Overprotective parenting and private school admissions

Private school admissions officers pay close attention to how you interact with your child

Don’t run! Don’t touch that! Put on a sweater! Be careful! Have you overheard other parents constantly cautioning their children? Or perhaps you have caught yourself saying these phrases over and over again to your children? As parents we naturally want to protect our children from any harm. But do we ever stop to think that we might be protecting them from too much, worrying constantly about them, and not allowing them to explore, to fall, and to make mistakes? Are you an over protective parent? Could being overprotective do more damage than good for your child?

Because private schools teach and value independence, their perceptions of your babying your child will hurt his or her chances.

Children learn best through discovery, trial and error, and, of course, by watching others. In fact—and you no doubt have heard this beforefailure is one of life’s greatest teachers. As has been famously stated, it is not about falling down and scraping our knees, but rather the fact that we pick ourselves back up and continue on. Oprah Winfrey said it best during her commencement speech to Harvard’s Class of 2013: “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction…Learn from every mistake, because every experience, particularly your mistakes, is there to teach you and force you into being more who you are.”

It does seem though that in this increasingly-competitive and busier world, many parents have become overly protective of their children. Some children and young people aren’t allowed to fail and are at the mercy of helicopter parents. In some cases, overparenting has gone to such extremes that there are now stories of parents following their children into job interviews!

Private schools, by their very nature, aspire to build students who are self-reliant, independent, confident, and responsible.

While your child’s first job may be many years off, perhaps you’re thinking of enrolling him or her in a private school. How do private schools view overprotective and overly-involved parents or those who do everything for their children?

First off, think about the missions and core values of private schools. Private schools, by their very nature, aspire to build students who are self-reliant, independent, confident, and responsible. In the words of the director of admissions at one of Canada’s most competitive private schoolsspeaking about admissions to Grade 1the school isn’t looking for babies. Admissions officers and the school’s teachers are careful to observe a child and his parents. What impression does it leave on the school if a parent is seen helping take off the child’s jacket or holding his bag for him? What message are you sending when you are seen catering to and doing everything for your child?

Because private schools teach and value independence, their perceptions (or perhaps misperceptions) of your babying your child will hurt his or her chances, especially when it comes to the most competitive schools. Thus, it is important to give your child the space and freedom to allow him or her to make mistakes, to experience consequences, and to learn about the world.

If you shelter and overprotect your child it could result in the following:

  • Self-esteem issues: Your child could suffer from having low self-esteem and confidence. This is caused by not letting children take risks and not allowing them to make choices. When we get rid of choice and opportunities, children do not learn vital skills like decision-making and conflict resolution. They will never attempt to do anything that is not familiar because that will appear unsafe. Therefore, they become fearful of facing life on their own. Moreover, and of great concern, they will also fear making mistakes. As mentioned previously, learning to fail and learning from mistakes are crucial skills that all children need, especially if they are going to compete in this world. Private schools are looking for children who are able to analyze a situation and make choices that are available to them.
  • Anxiety: Your child could risk becoming so used to his or her comfort zone that he or she will be afraid to explore his or her surroundings. This could result in him or her developing separation anxiety and anxiety towards any change. Many private schools conduct group assessments or interviews for junior applicants. Children who cannot part from their parents or who are afraid to interact with the other students in the assessment will appear not to be socially-emotionally ready, and chances of them gaining admission will be diminished.
  • Stubbornness: Your child could have disciplinary issues and may refuse to take instructions from anyone. This will worsen as he or she reaches adolescence with the potential for him or her to have troubles in schooling or to become rebellious. During the private school assessments, admissions officers and teachers are observing whether or not applicants can follow instructions, are well-behaved, and can get along and cooperate with the other students.

So, how do you stop overprotecting your child?

  • Increase your child’s freedom as he or she matures. From preschool through adolescence, set continuously broadened limits so that your child's freedom is gradually increased as he or she demonstrates greater maturity and responsibility.
  • Teach your child problem-solving. Believe in his or her ability to solve problems and praise his or her good thinking. Let your child try to solve problems on his or her own before intervening and helping out. One way to practise problem solving is to give your child various scenarios and letting him or her make a choice.
  • Communicate with your child through open communication and let your child know what is happening with his or her environment and current situation or event. Safe communication about fears can help him or her to become brave and strong. Let your child know that you are open and available to talk about his or her problems and make the effort to share information with him or her. This will develop your child’s confidence, life skills, and trust.
  • In addition to building trust with your child, instill trust in others. Expose your child to other caregivers and people you can trust. Don't assume that you are the only safe or responsible sitter. When children learn whom they can trust, they can become more confident.
  • Allow your child to have adventures. Don't deprive him or her of opportunities when reasonable precautions have been taken and adult safeguards are in place. Adventures and explorations encourage a spirit of initiative, motivation, independence, and resilience that will help your child to eventually become a stronger adult.
  • Help your child to become emotionally resilient. Don't rescue him or her from reality by making excuses. Don't intervene with appropriate school consequences or punishments. Emotional overprotection will teach your child to look for an easy way out and it will prevent him or her from becoming resilient.

Yes, it can certainly be a daunting – and even scary – world out there. It’s never pleasant to watch our children experience pain or discomfort. However, these are a part of life and as a parent your responsibility is to prepare your child for the realities of this world, which include both the successes and failures in life.


About the Authors

Jennifer Chaloner is the Head of Early Childhood Education at KEY. Holding an Honours ECE Diploma from Vancouver Career College, Jenn has more than seven years of ECE experience, most recently having served as the director of an award-winning daycare program in the BC Lower Mainland. Bryan Ide, KEY’s Education Director, graduated from St. George’s School, in Vancouver, BC, and holds a BA from Cornell University and an MA from Columbia University. He has spent most of his professional life in education having worked in institutional advancement at both St. George’s School and the University of British Columbia. Also, he is the past chair of Cornell University’s alumni admissions committee for British Columbia.

About KEY | Admissions Strategy & Learning Enrichment

At KEY, we say that the first 15 years of a child’s life determine the next 50 years. We take a long-term, strategic approach centered on the individual student’s best interests. We are Western educated and raised with global backgrounds and viewpoints. From our KEY Early Years early childhood education through to our KEY university admissions guidance, all our programs and services are designed to give each of our students the best opportunity to thrive within their current education environment and beyond. We help lay essential and formative foundations for our students to help them create their own legacies and find success. We endeavor to teach our students to be deep learners, not superficial ones.

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