People frequently ask me what preschool admissions officers could possibly hope to achieve through interviewing toddlers. Common logic dictates that it may not be possible, much less appropriate, to compare two- and three-year-olds to their peers. Yet, no authorities have spoken more candidly to me than those working in preschools; last week, the Director of Admissions at a preschool to 12th grade prep school with a track record of sending grads to the Ivy League told me a story that helped crystallize a concept I have struggled to articulate for months.

Picture this: art supplies—lots of them—in the basket of books and toys next to the conference table in the Admissions Director’s office. The scene aligns to the standard plan: let the Director talk to the parents while the child plays. Yet, something is out of place in the Director’s big basket—despite the presence of a dry erase board and paper, the toy bin is devoid of writing implements. When I ask about this, the answer is swift and accompanied by an eye roll: “so many parents didn’t stop their kids from drawing on everything but the paper, that I finally had to take the crayons and markers away.”

I’ve decided to call what leads to such bad judgment “parental blindness”. It describes scenes in which parents ignore their own children’s bad behavior while bystanders look on, aghast by the parent’s apparent oblivion—mom texting on her cell phone while the kids run amok in the supermarket/doctor waiting room/anyplace really; kids kicking the backs of strangers’ chairs (repeatedly) on an airplane while dad relaxes with a magazine. Such behaviors offended adults the world over before they had kids of their own. But something (Lack of sleep? Stress? A complex internal coping mechanism?) dulls the senses.

But, here’s the reality: somehow, (droves of) parents who care deeply about their children’s education are missing something big. The consciousness required to recognize, first, that one’s child is behaving badly, and second, that in-the-moment discipline must occur, has been lost. It’s a broader social observation, but it means something very specific for admissions: lack of self-awareness can kill your chances of getting your child into her school of choice.

Schools want to produce well-educated, well-behaved, generally impressive kids. But, if the kids aren’t getting there on their own, schools need the partnership of parents. But parents with a distorted view of their kids’ behavior are risky to work with—at best, they will be unaware; at worst, blatantly uncooperative, and the schools would rather not take a chance. The (unsatisfying) truth is that it may be difficult to be certain of how well your child behaves, and how well-calibrated your reaction. The best advice is simple, but not easy: pay attention. (I know. Easier said than done.)

By Kim Palacios – All Rights Reserved – (c) Luxe Publishing

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