Preparing Children for Boarding School

by Nick and Dora Pauls1

  1. Remember that going to boarding school is a major transition—for the child and the family. Learn all you can about the skills needed to handle other transitions in life successfully and seek to apply them when facing the transition to boarding school.
  2. Be sensitive to the individual needs of your children. Children are not all ready at the same age to face separation from parents. If one of your children seems particularly insecure and fearful of the separation, investigate other options for that child’s education to allow for additional maturity. A year or two delay may prevent many years of difficulty later.
  3. Get as much information as possible about the boarding school before sending your children. Find out about its purpose, philosophy, discipline, rules, the expectations/privileges/restrictions for you as parents. If you don’t understand something, seek clarification from appropriate sources.
  4. If at all possible, visit the boarding school and meet the boarding home parents with your children before you have to leave them there. This will give you, as a family, an opportunity to talk specifically about what it might be like for your children to go there, and they will be able to go to a place that is at least somewhat familiar. You as parents will also be able to visualize your children in their setting when they are away from you. All of these things make it easier to maintain a sense of being “connected” even when you are physically separated.
  5. Talk about the boarding school experience well in advance—be realistic about what will be enjoyable and what will probably be difficult. Express your feelings honestly, and encourage your children to do so as well—without trying to talk them out of feeling the way they do or telling them they shouldn’t feel a certain way.
  6. When your children go to boarding school, allow them to take along some reminders of “home” that are meaningful to them—family pictures, favorite toys or books, pictures to hang, a special pillow or blanket.
  7. Provide your children with some tangible reminder of your love to take along to the boarding school. Affirm your love to them and be sure they understand—and feel—that you are not sending them away because they are a bother to you or keep you from doing things that are more important to you than they are.
  8. Openly communicate with your children that you will miss them and that, because of your deep love for them, you too feel emotional pain in being separated from them. (In years past, some parents have tried to hide their feelings from their children, thinking that to show emotions and tears when saying good-bye would make it harder for their children—only to find out later that the children interpreted that to mean their parents weren’t sad to see them leave and so probably didn’t love them very much.)
  9. Discuss and make provision for ways to keep “in touch” while your children are away at school. Keep them informed about what you are doing. Share prayer requests and answers with them. Research indicates MKs who feel in some way involved in their parents’ ministry (either directly or through information and prayer) fare better as adults than those who don’t feel involved in any way. Encourage regular and honest communication from your children. Show them you are interested in the events, relationships, struggles, joys, accomplishments, and failures of their lives. Respond to their communication in a positive way without criticism.
  10. When you become aware that your child is struggling or having discipline problems, seek to get as much information as possible before taking any drastic action. Listen carefully to your child’s side of the story along with the children’s home parent’s or teacher’s side. If possible, go to the boarding home so you can deal with the issue in person with the purpose of seeking to do what is best for your child—to help him/her become a better person as a result of any action taken. Find ways of affirming your love to your child even when his or her behavior is unacceptable.
  11. If at all possible, get to know some of the “significant others” who will be part of your children’s lives while they are at boarding school:
    • Get to know the boarding home parents and let them get to know you. A mutual relationship of trust and appreciation for each other will help you work together to help your children grow and mature into healthy, wholesome adults and to point them to a personal relationship with God. Let them know of some of the special likes/dislikes of your children. If your children like some special ethnic food, ask to teach the children’s home parents how to prepare it (even provide the ingredients if they are unusual) so they can make it for your children for some special occasion like a birthday.
    • Try to meet the teachers who will be teaching your children. Tell them of any special needs or interests your children have. Let them know of any experiences your children have had that may affect their ability to concentrate on school work so the teacher can be sensitive to them.
    • Get acquainted with classmates and friends of your children. This will make it easier for you to understand your children’s communication about their peers.
    • Attend the fellowship or place of worship your children will attend. Meet and introduce your children to their SS teacher, youth sponsor, etc., so they will feel there is a familiar face in the crowd. It will help make this less frightening.
    • If a family of similar ethnic origin is in the area where your children will be attending boarding school, perhaps they would be willing to be someone with whom your children can speak their own language, eat familiar foods, etc.
  12. Involve your children in planning how to spend their school vacation time. Spend time together doing some special family things. During extended time periods at home, it is also a good idea to let your children see you involved in the daily routine of your ministry (and have them participate as appropriate) so they can envision and understand what you are doing when they are away from you.
  13. While your children are at home, develop spontaneous, natural ways to talk about things you want to affirm and build in your children, such as:
    • extended family relationships (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins), understanding and appreciation for home country culture, as well as discernment about the positive and negative aspects of that culture
    • your family’s values and beliefs
    • personal relationship with God
    • the ministry to which He has called your family and how each individual family member contributes to it
    • appreciation/respect for the host culture (or any person or group whose life-style is different from your own)
    • discernment in evaluating those aspects of the host culture (or any other individual or group whose life-style is different from your own) that are in line with your family and values and those that are not.
  14. Build your children’s confidence in taking responsibility and making decisions that are in agreement with internal values and convictions so they will not be as easily influenced by external pressures to participate in questionable behavior when they are away from home.
  15. Most importantly, build and nurture strong and loving relationships within the family long before you face the transition to boarding school. The confidence that Mom and Dad love each other and their children regardless of circumstances, performance, achievement, and physical separation will help provide stability and security in the midst of transition and change, including the transition to boarding school.

Permission to copy but not for commercial use.

  1. In response to a request for guidance on helping children and their families make the transition to a residential or boarding school, the Pauls prepared the following suggestions.