The Private School Survival Guide for Parents

Updated May 26, 2016 |
The Private School Survival Guide for Parents
It's a big step sending your darling off to private school. She will probably survive the transition just fine. But how about you?

It's a big step sending your darling off to private school. She will probably survive the transition just fine. But how about you? Will you be able to restrain yourself and avoid being an over-protective parent? Are you going to hover nearby like a helicopter? Let's look at how to make that huge adjustment to not having our little darling at home where we knew where she was and what she was up to. Here is how to cope with private school at four distinct grade levels. Here is your private school survival guide.


When you send your baby off to preschool or nursery school, you will go through all kinds of angst. Being concerned is particularly true when your first or only child leaves the nest. However, you can offset much of your anxiety by selecting your preschool or nursery school carefully. The best schools will always be hard to get into. Places at popular schools will be limited. But once the school has accepted her, then determine how you can be helpful without getting in the way. Most schools will welcome your assistance with everything from class activities to fundraising.  Don't wait to be asked. Don't be shy about telling the school that you have experience working in development or marketing or whatever field you offer. Stay involved as a team player rather than as the leader which you are probably accustomed to being. The school will appreciate that display of modesty.

Elementary School

Things begin to get interesting from a parenting perspective in elementary school. Why is that? The elementary years are the time when most children learn those core skills which cast the die for a lifetime of learning. The glue which binds all these skills together is the love of discovery. The love of learning thrives on exploration and curiosity. If you have been serious about parenting, you taught your child to read ages ago. You probably did that when she was two or three years old. You also limited her television watching and playing video games so that she developed her imagination and ability to experience situations vicariously. That approach worked very well in your home. But now in school, she is surrounded by children raised in different kinds of households.

Once again, just like with preschools and nursery schools, you can eliminate a certain amount of worry and concern by selecting your child's elementary school carefully. As you evaluate schools, confirm that the educational philosophy and teaching methods closely align with your own. When the inevitable question arises as to why her friend Rachel is allowed to stay up after nine p.m. or is permitted to watch programs which you consider inappropriate, then you will have to explain why she may or may not do certain things. Always project love and concern in your explanation. Being dictatorial will send the wrong message. Stand your ground. After all, you know what is best for her. Parenting never stops.

Middle School

Ah! Now we come to the pre-teen years. These years offer plenty to worry about, of course, but the truth is that you fundamentally shaped and influenced these turbulent years by the foundations which you have laid in the primary grades. Having said that, you should find a school which offers skilled, engaging, compassionate teachers who are good role models for young people. That's what middle school students always need, don't they? They are always seeing where they fit in, trying to fit in, and learning how to fit in. When they see a math teacher coaching the lacrosse team, a lot of things quickly fall into place. That is an advantage which private schools have over their public cousins. Private school teachers not only teach but they also mentor and coach. Interacting with adults in a variety of settings helps middle school children build their personal confidence as they make the transition to adulthood. A child who believes in himself can accomplish just about anything.

High School

Ideally, serious academics are the focus of your child's high school years. It's a time to stretch that brain. It's a time to let her get her arms around some meaty ideas and issues. As you select a private high school for your child, be tolerant and open. While you may want her to be a doctor, let her explore all kinds of career options. A school which offers Chinese, as well as some world-class theater training, might be just what she needs. Be sure to have those discussions before you select a school.

What about drugs and sex and all those other teen issues out there? How do you protect your darling at this stage? For starters, the school will have a zero tolerance policy concerning substance abuse and all those other disciplinary issues. There will be workshops, discussions, and fora of all kinds. Teachers and staff miss very little in a private school setting, so she won't slip through the cracks 99% of the time. The school will summon you the moment something isn't right. Be assured of that.

The bottom line is that at every stage of your child's education you need to be alert, involved and supportive. Don't be controlling. Gradually loosen the reins so that your child understands how to make choices and decisions as well as how to abide by the consequences of those choices and decisions. If she gets the idea that mommy will always be there to fix things, you will create an irresponsible adult. If she gets the idea that mommy will be supportive rather than judgemental, you will create a responsible, loving adult.

While we never stop being parents, you will quickly realize that you have a meaningful partnership with the private school which you have selected for your child. You will soon discover that the school complements your teaching and builds on the foundations which you have so carefully laid since she was born. I hope that you will think very carefully about what your expectations are in a private school education.  Find a school or schools which match those expectations and you will be pleased with the results. You will survive your child's going to private school.

Questions? Contact me on Twitter. @privateschl

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