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Best Schools advice for parents of new boarders

It’s a curious paradox  after all the months, and in some cases years, of scouring through prospectuses, trawling round school tours and exhausting entrance assessments, all in the search for the best school for your child, that as the great day dawns at the start of their school career, the euphoria and excitement that filled your lives when the acceptance letter arrived, the thrill at the prospect of the opportunities that life at boarding school will afford, all get swallowed up by a gnawing, stomach-churning, ball of doubt….’Have we done the right thing?’, ‘will they be happy?’, ‘will they make friends?’, ‘does the school realise that they don’t like marmite?’…The list goes on and the truth is that it may well be that many of those questions, to a greater or lesser extent, particularly the one about ‘have we done the right thing?’ remain unanswered for many years.

That is not to say that there is nothing you can do about it. There is, and the place to start is to remember all the reasons why you decided to send them off to boarding school in the first place. 

Firstly and almost certainly, it’s because you wanted to ensure that they have every opportunity to achieve and become the very best that they can be.  Secondly, remember schools are very aware that you, the parent, have really invested, and let’s face it, really invested in your child’s education. It is vitally important to them reputationally that they deliver.  Thirdly, all schools today are acutely aware of the need to support the whole child, not just academically but also pastorally. Pupil well-being features high on the list of priorities. Boarding schools in particular are adept at settling ‘newbies’ in and making sure that they have buddies or shadows, who will scoop them up and show them the ropes – so trust that!

All too often children who are struggling to settle in, are doing so simply because they have picked up on their parents’ anxiety; constant phone calls to and from home to ‘just check that all is well’ can heighten the tension all round.   Separation is never easy, but most children thrive when they feel secure and they know what is happening: where you are and when they will see or speak to you next.  Gone are the days where you didn’t see them from one month to the next; access to Skype and mobile phones, whilst monitored for obvious reasons, is widely available.

Our top tips for parents of new boarders

Make sure you know your key contacts in the school, such as the Houseparents, and meet as many of them as possible during induction.

Try not to reveal your fears and anxieties to your child. It is better to reassure your son/daughter that there are lots of people that he/she can talk to in the school, and that they are about to set out on an exciting new adventure. Encourage them to throw themselves in to the extra-curricular clubs, and to concentrate on settling in, making friends, and having a great time. Don’t let on that you will be having a few sleepless nights , sobbing on their empty bed – be positive for now, and have a cry in the car after you’ve waved goodbye!

Be prepared for a few settling-in bumps, and keep communicating with the school. It is better to speak to the school and not your child if you have any concerns in the first instance. Do not instantly assume that there is a major crisis if your child says they are having a bad day. Do not instantly pick up the phone to read the Riot Act to the school. In most cases, the drama has blown over by supper time for the child but has turned into a crisis for the parent who has allowed distance to inflate the issue.

Remember that there are bound to be difficult days for your child. There will almost certainly be a parents’ meeting early on in the term; usually the first exeat, where you can gently raise any concerns with the boarding staff. 

Find something to do. After the first few weeks, most parents find their boarding children are “too busy” to call home, answer messages, or acknowledge your existence. Remember this is a good indication that they are having a wonderful time and becoming independent. At this time, it is usually the parents who suffer the most. So find something else to do – take up a hobby, join a club, and reconnect with the interests you had BEFORE you had children.

Look forward to seeing your child again. Pencil in a regular time to videochat with your child, and draw up some plans of how you are going to spend your time together during exeats, half terms and longer holidays. Don’t try to force the issue too hard, as it is likely your child will be looking forward to spending some quality time with you, and will have plenty of suggestions.

Of course, DO query anything that you think doesn’t quite sound right, but invariably it is, so…

hold onto the notion that you chose the school because it has an excellent reputation for producing the kind of young adult you want your child to be; independent, confident and resilient and any early disruption or concern is a very natural part of the settling-in process.

We wish the best of luck to all new boarders… and of course their parents!