31 Jul Beating back-to-school anxiety
I am the world’s worst dental patient! Before visits to the dentist my stomach is full of butterflies. My dentist has learnt how to cope with this very anxious patient – every procedure is carefully explained to ensure there are no surprises, each prod is gentle and the pain-numbing injections are generous! Knowing what to expect beforehand, being aware of what lies ahead and knowing that I’m in the hands of an expert have made me much more relaxed!
After working in boarding schools for almost 30 years, I’ve seen some common anxieties pop up at this stage in a new school year. None of these are quite as stressful as the dentist’s chair – I’m sure – but these little worries can grow into more serious distress if they are not addressed! If you haven’t heard them from your son or daughter yet, you’ll almost certainly bump into them at some point! These are often concerns which come up in panic phone calls or ‘grumble sessions’ with our children. Here are a few examples of themes which can benefit from the reassuring words, “actually, that’s quite normal”!
Food is a big theme in all boarding schools. Napoleon said, “An army marches on its stomach” – well, so does a school! Food is so central to each child’s daily routine. But with children coming here from all over the world, it’s bound to be different and, after all, cooking in an institution on a large scale is just not the same as what happens at home! On the whole, food at Woodstock is well-prepared, nutritious and balanced. We have world-class kitchens, a fine dining facility and a team of committed catering staff. There are always choices and there’s plenty of daily variety – but the menu won’t suit everyone every day!
Rules are never popular because they are restrictive. Rules designed for a community of 500 students leave little room for individualized treatment. Sooner or later, every child will feel frustrated by one rule or another or because of the way it was or wasn’t enforced. Some of our students could manage perfectly well with very few rules – others need a clearer framework in order to succeed. School rules can never match the kind of flexibility which works perfectly well in the comfort of a family environment! One of the great benefits of a boarding experience is the chance to thrive within the give and take of a close community – sometimes limiting one’s own freedoms in the interests of others.
Too little free time
Like all schools, Woodstock has a certain amount of structure. During the typical weekday, very little student time is unscheduled – sometimes as little as 45 minutes a day. For a good student, fully engaged and making the most of opportunities, this is not unusual. This is a busy place and Woodstock students know how to work and to play hard! Many of the issues around free time come down to poor choices, bad time management or not enough sleep – all of which can be solved with a little help from parents or staff.
Not enough to do
Funnily enough, complaining about too little free time can include the classic teen-age complaint about “nothing to do.” In reality, there are always things to do! Of course, some weekends are more exciting than others, but much depends on a student’s willingness to sign up for an event even if friends and social groups aren’t interested themselves. We believe in finding a sensible balance at Weekends between unstructured free time and organized activity. In a world in which children quickly lose their childhood, Woodstock holds onto the value of things which are increasingly crowded out of our frantic lives and those of children today – the slow walk to school from dorms every morning, the playtimes in the quad, time to get bored, time to simply hang-out with friends, the chance to take part in meaningful hobbies, sports and activities, the fresh air of this beautiful mountain home of ours and freedom from the rat-race of modern urban life.
Despite our efforts to make the best arrangements, roommates sometimes struggle to get along. In cases like this, it’s worth remembering that part of the growing up process at Woodstock involves making a really good effort before giving up. What’s more, children occasionally fall out with each other – that’s perfectly normal – and, most of the time, these ‘fallings out’ are temporary. Our residential programme is as much a part of a Woodstock education as anything else we do and the lessons to be learnt through it can be very transformative for young people. So, do be patient whenever issues bubble up around residential themes!
Lock it, don’t lose it
In every school the problem of ‘borrowing’ and theft is inevitable. Since many things are lost rather than stolen, it’s important not to over-react too soon! Finding out if something is, in fact, lost or missing is a very important first step! We urge students not to bring valuables to school, to make sure treasured items are well marked and to lock things away and not leave them lying around! Loading children down with expensive gadgets, clothing and accessories makes it hard for young people to discover the value in life’s simple pleasures.
Most times, when these themes come up in conversations with your son or daughter, they want to be listened to and to be calmed – to take some time-out before going back to running their own life. Usually, children can cope perfectly well as long as long as they know they are loved and cared for. Our children will have minor difficulties, a run-in with someone, or a little disciplinary issue. It is important that they learn to solve these sorts of problems for themselves, to discover that life doesn’t always suit their preferences and that, occasionally, these small bumps and irritations are quite normal!
Dr Jonathan Long, Principal