It’s normal for children to feel scared, homesick, lonely, or unsure. Here’s how to make the transition to boarding school easier.
Every January boarding schools welcome new students into their doors. These students come from different backgrounds, situations and walks of life, and range from year 5 to year 12. And each year a good portion of them are experiencing their first time living away from home.
While it’s normal for children to feel scared, homesick, lonely, or unsure, parents can be reassured that the schools themselves will do everything they can to help the children through that transition. They’re experts in this. They’ve been doing it for years and have effective systems in place to support students during this challenging transition.
But of course, parents want to do what they can from their end as well. So, here are some tips on how to make the transition to boarding school easier for your child.
How to make the transition to boarding school easier
Encourage them to stay in touch with friends back home
While your child is settling in, trying to learn new routines, navigate increased independence and create new social circles, it can be helpful if they stay in touch with friends back home. Research shows that children with close friendships are happier, have greater life satisfaction, have better self-esteem, and are less likely to be lonely or depressed. Plus having a chat with a good friend can certainly make any hard situation seem more manageable.
Some parents may worry that ties to friends at home will slow the transition down. This is unlikely. Most children will feel reassured and comforted and will feel more resilient because of the foundation of friendship they can lean on. They’ll then turn to their present context and make the best of what they have in front of them.
Encourage them to get involved
The best way to settle in somewhere new, is to throw yourself into that community. And it works for our kids as well. Children who are involved at school meet more people, and those people tend to have the same interests as well.
Encourage your child to get involved at school – whether that’s in music, sports, debate, volunteering, or something else entirely. There are so many options to choose from – and if you don’t find something that suits, speak to a staff member who can point you in the right direction.
Help them make their space their own
Boarding students should be encouraged to make their space their own. They should decorate it, put their own loved things on display and bring a slice of their own personality in. This could be posters, knick-knacks, books, or pictures of friends and family. Anything that will help their new home feel like home, will make the transition easier.
Make a plan
Everyone likes to have something to look forward to. But the power of anticipation is much stronger than that. In fact, anticipating something positive is an extremely powerful way to improve stress coping and create positive emotion. It can make you feel good, and make sure life doesn’t feel too overwhelming.
Planning something for your child to look forward to is a great way to combat those feelings of loneliness, fear, and worry that they might have when transitioning into a boarding school environment. This can be as simple as a catch up with friends over the holidays – or as special as an overseas trip at Christmas. But having something to look forward to will help your child cope better with everything life throws at them.
More than anything our children need for us to listen to them. Make sure you have the time and the space to talk with and listen to your child. This includes before they leave for boarding school, when you can chat during breakfast or on the drive out to rugby practice. But it also includes phone calls, text messages, and email while they are away at school.
The more you can stay connected to your boarding child, the more you can be there when they need you.
When your child is struggling
If your child is struggling to transition, remember that it won’t last forever. Most children feel settled and comfortable within a month, though some may take a bit longer. If your child is struggling beyond that, reach out to your child’s housemaster for some insight and advice. The more you know, the more you can help.
Article by Dr Justin Coulson, Happy Families