As the school year begins, many parents around the country are asking the questions: “How I can best prepare my child to start school?” “Is my child ready to start kindergarten?” “Will my child know how to handle the peer pressure of middle school?” Or, “Does my child have what it takes to make the choices in high school which will launch them towards success for college and beyond?”
Are you wondering how to prepare your preschooler for college? During a recent conversation with a college preparation specialist in the Los Angeles Area, I was reminded that college prep truly begins with interactions and opportunities given by parents and caregivers. Individuals throughout the educational and mental health community agree that two core areas where parents can influence their children, at a young age, are teaching them the ability to fail and the ability to communicate assertively.
Encourage opportunities for failure
Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx and one of the youngest self-made billionaires, often shares that her father’s encouragement to fail regularly, has been a key to her success. She shares that, “My dad encouraged us to fail growing up. He would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome–failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
An exercise I encourage families to implement with their children, even at a very young age, is to ask the same question Sara’s father asked, “What did you fail at today?” I’ve seen throughout my work with families that if a child’s relationship with his or her parents is safe and noncompetitive, they are more likely to find their passions, pursue them, fail a few times, and often reach goals that they would have never felt confident enough to pursue, had their parents not encouraged them to try, fail, and grow.
Give them words and opportunities to be assertive
One of the biggest challenges that children, teens, and adults who enter my office face is an inability to be assertive. I see, on a daily basis, individuals who avoid directly stating their needs, wants, and/or desires and then often end up depressed, anxious, or angry. I’ve talked to many college staff and faculty who say that, in recent years, they have seen an increase in college freshman who don’t know how to communicate with professors, staff, roommates, or peers. The freshman drop out rate has increased because when faced with situations where assertiveness is required to be seen and heard they experience anxiety and depression; and end up returning home where assertiveness is not required.
Children as young as two or three years old can practice assertiveness in their daily lives, if their families give them permission and the words to say. If a child is facing a bully on the playground their first step doesn’t always have to be to run away. You can teach your child to be assertive, direct, and non-violent. Recently I met a little boy who was being hit, daily, on the playground at school. The child’s parents (family friends) were feeling stuck. They didn’t know how to help their child be assertive, but not be violent. The parents finally developed a plan, with their son; he would loudly say, “No! Stop!” when the bully came towards him aggressively. Do you know what happened? Their little preschooler learned that he had a voice and once he started to use it, the parents said they saw a huge change in how he communicated. Additionally, you can teach your child to use “I statements” with family members, peers and other adults when sharing wants, feelings or experiences. Teaching your child to say, “I am mad because you said no,” verses, “You made me mad,” is teaching your child to share and own their thoughts, feeling and desires in an assertive way. If these behaviors are reinforced, it will result in a child who knows their thoughts, feelings, and desires.
If you are finding it hard to allow your child to fail or aren’t sure how to best empower your child to be assertive there are family counselors throughout the country who would be happy to meet with you, your child, and your family in order to help you to best prepare your preschooler for college.
Naphtali Roberts is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in parenting and family therapy with children, teens, and individuals in La Canada Ca (Los Angeles Area). She can be reached at www.helpforyourfamily.com or 818-669-4850 to discuss ways she might be able to support you, your child and your family.