Managing Homesickness at UK boarding schools: every parent’s nightmare

Managing Homesickness: every parent’s nightmare

Dr. Helen Wright
September 18th 2018

Boarding schools provide an amazing all-round, complete education, and one of the best decisions you can take as a parent is to choose to send your child to one.

No matter how convinced you are of this, however, it can still be really hard as a parent to say goodbye on that first day of school in September. If your child suddenly says that they don’t want to go, or, worse, phones you every night for the first week in tears, then the process can be positively heartrending.

How do you manage if this happens?

First, and most important, understand that anxiety about a move to any school, boarding or not, is normal.

It is a time of transition, and when this is coupled with a move away from home, albeit temporary, this transition feels bigger. Your child should be excited about the move to a new school, but he or she will also feel a strong sense of trepidation, and this can manifest itself quite readily in a desire not to go to school at all. All children need to go to school, and your child needs you to remind them of this firmly and warmly.

As with any transition, you should prepare in advance as much as possible, particularly in the holidays immediately before the move.

This doesn’t necessarily mean lots of sleepovers or summer camps; remember that increasingly, pupils who board at 11 have never boarded before, and yet do so extremely successfully. Do though spend the holiday building up the excitement of preparing for boarding school. Take time with your child to plan what they will take with them; do special things together to show them how much you love them and how proud you are that they are going to a wonderful school; have a brilliant summer!

Of course, to do this you need to manage your own feelings very well indeed.

Your baby is growing up – it is entirely natural that a deep-rooted part of you has that strong desire to stop time in its tracks and abandon all thoughts of school at all. More rationally, you know that you are right to choose an excellent boarding school, and you need to be quite firm in holding any fears from your child. Children are very astute and will feed on anxiety; help them by being a rock of support.

Work with the school.

If your child is phoning you unhappy, make sure you speak to the Houseparents immediately. They may be able to reassure you that as soon as the phone was put down, your child skipped away happily with friends, having offloaded and solved all their fears. If the phone calls continue, the Houseparent will be able to put in place a range of strategies to help your child – organising certain fixed times to phone, bringing in older pupils to talk about their experiences and how they got over it all, and capturing your child’s interests in other ways in school. Hot chocolate at bedtime can work wonders!

And finally, know that it will pass ... homesickness is not terminal, but only a temporary state of unhappiness brought about by transition.

Managed well, it will fade away and be consigned to memories – and, funnily enough, these are often quite fond memories. Listen to any marvellously impressive 18 year old talking about what they felt when they first boarded, and you will almost certainly hear them telling the story of their homesickness with gales of laughter. Trust your instincts, ride it out ... and your child will have a wonderful time boarding.

Dr Helen Wright is a former Head of a leading UK public school and is part of the William Clarence Education Advisory Board

William Clarence School Placement consultants are on hand to offer help and advice on all aspects of UK school placement, including making the transition into their ideal school as smooth as possible for new boarders. Contact us today to discuss your options.