Whichever stage you’re at, taking a gentle and proactive approach to prepare your child for boarding school can be invaluable.
Much emphasis is placed on preparing youngsters academically, and yet character preparation is equally important. Being successful in a boarding environment requires a particular skill- and mind-set. Knowing, for example, how to share space with peers in a confident, considerate manner, and becoming a self-starter when it comes to homework is essential—as is feeling happy staying away from home.
While no school would expect youngsters to be perfect at boarding on entry, and there will be plenty of opportunities to develop these skills in situ, the following tips will help them get off to a good start:
Take a mindful approach to preparation
Stay open-minded about the type of boarding you want for your child. Be led by their personality, strengths and needs in determining whether flexi-, weekly or full boarding would suit them best. Your child’s current teachers will also be well-placed to advise you, so take the time to talk through their opinions. Wherever possible, involve your child and listen to their views.
Consider asking other families who already have children at the schools in which you are interested how they have made it work. Getting existing parents’ and pupils’ insights can be very informative. Familiar faces, informal conversations and meet-ups prior to application and starting at a new school can also help smooth your child’s transition once they arrive.
Provide positive opportunities of staying away from home
In the time leading up to boarding, consciously build in positive opportunities for your child to stay away happily from home. Be guided by your child’s stage of development, taking this at their own pace.
Some children feel anxious about sleeping away from home, especially when they are young. This is very common and should not become a pressure point. If your child is worried, consider gradually building up from an overnight stay at family or friends to longer breaks away. With children who are particularly troubled at the thought of staying away, consider letting them stay in their home environment while you stay elsewhere for a night, with close family or friends staying over as their care-givers. This can really help to ease the separation — and you get a night away too!
Take advantage of any school trips on offer and explore what organisations, such as Scouts, can provide. Consider sending your child to a summer camp the summer before starting school this will build up your child’s confidence about spending time away from home in small, graduated steps.
Build their sense of self
While your child may be a top sports player or academic achiever at their prep or primary school, this might not be the case in senior school. Prepare them gently over time for this possible shift in identity. Let your child know that this will not be a disappointment to you. Find opportunities to praise your child’s efforts, rather than achievements to help reinforce this message. This will help your child to find joy and pleasure in what they are doing, rather than worrying about what they will achieve and how others will respond. Reducing the weight of expectation will also encourage your child to talk to you and others about how they are feeling.
Help your child to take responsibility for themselves and their own belongings. Good habits should become part of their home routine. While it may be quicker to pack and empty their school bag, or to manage their homework schedule, encourage them to do it for themselves. If your child struggles with organisation, try providing a daily checklist of items that they should pack. Simple organisational know-how, such as having a system to save and store files on a computer in an ordered way and having a wall planner of what needs doing when, will also help.
Learn how to share space considerately
Being able to live confidently and happily with others is essential when boarding. As your child may share a room with another child, relaxed discussions about how to be respectful of others’ personal space and belongings are important. You will naturally want to talk about how to politely raise and resolve issues. Find ways to help your child practise these skills while they are still living at home, with peers, siblings or other family members.
Ask for help if your child has additional needs
Should your child have any additional needs or requirements, share this information with the learning support team at your chosen school as far in advance of entry as possible. Open and transparent communication between parents and teachers is always important but even more vital when a child is boarding. As far as is practicably possible, schools will want to meet your child’s needs and to know how they can work with you to do so.
Find out about school support systems
Be reassured: boarding schools usually have excellent pastoral systems to guide parents and children through this transition phase. At The King's Hospital, for example, we have a wide-ranging induction programme to help new students settle in and feel at home quickly. Don’t be afraid to ask about the school’s support systems and how you and your child can access these. Ask about extra help which can be provided during the transition phase, should you feel that that your child may require it.
How to Prepare my Child for Boarding School
- Choosing a Boarding School