Sending your child to a boarding school doesn’t mean creating a distance with them

Regardless of the reason you may place your child in a boarding school; the change could affect them emotionally. So parents should be prepared for a variety of emotional reactions- many of them negative!

Fear and anxiety- about fitting in, managing life without parents, living alone. Could show up as loss of appetite/ sleep and lack of concentration

Anger and resentment- at being “sent away”. Could show up as temper tantrums, fights with parents, mood swings and sulking.

Brooding and depression– about living away from family, friends, being “left out” of family. Shows up as crying spells, looking sad/lost/ disinterested.

Do remember all of these are pretty normal reactions to expect from a child making a major life change.

So some effective parenting skills are going to come in handy here- topping the list is how well you prepare your child to face this challenge.

A few ground rules to keep in mind…

  1. Boarding is not punishment: Your child shouldn’t get the feeling of being “sent away”. Never say or imply “We are sending you to boarding because you are naughty/difficult to manage”. Also avoid referring to how expensive the school is and how “grateful” your child should be! You’ll only induce guilt not gratitude!
  2. Explain don’t exclude: Rather than announcing that you’ve made the boarding school decision, talk about it with your child. Let him/her have a say in making the choice of school and in some of the smaller decisions- what to pack, what classes to take, extra-curricular activities to enroll for etc.
  3. Teach life skills: Assertiveness in dealing with bullies, time management to deal with heavy work load, social skills to deal with lack of friends. Also, sex education is a critical area- teach your child to distinguish “good touch” from “bad touch” and to report anything which does not feel right immediately.
  4. Reassure: Let the child know you will constantly be in touch to fill them in about what’s happening back home.  Let them carry some reminders of home (photos, favourite objects) with them to school. Be there during important functions like sports day, annual day, passing out day.

Visit the boarding school:
This will give you, as a family, an opportunity to talk specifically about pros and cons of the school. It will also create familiarity for the child. All of these things make it easier to maintain a sense of being “connected” even when you are physically separated.

(Published in RobinAge, July 2009)