Competitive Parents: Elite Preschools

Competitive Parents: Elite Preschools
Dr. Phil talks to parents who are stressed out because their 4-year-old wasn't admitted into an elite preschool.
Margaret, whose 4-year-old son, Max, was not accepted into any of the elite preschools they applied at, says, "My son is spectacular. If he couldn't get into the school of our choice, I would feel that I failed him ... When we applied to schools we thought the competition couldn't possibly be as steep as it is, and of course, Max would get into a terrific nursery school. But we were wait listed everywhere. This is absurd! We're talking about nursery school. This isn't Harvard."

Margaret continues, "The children have to go through an interview. The parents have to go through an interview. It's tough. You can't help but not take this whole process personally. When your child is wait listed, there's always the thought that maybe it was what I wore or didn't wear — I wore too much jewelry or not enough jewelry ... It's stressful and it takes its toll. I worry that it will take its toll on my son."

When Margaret's husband Rob is asked how he feels about the competition, he admits, "I resent it."

"Is it really about the educational opportunity or is it about the image?" asks Dr. Phil. "There is no evidence whatsoever that kids who go through this elite school route do one bit better in life ... You say it's not about image but, are you telling me that if you went to some New York hoity-toity party and everybody asked where Max was going to school, and you listed a public school, it wouldn't bother you?"

"I don't buy into that stuff," says Margaret.

"I believe that successful people will succeed no matter what," says Rob. "But there's no doubt when you're in a social situation, there's some one-upmanship."

Margaret adds, "When we applied and he didn't get in, he was wait listed and everyone was comparing notes about where their child was going to school, and I had to say, 'Oh, well, he was wait listed.' You try to hold your own but it's funny how you start sliding down that slippery slope."

Rob adds, "You can't help wondering, 'Why didn't my child get in? What is wrong with my child?'"
Dr. Phil tells Margaret and Rob, "The thing you've got to really think about is playing the 'What if?' game. You're saying the process is making you crazy. Everybody plays the game. They say, 'What if he doesn't get in?' People ask the question but they never answer it. Go ahead and answer it. Just say, 'I assume he isn't going to get in. What are we going to do?' Monsters live in the dark. It's not nearly as bad as you think. That's why it's making you so crazy. You've made it a life-or-death thing. If you have alternatives lined up, then you know you have one you can live with."

"But we still have to go through this process," says Margaret. "It's brutal."

"Your point to me was that you took it personally when your son was rejected ... You can't personalize it. You can't give your power away and say, 'I'm going to let you decide how we feel about this process.' The [admittance] process is not an objective evaluation of his worthiness as a student ... Play the 'What if?' game and answer the question."