The School Decision
4 Reasons Why School Choice Should Rest With Parents
We all want our children to feel happy and safe in their school environment. But it’s the rare case where a child can make a well-informed, objective decision about switching schools. With kids’ brains undergoing rapid change, it’s simply not developmentally possible for them to assess long-term opportunities and benefits. They don’t have enough information—or life experience—to understand how a private school education might change the trajectory of their lives for the better.
As you consider switching to a private school, here are four crucial factors to know about making the decision:
1. Your child can’t envision their future the way you can.
With brains wired for immediacy and short-term gratification, children are naturally preoccupied with the issue of friendships. What would it mean to leave friends behind? Won’t they be angry with me? How hard will it be for me to make a new group of friends? Kids understandably focus most on what they will be giving up in the short term, not what they’ll gain in the long term.
Parents bring a deeper perspective—based on their own educational journeys—to bear on a decision that will affect many aspects of their family life. Only parents are equipped to ask, “What are my hopes for this child? What will deepen their sense of curiosity? What school environment will make them feel more empowered, with a greater sense of agency? Where will they be academically challenged?” While children can weigh in on some of these fundamental questions, parents are better-equipped to grapple with all of them.
2. Switching schools is too big a decision to leave in your child’s hands.
No matter how clearheaded you believe your child to be, the question of switching schools is too big a decision for them to make on their own. No child wants to disappoint their parents or make the “wrong” choice.
Let your child know at the outset how you will consult with them during the decision-making process. Make it clear that you want to hear them out, and maintain a neutral attitude when they discuss their fears about changing schools. Encourage your child to talk about what they’re looking for in their school experience. Listen carefully, and don’t disregard or dismiss anything—what might seem like a minor quibble to you could be critical to your child. Even if it’s an issue that you might override later, it’s important to acknowledge all your child’s concerns.
Keep in mind that you are the “consumer” of what will be a major long-term investment of your hard-won income. It would be unusual for parents to defer to their children on these types of significant commitments. Get your child’s input, but own the final decision.
3. Don’t try to avoid conflict with “try it for one year and see how it goes.”
Encouraging your child to try a private school for a year could set your entire family up for a year of unrelenting pressure—and could create a situation where your child unconsciously undermines the school move. It’s essential for both parents and child to be in it for the long haul and to invest fully in their new experience. Giving a one-year “out” could prevent that from happening. Instead, tell your child that you will check in with them regularly, that you are open to talking about their experience, and that you want to help them make the most out of this opportunity.
4. Your child needs you to make the decision.
As much as they may protest, experience tells us that it’s more of a relief than a burden to children if you own the decision to change schools. Your attitude and approach are critical—your child is gauging your reasons for considering a school, and they need to see your confidence and conviction.
It won’t be easy. Resistance is natural in situations where you and your child disagree. It may be difficult to see your child digging in their heels if you have concluded that a private school is the right place for them. But keep this in mind: the root of the issue is that no student is eager to tell their current group of friends that they have decided to attend another school. Being able to say that their parents made the decision lets your child off the hook. They may “blame” you at first, but inevitably, they will discover that their new community is open and welcoming.
At Waynflete, we understand how important a good start to the year is. We also know that feeling a part of the community allows students to be more open to learning. For these reasons, we plan carefully for the transition of students and their parents. The beginning of the school year is designed so students get to know each other and their teachers on a more personal level. We plan carefully with activities that are appropriate at each developmental level, to help children adjust and thrive in their new community. While it can take some kids more time than others to integrate into a new community, we’ve found that in most cases, this happens within the first few weeks of school.