Monday 16 September 2019

Dear David: 'I need to convince my daughter that the local secondary school is not good enough for her'

I think you need to sit down with your daughter and do a full problem-solving exercise about this school choice.
I think you need to sit down with your daughter and do a full problem-solving exercise about this school choice.
David Coleman Columnist
David Coleman

David Coleman

Clinical psychologist David Coleman addresses your parenting queries.

Question: We have a daughter in sixth class and have recently attended open nights in two schools. One is a large all-girls school, quite academic and very well run. College progression is high. It is about 20 minutes away by bus. This is the school we would like her to go to. The other school is in the village where we live. It is small, mixed, with limited subject choice and low college progression rates. She is adamant that she will go here. She is a bright, articulate girl who excels in school. How do we convince her that we are making the right decision for her?

David Coleman: I think your starting premise may be a little bit off. The choice of school for secondary is one of the biggest choices you and she may have had to make. Ideally, however, it is not one that you make for her, but one that you make with her.

There is an important distinction, between these two, and it will impact on your attitude and your approach to discussing this issue with her.

Read more: Dear David: 'How can I get my son into sport as well as video games?

If you have already made a choice and are simply informing her of it, then there is little you can do to convince her that your choice is a good one. It simply becomes a situation where a parent wields their power and a child must succumb to that power.

If, though, you go into a discussion with an open mind and an equal willingness to listen to your daughter, then whatever decision that is eventually reached between you will be much more acceptable to both of you.

It may be the case that, at the end of a long and open discussion, you remain convinced that the distant, all-girls school will be better for her. You may even need to overrule her at that point.

But she will be more willing to accept your decision if she feels she has had a genuine opportunity to explain, and argue for, her preference.

There are many factors to consider in choosing a school and academic performance is only one of them. Social factors, and staying connected to the local community are equally valid considerations.

I think you need to sit down with your daughter and do a full problem-solving exercise about this school choice. Even the core question you are trying to decide upon may not be clear.

Read more: Dear David: 'My five-year-old is constantly sad since returning to school and I don’t know why

For example, 'What school will best suit (daughter's name) and will leave her happiest throughout her secondary school years?', is a very different question to 'What school will give (daughter's name) the best opportunity for future college and career choices?'

I'd imagine your daughter is trying to answer the first question by her choice of school and you are trying to answer the second by your choice.

So, set down the 'pros' and 'cons' of both schools and make sure to include all factors, like academics, social fit, proximity, quality of teaching, friendliness of staff, satisfaction ratings of students and so on.

Once you have a list for each school, you can weight the factors. So academic support might be a more important factor, for example, than friendliness of staff, and so gets additional 'weight' or a higher score.

In many ways, the important outcome of this kind of pros and cons exercise is not the list that you end up with and whether 'pros' outweigh 'cons' or vice versa. The important outcome is that you will be explaining your rationale and you will have lots of opportunity to hear your daughter's rationale.

You may even find that you can be persuaded by what seems to be important for her in her world.

Of course, she may be taking a short-term view, akin to 'I just want to stick with my friends', but you need to understand why this may be absolutely crucial for her. Perhaps it is central to her sense of herself.

But maybe her short-term view will reap long-term benefits if she is happy and contented at school. Enjoying school will facilitate her learning. Becoming resentful and distressed at school will impede her learning.

So, don't think about just trying to convince her that you are right. Be genuinely open to listening to her perspective as well.

If she feels that you have truly listened to her and properly considered her viewpoint, she may be more accepting of your perspective.

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