26 Jul Back to school – easing the transition
As students new and old settle into the routines of a new school year, there are three things you, as parents, can do to help ease the transition into boarding school life.
Go easy on the telephone
From time to time, your son or daughter will face challenges – from minor differences of opinion with another student to a run-in with a teacher. As parents, we want to prepare our children for life – but our instincts want to protect them from life. Children learn the most valuable lessons in life when we allow them to step into the world without constant supervision. That means allowing them to try and allowing them to fail.
"As parents, we want to prepare our children for life – but our instincts want to protect them from life."
And it means that when they fail and look for our help, they sometimes need to hear the words, ‘You need to sort this out for yourself.’ The telephone is a marvellous way of staying in touch – but it can also make it easy for your son or daughter to hand their minor irritations over to you. That won’t solve the problem and it won’t help them learn to solve the problem responsibly themselves! When this happens, encourage them to talk to someone here – their Adviser, Dorm parent or Counsellor.
Be careful of mixed messages
The vast majority of young people have the resources to adjust smoothly to boarding school life and to gain incredible benefits from it! However, some messages can slow down this process and even defeat it altogether. As parents, we need to be careful of messages which make it hard for our children to develop their independence and resilience. Yes, they need regular reminders of our affection and love – emails and phone calls can be great for that. But hearing things like, “I cry my eyes out every time I think of you there – you must be missing us terribly too!” won’t help to let them function on their own and become confident and independent individuals!
Learn to listen
Most young people relish the chance to run their own lives. As much as they may seem to want us to fight their battles for them at times, what they need most is to know they are loved and listened to. There are many times when ‘do something’ really means ‘listen to me’. A phone call can be a vital opportunity for a brief ‘time-out’ with Mum or Dad at the end of a busy and demanding day. Sometimes, it’s a chance to download the day’s highs and lows.
"Most young people relish the chance to run their own lives. As much as they may seem to want us to fight their battles for them at times, what they need most is to know they are loved and listened to."
Becoming a patient listener who can reassure and calm a troubled voice at the end of the phone isn’t easy when our protective instincts want to kick-in and to solve things! But do remember that a soothing and encouraging voice at the end of a phone line can be all a young person really needs to get back on track and find their own way through their challenges. Nine times out of ten, the young person who seems anxious or distressed on the phone rushes back right after the call to engage happily with new friends and room-mates!
Above all, remember that your perspective on your son or daughter is invaluable and it can help us to provide the support and encouragement they need to excel. I remember times when parents have shared stories or anecdotes about their children which have immediately given the school important insights which made a huge difference – enabling us to offer guidance or support. If ever you are especially concerned please don’t hesitate to contact us. This kind of communication is welcomed and part of the vital partnership between you, the school and your son or daughter!
Here are five other tried and tested guidelines which ring true for parents and teachers alike:
• Help your children focus on problem-solving, not on the problem.
• Provide ways for your children to be givers, not takers.
• Listen – and recognise the process of listening to your child as more important than the outcome.
• Work towards long-term goals as a parent – you don’t have to win every contest – fight battles small enough to win and big enough to matter. That means – let some things go!
• Finally, and most challenging – sometimes say “no” – we can make life hard for children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them!
Dr Jonathan Long