Preparation for college can never start too early for many Chinese parents. But how do you do that without overwhelming students with homework or extra classes?

We asked PrepBeijing!’s Dr. Jenny Wang Hayward to tell us what parents should do to give their kids an early start. She came up with 2 fun ways to help “fill in their college applications” early:

1. Throw them out of the house!

…or something like it. The idea comes from Sir Richard Branson’s near-apocryphal tale of being kicked out of the car by his mother at age 4 and being told to make his own way home.

Hänsel_und_Gretel

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Dr. Hayward has something slightly less risky in mind.

Now, I’m not advocating doing something this drastic, but I do encourage parents to regularly take their children to a safe place (e.g., a bookstore or library) and ask them to approach strangers and ask them a question and start a conversation. You could start off with something very simple, like asking for the time or directions to the nearest subway stop. … The goal is for the child to start to feel comfortable approaching and talking to all sorts of people. Teach them to look people in the eye, to speak clearly, be friendly and polite, and to use confident body language.

We think that last part about looking people in the eye, speaking clearly, and using confidently body language is especially important. Dr. Hayward gives the following reasons why:

I see too many Chinese tweens and teenagers that are so painfully awkward when you meet with them in person; they can’t carry on a conversation if their lives depended on it and they can’t bear looking you in the eye. It comes off as disrespectful and rude. And, yet, these same children as incredibly smart, witty, and polite in their texts and emails. Don’t let that happen to your kid! Throw them out into the world!

2) Let them plan your next vacation

Tell your child that he or she can plan the next vacation, but they must a) work within a budget that you specify, b) consider not only their own interests, but also those of parents and siblings, and c) cannot simply sign you all up for a guided tour group.

This is not just a great way to counteract many Chinese parents’ tendency to ‘over plan’ their kids lives, but also to teach kids how to manage time and money, something they’ll have to do when they go to school abroad. Among other things, this exercise gives kids an opportunity to take risks, perhaps experience and recover from some failures along the way.

Dr. Hayward explains each of the 3 guidelines for this exercise in detail over at PrepBeijing!

Soft Skills Need Early Start Too

 

Chinese parents worry that their kids will fall behind if they’re not enrolled in extra classes, but other skill sets – ones that can’t be taught in school, are equally important from an early age.

…soft skills, such as empathy, leadership, and conflict resolution… are best taught from an early age. … This type of preparation for college (and, indeed, life in general) needs to start in middle school, at the latest.

Nurturing soft skills, having meaningful life experiences, and discovering genuine passions are especially important for Chinese applicant to top US or UK schools. Why? Well, let’s just say that nearly all Chinese applicants approach these schools with almost perfect school grades and standardized test scores. Taking and excelling in exams can be considered a national sport in China. That, and the unfortunate, if not totally unjustified, Chinese reputation for cheating in exams and even essay writing have made many admissions officers wary of the Chinese applicant.

How do you get past that? Again, I think the ‘secret’ is in building up your child’s soft skills and making them authentic, charming, and interesting individuals who interview well, develop deep relationships with adults (for recommendation letters), and have genuine long-held passions that can be demonstrated with achievements and experiences going back to at least middle school.

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