You have made a decision (which might not have been an easy one) to send your child to boarding school because it is the right thing to do for you, your child, your circumstances and your situation. Here are some tips on how to be a supportive and calm boarding parent…
You will probably feel guilty in some way or another about the decision but remember that whatever you do, you do out of deep love and because you feel it is the right move for your child. Guilt will only make you feel worse and maybe affect your actions, thinking and words! So tell yourself, ‘This IS the right thing to do, we ARE doing it for the right reasons and I am doing it for the best for my child!!’ So let’s start with letting go of that guilt!
But you might still have mixed feelings about the move or you might feel like you are sending your child away, but here is the good news: with boarding schools it’s no longer a case of ‘drop off your child, wave goodbye and not see or hear from him for weeks or maybe months’. With today’s technology there are so many ways to stay connected, even though you don’t share the same physical space!
TIP ONE: Trust that your child can cope! Once you have made the decision to send your child to boarding school and you have prepared them as to what will happen and set their expectations you need to trust that they will be ok and can cope. If you keep ringing, texting, emailing with, ‘are you ok’, ‘do you need anything’ etc. you might send a message to them that you don’t think they can cope without you. So you must stop yourself from bombarding your child with daily questions about their wellbeing which can undermine their confidence in themselves! It might be a good idea to agree on some regular or scheduled communication times if that helps you and your child.
TIP TWO: Remember that your worries are YOUR worries. As a boarding parent myself, I understand that you worry if your child is ok; does he have friends, is he lonely, can he manage the academic tasks, does he miss you too much, feel abandoned by you etc. Maybe you miss your child so much that it sometimes hurts and you start worrying, ‘have I done the right thing?’. But these are YOUR worries not your child’s. And your child should not feel responsible for them or even worry about them or know about them! You can’t text, call or Skype your child every time you miss them or worry about them. You have made a decision to send your child to boarding school, now let them enjoy it and trust that they will be OK. If you contact your child too much, or ask too many leading questions then he might start feeling your worries and doubt his ability to cope. When you find yourself sad or worried give yourself a good talking to: ‘these are my worries and I have to deal with them, I will not dump them on my child’. Talk to friends, your partner or maybe join an online ‘boarding parent’ group.
TIP THREE: Allow them to be sad and homesick. Depending on your child, it is normal to sometimes feel a bit sad or homesick and that is OK! Often, when our child is sad we are sad and we just want their sadness to go away. So then we go into ‘fixing or problem-solving’ mode: ‘don’t worry you will be fine, don’t be sad, I will see you soon,’ etc. Yes it is our job to be there for them, listen and offer support but it is NOT our job to control their emotions or tell them how to feel! Try to come from a place of “LISTEN, UNDERSTAND and ACCEPT“. “I can hear you are really upset and I understand that is how you are feeling right now and that is OK.” Sometimes the best solution is saying as little as possible and just offering a listening ear: be there for them. If we start being sad with them or crying with them we only reinforce how they feel and on top of their own sadness they now have to worry or feel guilt over our sadness! Also, allow them to succeed and move on and not ‘hold them’ in that sad or worried state by keep asking or texting them, ‘how do you feel now, are you ok, are you still sad?’ etc. That feeling might have passed quickly for them and then you are just reminding them of it!
TIP FOUR: Stay connected, apart: agree your means of communication: FaceTime/Skype/phone/texts/email etc. Try to have some level of scheduled communication as this helps you not contact them too much, it also helps your child be prepared for your communications. You can also give your child a calendar with all the dates marked when you will see each other, you coming to the school, your child coming home etc. And don’t forget good old fashioned letter writing. There is nothing better than a letter with a little gift, magazine or picture in. You can also encourage your child to write letters by giving them a ‘letter writing pack’. Make them a pack of cards, writing paper and envelopes etc. with stamps on addressed to you, grandparents, friends and so on. And build on the communication and relationship: When you speak to your child instead of asking the usual, ‘how are you, are you ok?’ questions try to ask open ended questions, ‘what is your room like, tell me about the food, which topic do you enjoy the most?’ etc.
TIP FIVE: be very clear about what are your needs and what are your child’s needs. It really helps to have a think about what are your needs and how you will deal with them, and what are your child’s needs. We might want to hear his voice every day to make sure he is ok, but that is your need and might not help him settle in or he might not want to hear your voice every day. Their needs might be that we trust them to get on with their new life, that they want to talk to their old friends more than us or that they need us just to back off a bit to let them explore and get on with their new life. You can ask them, ‘is there anything I can do to help make your stay better, what do you need from me’?
At the end of the day, this is an amazing opportunity for your child and you need to trust that he will be ok.
Parenting Success run an online ‘Discovery Group for Boarding Parents’ for schools, please email email@example.com if this could be useful for your school.