Middle of March signifies a time when hopeful parents and students receive notifications of their acceptance to boarding school. Acceptance in hand, parents and students can start finalizing their enrollment decisions and then prepare for boarding school life. At this point, parents and students should be certain that boarding school is the right choice; after all, before submitting any application, they should have done thorough research and held an honest discussion to reach this major life decision.
In seriously evaluating boarding school as an option, parents and child will have visited prospective schools and gained a clear understanding of the school and boarding house values. A great deal of time would have been spent discussing all aspects of boarding school life: from the new environment to understanding what it offers and what it doesn’t offer, to how different it would be from living at home and the inevitable challenges that will be faced but also ways to overcome them. This, is an ideal situation.
Sometimes, the decision to attend boarding school isn’t mutual. I’ve come across situations where parents have suggested boarding school but the child, fearful of hurting their feelings, will not admit they don’t want to attend boarding school. Having been a boarder myself, I have personally witnessed that students who want to attend boarding school are the ones who fare better. Those who felt forced to attend boarding school seemed to struggle with constant homesickness or found small problems difficult to manage. They were anxious, sometimes depressed to the point of not eating. They kept to themselves, slept a lot or constantly called home. They missed out on countless opportunities to meet new friends and enjoy new activities.
Truthfully, not every child is suited for boarding school. It requires careful consideration. For many parents and children, the idea of boarding school is intriguing: independence, access to better facilities, opportunity to strengthen social skills, a stronger college preparatory curriculum among plenty of other reasons. However, frequently neither party are prepared for the difficulties that will be faced. Boarding school provides many exciting and wonderful experiences, but it’s not always smooth sailing.
With this said, here are several questions parents can start asking themselves as they consider whether or not their child is ready for boarding school.
1. Does my child make friends easily? Residential life at boarding school tends to be quite social. With so many dorm mates around, it’s no surprise. Some might even complain that residential life is too social, with less room for privacy and personal space than living at home. Children who adjust better to a new school and residential life seem to be those who are apt at making new friends, understand that having friends is important and are at ease surrounded by people all the time. Rather than wait for others to befriend them, they are unafraid to approach their peers and strike up a conversation.
2. Is my child content socializing with people from different cultures and backgrounds? Many boarding schools will have students who come from all over the world. Sometimes children prefer to socialize with those who they feel most comfortable with — that is, those who they feel more in common with. However this can limit their opportunity to challenge themselves and learn something different. Children who take interest in others and are more willing to learn about and from them are more likely to flourish at boarding school.
3. Is my child an effective communicator? At boarding school your child will have to communicate with friends and faculty, as well as yourself from a distance. It is necessary for thriving in classrooms where active discussion is encouraged. It is necessary for residential life where your child will live in a close-knit community. If your child has a habit of expressing personal feelings and emotions and is unafraid of communicating thoughts and ideas openly, it will help tremendously at boarding school. Boarders who are less willing to open oneself to others tend to be those who feel a little more out of place in the dorm.
4. Is my child willing to learn to take care of himself or herself? No one is expecting your child to be able to immediately take care of himself or herself at boarding school, but at least he or she must be willing to learn and to deal with daily chores such as keeping the room clean, laundry, staying healthy, maintaining personal hygiene and sufficient rest, as well as shopping for daily necessities, and managing personal expenses and budget. Being able to stay organized such as staying on top of academic work and extra-curricular activities is a necessary skill as well.
5. Is my child resilient? Life at boarding school can be challenging; it can be stressful. In between a lack of personal space, being far away from home, friendship management, time management and having to take care of oneself, there is plenty of room for making mistakes and feeling overwhelmed and bogged down by daily life. Children who are able to bounce back and remain positive tend to be those who are likelier to thrive at boarding school. Children who are resilient have shown to be more willing to try new activities and to be able to learn from mistakes made along the way.
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This post first appeared in Prep Beijing on March 11, 2014.
Alicia Lui is a co-founder at Prep Beijing!, a coaching company focusing on core soft skills such as effective communication, social and emotional skills, etiquette, critical thinking and leadership skills. Prior to founding Prep Beijing! She has worked in management consulting and in banking. She holds and MBA from INSEAD and Bachelor’s from University of Chicago
Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons.