It’s a fact of life that for many mobile parents who spend time living and working abroad there will not be the educational support services in place to properly school their children.  Every year parents and their children are faced with the dilemma of what to do as and when a particular overseas assignment will mean that the child is affected in terms of their schooling.

For many parents the best option for their children is to enrol them in a quality boarding school back home where they will benefit from a consistent approach to their education, and where schooling standards will not decline and thus potentially negatively impact on the child’s future.  However, boarding school is a big change for children who are unaccustomed to spending long periods away from home, and in this article we examine how parents can help their children prepare for boarding school.

The new term time has just begun in many nations across the world, for some children this means a new school, for others it means a new school in a new country.  And if you’ve just enrolled your child at an international or local school abroad in your new country of residence and you’re actively concerned about the establishment in question, you may be actively seeking an alternative educational solution.  Boarding school is the preferred option of the majority of expatriate parents who cannot find adequate schooling for their children overseas.

So, how do you broach the subject with your child?  Well, chances are your child will be aware of their new school’s deficits and problems, or, if you have yet to move overseas, perhaps they will already be concerned about having to learn a new language in order to understand their teachers or having to learn a whole new school system and curriculum.  The most aware children will be the ones most likely to respond positively to the thought of a boarding school.

In this day and age children are familiar with the concept of going away from home to learn thanks to the Harry Potter books and films – for some therefore the thought of boarding school will be exciting, for others, terrifying!  It’s important to begin at the beginning and explain what modern day schools are like!  Whilst some are still housed in fascinating and beautiful old buildings, all have a very modern outlook on the pastoral care of the child!  Sorting these concerns out from the word go is essential – you do not want your child frightened, intimidated or even overawed at the thought of going away to school.

The next most important thing to get right in negotiations with your child is that going away to school is not a punishment.  Go over the options that you as a parent/child unit have for getting the best education possible for your child…if the absolute best and most compelling choice is boarding school, slowly your child should come to accept the idea!

When choosing a school many parents go by word of mouth recommendation or from online research – however, one should ideally pick a school for the specific child rather than a generic ‘good school’ – this is because every child is unique, and each independent boarding school has its own methods and ways of teaching and nurturing.  For example, some schools are more focused on the academic side of learning and therefore ideally suited to children who are naturally academically gifted, others place greater emphasis on sporting activities, some have special facilities and teachers for those with learning difficulties.  Be honest and realistic about your child and which method of teaching could suit them best.  We all know how awful and pushy some parents can be and how they make their child’s life a misery by forcing them to study subjects they hate or are clearly no good at – don’t be a pushy parent!  Focus on your child’s strengths and likes, and try and find a school that will nurture these.

Looking online can be a good way to get an initial feel for a school, sending off for the prospectus is the next step – but a decision can only really be made once the whole family has visited the school in question and seen it with teachers and pupils in situ.  This gives you a chance to get a feel for what it’s like on a day to day basis, to observe how the other children are behaving and coping, and for all of you – including your child – to ask as many questions of as many people as possible.

Once a decision has been reached, make sure you spend at least another day – more if you can afford the time – taking your child back to the school whether it be during term time or the holidays.  Your child needs to build up a sense of familiarity with their new surroundings so that they are not intimidated or scared before they arrive.

Prior to their arrival get a special calendar for your child and mark on it their holidays, days when there are treats or days out planned at the school, weekends when you will visit or they will come and see you, and all the things they have to look forward to.  This will always enable them to look ahead and see something positive on the horizon if ever they feel homesick or have a difficult day.

Next up you need to think about communication – some schools allow children to phone home whenever they want, others are more strict and restrict telephone contact to once a week to prevent the children getting disrupted and upset.  Prior to scheduled phone calls it makes a huge difference if you are permitted to speak to your child’s personal or year tutor so that you can be made aware of any issues as well as find out about the high points for your child that week.  Then, when you speak to your child you can anticipate the negative that they may report to you and focus on all the positive things instead and ensure the phone call is a happy and constructive, affirming one that leaves your child confident and reassured rather than depressed or negative.

When you and your child decide that a boarding school is the best option, make sure your child knows that they have to commit to the school for a year.  If they know that they have to stick it out for that long they are far more likely to make the effort they need to settle in, make friends and establish themselves.  The children who suffer, struggle and leave are often those who have no incentive to try harder and who know that there is a get out option.

Keep active communication lines open weekly with your child’s tutor, find out exactly what they are up to – the highs, the lows and the challenges and treats they have to look forward to.  You can then be on the same level as your child and if you anticipate any issues, you can clearly communicate these to the tutor so that they keep a closer eye on your child or give them any extra attention they need.  Also encourage your child to communicate openly – explain that you are there in the event of a serious issue, but that the every day ups and downs are handled by certain key staff members such as housemasters and mistresses, and that if ever they have any worries they must speak to an adult at the school.

Finally, send letters, emails, postcards and packages to your child at least once a week – the difference that it can make to a child’s life when they are reminded that they are being thought of, that they are important and special to you is immense.  And what’s more, the worst thing that can happen to a child away from home is disappointment when they go with all their friends to get mail and they get none.  Even if you never hear a word in return or a word of thanks, don’t forget to keep sending communication!