How to Prepare Your Child for Boarding School



Sending your child to boarding school may provide the best educational advantage for your child. Boarding school can provide more specialized instruction for children with learning issues, or more advanced academics for children who need the additional challenge. Boarding school classroom sizes are small, and boarding schools traditionally provide a wide range of extra and co-curricular experiences.

Boarding schools teach kids self-reliance and character development. They expose children to others from a broad base of multi-cultural and diverse, often international, backgrounds.

But the transition from living at home with you, the parent, to living on campus and only seeing parents on holidays may not be an easy adjustment for your child, especially if your child has never really been away from home  (like for weeks at a time at a summer camp). So here are some suggestions to help prepare your child for boarding school.

First, discuss openly what boarding school may or will be like, and talk about the positive and negative aspects of this decision. And visit a boarding school so your child can experience the reality of what boarding school will be like. Your child should not only talk to the administrators and teachers but also to other students.

Second, psychologists say to get your child into a daily routine. The nonprofit Integrated Family Community Services points out that “at boarding schools, students adhere to schedules that may be a bit stricter than they are used to at home.” Getting your child used to being on a schedule and showing up on-time (if not a few minutes early) for things will help ease the transition for the expectations of the staff and community at boarding school.

Third, increase your child’s independence and responsibility levels. At boarding school, no one will be watching his or her every move or asking if homework has been done before it is due. Some boarding schools emphasize on their websites and in their curriculum that they teach leadership skills. Giving the gifts of independence and responsibility for actions and inactions to your child will make him more ready for the “real world” and for life at boarding school and beyond.

As part of the increasing your child’s independence and responsibility, teach your child how to be organized in her day-to-day life. This includes knowing when to bring certain things to class or when to pack a certain sports uniform and shoes (if going from class straight to a sporting event), and teaching your child how to do laundry, as this may a responsibility of your child while she is at school. And also how to keep their room picked up, since for many students, this may be the first time she or he will live with a roommate, and it will be important to learn how to respect other people’s space.

Fourth, make sure your child has everything he or she needs before going to boarding school. If the school does not have a uniform, make sure your child has appropriate clothes in appropriate numbers. Boarding schools’ websites may tell you exactly what school supplies and clothing you need and they may sell uniforms right on the site. (You can also download the map of the school and both you and your child can familiarize yourself with the campus layout to allay some fears.)

Fifth, discuss homesickness before your child even leaves. Let him know it is normal and set up regular times to text or talk on the phone. Promise to send fun care packages. And identify a particular trusted campus employee and let your child know he can go talk to that adult any time he is feeling low. (But when your child actually gets to school, psychologists say DO NOT ask your child if he is feeling homesick. Let him bring it up if he is and then talk about it. Asking your child may make him feel more upset if he is already or upset/guilty that he doesn’t feel badly when you’re asking if he does.)

And finally, show excitement for your child’s new adventure and this will help him or her get excited too. You can relive the magic of boarding school through the Harry Potter books, through Madeline, or if your child is a teenager, you might explore the movies “School Ties” or “Dead Poet Society” or the film series “St. Trinian’s” or read John Green’s Looking for Alaska or Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On.

With the right framing and preparation, boarding school can be one of the most positive experiences of your child’s life. As Dr. Charles Best, one of the co-discoverers of insulin, said, “I was lucky enough to go to boarding school for my high school years, and I had all the resources that I possibly could need-squash courts and every book you ever would have wanted, every art supply.” Wouldn’t you love for your child to be that grateful and prepared to face the rest of his life?