By Bonnie Raskin
Bonnie is the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship Program Coordinator at IEA. She has extensive experience working with gifted middle school students to find the high school that best fits their individual intellectual and personal needs and supporting them throughout that high school experience.
This time every year, I’m approached by parents of Caroline D. Bradley Scholars who have just dropped off their sons and daughters at boarding school for the first time and ask about how to support their students during the transition to life away from home.
It’s true that your child is stepping into a world that is like that of a college freshman in some respects: he or she faces issues of time management, from preparing for exams to doing laundry; issues of relationships, from accommodating a roommate with different sleep habits to learning to speak with instructors; and issues of personal development, from coping with homesickness to frustration over weekend curfews that differ from home. While college students are more or less viewed as adults, this is not appropriate for your 14 year old. This is why boarding schools have tiers of responsible adult faculty and upper level students on site in every dorm for immediate access to all of the students housed with them, regular group and individual chats, and strict rules students quickly adopt as their “new normal.”
Going off to boarding school is what professionals call a “planned separation.” Homesickness is bound to be something your new boarder is going to deal with. If this comes up, reassure your child that those feelings of missing familiar surroundings, routine, family and friends are perfectly normal. The experience of going away to school has a certain rhythm: initial excitement or positive intensity, usually lasting the first two to four weeks, then a drop to what might be labeled homesickness. It is a natural phenomenon; it is inevitable and does not last. So parents—DON’T ask about it, just know that if the communication turns a little sad or wistful in late September or mid-October, that’s probably the cause. It’s your part of the dialogue to steer the conversation to positive topics. CDB boarding school alums advise that parents should NEVER ask, “Are you homesick?” because “if I wasn’t homesick, that question would make me be and if I were, it wouldn’t make me feel any better.”