A couple of months ago, my brother and his wife briefly flirted with the idea of sending my niece to boarding school. They visited the school, discussed and debated, went back and forth a few times, spoke to multiple people and eventually, decided against it. Another friend of ours sent both their children to boarding school, after discussing it at home and now report that their children are very happy and have settled in well. They have no regrets over their decision at all. If you are reading this article, chances are that the thought has crossed your mind on whether you should send your child to boarding school or not. So, how do you decide? What are the factors that you should take into consideration when making this life changing choice for yourself and your family?
Evaluate your family needs
Take into account your individual family needs. Are you or your spouse in transferable jobs, where uprooting the children each time leaves them feeling lost? As children get older, they need a stable environment and sometimes, as parents we are unable to provide it. In which case, a boarding school environment may provide the stability that you are seeking for your child. If the situation at home is unpleasant due to marital discord, speak with a child therapist and see if it would help your child to be in a happier environment. If you have more than one child, think about the needs of both the children. Will you send both children to boarding school? Can you afford to send both children to boarding school? If only one is keen to go, what about the other child? In some cases, you may be dissatisfied with day schooling and looking for an environment where your child can develop confidence, self-reliance and discipline, independence in a holistic manner and feel that a boarding school may provide the same.
Your child’s opinion matters
Boarding school only works if your child wants to go too. You must take your child’s opinions into consideration. Have frank and open conversations about the pros and cons of boarding school. Most children think of midnight feasts and Enid Blyton when we talk of boarding school, do make sure you discuss all aspects with your child. While it will be fun and they make friends for life, it will have its challenges. Why do you think it would work for your child? If you are a product of a boarding school, remember that you are not your child. Just because it worked for you, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right for your child or vice versa. Take your child’s individual personality into account. Some children get lost in a boarding school environment while others adapt and thrive. It’s not for everyone. Keep an open mind, let your child visit the school, meet other children and decide for herself if it’s an environment that she can see herself in.
Age of the child
Experts say that your child should be at least above nine years of age before they attend boarding school. They need to be able to communicate thoughts and feelings clearly, have established strong parental relationships and have a sense of individual identity. Any younger and the child can face issues of abandonment and anxiety as they are unable to process their feelings in a healthy manner.
Every boarding school is different
As with day schools, every boarding school is different, based on different management philosophies and views. School culture is essential in determining whether your child will be happy there. Some old boarding schools believe in making children tough and that may not work for your child. Decide what are your priorities for a school. A boarding school environment provides more space and time for holistic, all-round development of a child. As children stay on campus, they have longer and more access to different facilities and academic learning. Speak to alumni and students, visit the school and decide for yourself if this particular school provides the kind of environment that you are seeking for your child and whether it suits your child’s personality. Does it sanction social bullying or does it have a strict anti-bullying policy? What are their programmes and facilities? Do they focus more on sports or is there more emphasis on the liberal arts? There are different types of boarding schools, some far away from the city, where you only see your child two to three times a year for vacations and then there are city schools that have weekly boarding to avoid traffic issues. Think about what your needs are and what you are looking for before you choose a school.
Be prepared for homesickness and an empty nest syndrome
Your child will feel homesick. It is a new environment and it will take him time to adapt and become familiar with the routine and make friends. So prepare your child for feeling lost and missing you and help him come up with coping mechanisms for the same. Prepare yourself for having your house empty. If you tidy up your house, it will stay the same way until you mess it up. While it may seem nice to have a break from your child, it can be hard to bear for long periods. So think carefully about how you want your daily life to be. Some parents prefer quality time over quantity and feel that they don’t necessarily need to see their child every day to have a connection. Others are already moaning about the fact that their child will go off to college 10 years from now. Think about which category you and your spouse fall in.
Boarding school doesn’t mean abdication of parental responsibility
You are still your child’s parent and as a result, need to stay connected and communicate with your child. The old school thought of ‘sending your child to boarding school to sort him out’ does not work. If your child has behavioural issues, you are better off consulting a child counsellor/ therapist than sending him off to boarding school. A boarding school does not replace the parent. You still need to check in, make sure they are okay, meeting their academic requirements and are able to adjust socially. You will need to keep tabs on your child and learn to read between the lines. Be aware of social bullying and encourage your child to communicate. They must know that their parents will always be there for them.
Whatever you decide, your child’s well-being has to be taken into consideration. Take a long-term approach and don’t make hasty decisions. Discuss all pros and cons, do your research thoroughly and then take a decision in the best interests of the child and your family. It’s important to remember that no decision is lasting. If you or your child are not happy with the decision that you make, you can always change it. At every point, you both always have a choice.