Moving from a day to a boarding school is always a big move for both parent and child.
For some expat parents, boarding school is the only option available for your child due to a lack of options in the host country or harsh entrance exams for the country in which they hope to qualify. Whatever the motivation, this new state of independent living can make many children homesick.
The good news is that parents can help their children beat the boarding school blues, according to educators.
Here are some top tips:
1. Build excitement
Dr Helen Wright, former Head of a leading UK public school and part of the William Clarence Education Advisory Board, advises parents to start early. Anxiety is normal, she says, and though they are excited to go to a new school, it can come with a “strong sense of trepidation” which manifests itself in a desire not to go at all.
Start preparing during the holidays itself, she advised, which doesn’t have to necessarily mean organising lots of sleepovers or summer camps.
“Do though spend the holiday building up the excitement of preparing for boarding school. Take time with your child to plan what they will take with them; do special things together to show them how much you love them and how proud you are that they are going to a wonderful school; have a brilliant summer,” she writes.
2. Work with the school
According to Janette Wallis, Editor of The Good Schools Guide, schools are now better placed to deal with homesickness.
“They have ‘homesickness’ policies just as they do bullying and eating disorder policies,” she says.
At the Stowe School in Buckinghamshire, for example, sixth formers are trained to mentor their juniors.
“Many will have been selected because they’ve been through homesickness themselves so they’re extremely sympathetic,” says Dr Anthony Wallersteiner, Headmaster of Stowe.
If children are phoning home unhappy, parents can speak to Houseparents or other administrators who can reassure parents that as soon as their call home was done, their children had “skipped away happily with friends, having offloaded and solved all their fears”. If the inverse happens, school administrators can take the next course of action.
3. Don’t call too often
Speaking to The Telegraph, child psychologist Dirk Flower calls for refrain in the frequency of phone calls. Even though the first few terms can be an “emotional roller-coaster”.
Flower said: “Yes, some children feel better if they speak to their parents regularly on the phone but it’s not healthy if they’re speaking several times a day,” he says.
“Those who keep themselves occupied and are able to compartmentalise school as a place to do school things and home for a place to do home things deal with it best. Meanwhile, children who worry about home, and how their parents are getting on without them, are less adept at handling it.”
When calling them, Simon Smith, Head teacher at Rydal Penrhos School, Colwyn Bay, recommends talking about the school’s events (which can be found on their website) instead of focusing on what they might be missing at home.
“You will soon come to realise that no news is good news, as your child is too busy enjoying their boarding school life!” he says.