ti­mately he or she will be hap­pier with the choice.

Ob­vi­ously, dif­fer­ent ques­tions will be ap­pro­pri­ate for dif­fer­ent ages, and Schafer frames this in terms of abil­ity.

“Ev­ery per­son has a right to have a say about things that im­pact them to their abil­ity,” she says. “The abil­ity of four- to seven- to 12year-olds are all dif­fer­ent. That’s why it’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate to ask kids about the mort­gage, but it might be ap­pro­pri­ate to ask kids what they’d like for lunch.”

Above all, in these de­ci­sion-mak­ing dis­cus­sions with chil­dren of all ages, the par­ents have a re­spon­si­bil­ity for shar­ing why they are lean­ing one way or the other. When the par­ents’ rea­son­ing is com­mu­ni­cated to their child and vice versa, you not only have the for­mula for the best pos­si­ble de­ci­sion, but also for a strength­ened fam­ily re­la­tion­ship.

So sit down with your kid and let your child know you want to work with her or him to pick the best school.

Be­low are some com­mon and im­por­tant ques­tions to ask your child as well as some tried and true con­ver­sa­tion starters to get the best re­sults.

Sin­gle-sex or coed school?

Start the con­ver­sa­tion by ask­ing who are your good friends? Who do you sit with at lunch/spend re­cess with? Is there some­one at school you would like to be friends with?

Re­li­gious or sec­u­lar?

Try ask­ing do you en­joy your time at church/tem­ple/syn­a­gogue/mosque? Would you like to learn more about our re­li­gion?

Aca­dem­i­cally rig­or­ous or more well-rounded?

A good ap­proach is to ask: Is it im­por­tant to you to get good grades? What do you think you want to be when you grow up? Do you have a favourite book or books?

Spe­cial­ized in a par­tic­u­lar stream or broadly fo­cused?

Here, par­ents can ask: What sub­ject(s) would you like to know more about? What are your least favourite sub­jects? If you were a teacher, what would you teach? Do you like get­ting up and speak­ing in front of your class­mates?

Ex­tra as­sis­tance for in­di­vid­ual learn­ing needs?

With this tricky ques­tion, try to be­gin more gen­er­ally by ask­ing: Is there any­thing you need help with in school? What are the hard­est rules at school to fol­low?

And a last thought from Schafer can make these con­ver­sa­tions even more pleas­ant and (ideally) stress-free: it’s all right to make a mis­take. “It’s not about bet­ter or worse, it’s all about fit,” she says, “so you can con­sider the choice a first it­er­a­tion.”

Af­ter a three-month ad­just­ment period, there should be room to reeval­u­ate the choice and have an­other fam­ily con­ver­sa­tion. If, in fact, the school doesn’t quite work out as planned, it’s onto choice num­ber two. In the long run, all this talk­ing and open com­mu­ni­ca­tion will only serve your fam­ily well and teach your child the in­valu­able skill of de­ci­sion mak­ing.

“In­put means you have a say, but you don’t al­ways get your way. ”

Par­ent­ing ex­pert Alyson Schafer rec­om­mends in­clud­ing your child in the process

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