Dropping your child off at boarding school may spark flashbacks to the days of kindergarten- your child feeling excited and nervous and you wondering if you should just put them back in the car and drive them home to your safe cocoon. Going off to boarding school is what professionals call “planned separation”. With that separation comes the inevitable feelings of homesickness; missing the comfort of routine and familiar places and faces. There is a well known wave of initial excitement and then after the first few weeks a drop in what some may label as “homesickness”. These are unavoidable feelings that don’t last. So parents- DON’T ask your child if they are feeling it. If you notice that your student’s communication has seemed a little sad, chances are they are experiencing this. Do your best to keep the conversation on positive topics.
The unfortunate truth is that new students are more likely to call home when they are experiencing a “crisis”. They are way less likely to call and tell you about the A they earned on a test, the great activity they did with the group, or the amazing golf practice they had. What you are more likely to hear about is the test they failed, the shot they missed, or the trouble they are having with their roommate. Typically, after your teen unloads their problems they will return to their routine and you are left feeling the brunt of the worry. When you receive these calls it is important for you to take the role as listener. It is not your job to offer your child a solution. It is, however, your responsibility to express your confidence in your child’s ability to problem solve independently. Keep in mind, these calls are cathartic for your child, they are getting out their feelings, so listen sympathetically but do not dissect their troubles.
Here are the top 5 best practices for supporting your child at boarding school:
1. Do not allow your child to call you constantly. The flip of this is also on you as the parent to resist the temptation to call your child. Schedule a time for a quick chat and stick to the planned time. Do not ask your child questions around grades because when they hear “did you finish your paper?” or “how did you do on that test?”, all they hear is nagging and that grades are the only thing that matter. Their teachers are already on this. Stick to subjects about them as a person, and let them do the talking.
2. Email. Emails are a great way to communicate with your child and keep them updated on things that are happening at home in a positive way.
3. Care packages. Send treats or reminders of home for your child to receive as a surprise in the mail. Getting something unexpectedly is always fun and makes your child feel special.
4. Allow your child to problem solve. They are your children and your first priority is for them to feel safe and happy, but resist the urge to jump in and save them! Your child is developing the skills to navigate novel situations and to advocate for themselves. Encourage them to do so and to seek the support and guidance of dorm parents, learning coach, golf coaches, etc.
5. Expect changes. Be patient with your child and with yourself. Everyone is learning and growing and with that comes making mistakes. Students are faced with new challenges and insecurities, but with those come new learning opportunities, growth, development, and great times with unforgettable people.