Choosing a school for your child is, undoubtedly, one of the most stressful parts of being a parent. You want to find a school that will challenge your child academically, help them grow socially and emotionally, and, ultimately, set them up for a fulfilling life.
But it’s also important for parents to realize that finding a school is stressful for the child as well. Your child, especially if they are older, is worrying about all of the same things that you are—their future, their academics—but also different things. Will they make new friends? Will they stay in touch with old friends? Will they be accepted for who they are? Will they make you proud?
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Add these questions on top of the stress that comes with actually visiting a new school and going through an interview process, and it’s easy to see that a child can become overwhelmed. The best way that you, as a parent, can prevent your child from being overly stressed is to help them prepare for their school visits. After all, when you’re prepared for something, it’s easier to be at ease.
So, here are some tips on ways that you can help your child prepare for their school visits so that they are less stressed, more engaged, and better able to participate in the school evaluation process.
A Few Weeks Before Visiting the School
When you begin to plan visits to prospective schools for your child, you should take into account your child’s schedule. If they have a lot on their plate, then that is sure to increase their stress levels before and during the visit, so it’s important to try and schedule around other big commitments.
For example, if your family is about to go away on a two-week vacation, it probably would not be wise to schedule the school visit for the day after your return. Not only will your child be worried during the vacation (lowering their enjoyment of it), but they are also less likely to be prepared.
Other important events to schedule around:
- If you are evaluating schools during the school year and your child is already in school, be sure to avoid dates around big tests or projects.
- If you have just moved to a new area, try to give your child some time to acclimate before disrupting their schedule with a school visit.
- If your child is going through the recent loss of a family member or pet, try to give them some time to work through their emotions before adding this added element to their lives.
Of course, parents don’t always have the luxury of time when selecting schools to visit, especially if a number of schools are being evaluated. But whenever possible, thoughtful scheduling can go a long way in reducing stress in yourself and your child and make for a more productive visit.
A Few Days Before Visiting the School
In the days leading up to the school visit, it can be incredibly helpful for you to talk to your child about what they should expect from the visit. If the school gave you a schedule, this is when you should share it with your child. Doing so will remove some of the jitters that come with not knowing, and will also give you some time to help your child prepare.
For example, will the school visit include an interview between your child and a member of the admissions team? If your child has never experienced an interview before, then this unknown can be a source of anxiety.
By informing them ahead of time, you can calm them down and even role play through a mock interview to help them understand the kinds of questions that they might be asked, and to help them think through some potential answers. You can teach them simple tricks like how to give a proper handshake, how to maintain eye contact, how to keep from fidgeting, etc., all of which can really help them make a positive impression.
Beyond this, talking through the visit ahead of time also gives your child the opportunity to begin thinking about some questions that they might like answered during the visit. If your child is a budding biologist, you’ll want to make sure that a tour of any science labs is a part of the visit. If your child is an artist, then touring the art facilities should be on the list. If your child is a musician, the theater or band-room visit may be in order. If your child is an athlete, what sports options are available? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you get your child excited for the visit, which is sure to go a long way in calming their nerves and leaving a good impression on the admissions team.
The Night Before Visiting the School
The night before the visit is the time to do some simple prep work so that the day of the visit goes off without a hitch.
- Help your child choose an appropriate outfit, and make sure all the elements are ready to wear.
- Help your child gather/organize any supplies that might be needed: a backpack, notebook, pens/pencils, an agenda, etc.
- If the visit will include an interview, compile some notes or a “resume” that your child can reference.
- Make sure they get adequate sleep so that they are refreshed and engaged during the visit.
This is also the time to talk through any last-minute worries that your child might have about the visit. Just do your best to calm their nerves.
The Day of the Visit
Hopefully, you’ll be able to have everything prepared the night before the visit so that the morning of goes off without a hitch. That being said, there are a few things you can do to make sure your child starts the day off on the right foot.
Make sure they eat something for breakfast, even if they aren’t much of an eater. The food will give them energy and prevent a mid-morning slump that might be misconstrued as a lack of interest or disengagement by the admissions team.
Account for traffic and delays, and, if at all possible, leave the house so that you arrive 10-15 minutes early. This will remove the stress of potentially being late and will give you a few last minutes to calm any lingering worries that your child might have once you reach the school. If the visit is a group visit including other families, it may also allow you a few minutes to mingle with the other parents and children before the tour begins.
Reducing Anxiety makes for a Productive Visit!
By reducing your child’s anxiety before a school visit, you will help to make the visit a productive one. You will not only be helping your child prepare for any sort of interview process that might be involved, you will also be helping to put them at ease so that they can play an active role in choosing their school.
Though no parent would rely completely on their child to make this decision, it is important to note the school(s) that your child is excited about and which ones they perhaps are less excited about, especially for older children. Balancing your own goals with your child’s goals and desires will help to ensure that the school you ultimately choose will be the right fit.