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How to support your homesick child

Receiving countless sobbing phone calls and miserable emails from your child when they have just started boarding school for the first time is a heart wrenching experience for parents. The mobile phone call, text and email has made this particularly challenging to manage as a parent since it makes contact with home so easy and available at times of sadness.

Here are a few pointers below, from our educational consultancy which may be useful for a distressed parent and may help to see your child settled and happy at boarding school as soon as possible. You can also speak to one of our friendly education consultants if you have any further concerns about your child’s education and boarding school placement – click the button below to get in touch.

On the first drop off day… Try not to hang around in the boarding house for too long before saying your goodbyes. Help your child to unpack and to make their space feel homely, ensure they have met up with someone else in their dorm to chat to and then, with as little fuss as possible, take your leave.

Trust your child’s Housemaster or Housemistress… Listen to your child’s Housemaster or Housemistress and trust their experience and competence in supporting homesick children. If they are in regular communication with you to reassure you that there is no need for concern as they have the situation well in hand, then believe them. House parents take their responsibilities very seriously indeed and you can rest assured that if, in their experience, they felt there was a need for concern as your child was experiencing greater distress than is usual for a child who is away from home for the first time, they will immediately let you know and discuss with you how best to address the situation.

Your child will be kept very busy… During their first few weeks at boarding school, your child will be very busy. They will be taking part in a very busy programme of study and extra-curricular activity. It is only in the odd few moments of downtime that your child will start to feel sad and miss home since there really isn’t the opportunity for this most of the time.

Don’t let your child know that you’re upset too… It’s hard, but never let your child know you’re struggling too. If you find it hard to stay composed, it’s okay to make an excuse to end the phone call. It’s easier for them to understand how proud of them you are rather than that you’re upset too. Likewise, it’s important not to show your frustration or even anger if this continues for longer than expected (remember to trust in their Housemaster or Housemistress). If you’re finding this difficult – stay in touch via email or text messages. On your end you may have eyes filled with tears, but all your child will see is messages of praise and love to keep them going.

Consider how often you’re contacting your child… Try not to contact your child too often during their first few weeks. Some boarding schools do not allow phone calls to and from home in the first few weeks, but even if the one your child attends does, try to resist the temptation to do this too often. Your child will have plenty of new (lifelong) friends and activities to be enjoying, and as always, trust in their Housemaster or Housemistress to contact you if there are any concerns.

Can you stay in touch without contacting your child too much? It is so easy to contact your child too much which can induce their homesickness. Do you know families with children at the same school? Maybe your child has older siblings at the school? Discuss ways to keep updated on how your child is doing in their first term by staying in touch with those families. You could even organise regular catch up with those parents, they know how you must be feeling – you don’t have to go through this stage alone.

Don’t give in to emotional blackmail… It sounds a lot worse than it is, but when your child wants something, they will go to any length (even when they don’t understand how bad) to get their way, so it’s important, no matter how upsetting, to not reward bad emotional behaviour by giving in to them. You have chosen to give your child an amazing opportunity to develop independence and experience a diverse range of opportunities within their education. They will make close friends that last a lifetime. You have made this choice for the right reasons.

A few more things to keep in mind… Try to avoid discussions with your child over the phone about what you have been up to with their younger siblings or other family members who are still at home, as this only emphasises what they are missing out on while they’re away. Try setting benchmarks of things for your child to look forward to so the first term can be divided into small chunks of time that is easier to cope with at the start. Also, never make a promise you have no intention of keeping, for example, to take them away from the school if they are still unhappy at half term or Christmas etc. Once your child feels that there is a way out for them if they do not settle, they may dig their heels in and be determined to remain miserable until your deadline has passed so they can come home.

Don’t battle the struggle on your own… You aren’t the first or last parent to struggle with a homesick child, and you aren’t alone in finding it hard to hide your own feelings either. The best thing to do in this situation is to speak out, to other parents, your family, the school your child is attending, someone you trust who has a reassuring ear like we do at our ​​educational consultancy. It is a difficult transition for both parent and child and not one to take lightly as much as we advise you don’t let your child know. Talking to one of our friendly education experts can ease your mind or help you make educated decisions on your next steps.

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