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Boarding school - settling in woes

(19 Posts)
user1477382925 Tue 25-Oct-16 09:33:15

My 14 year old son started boarding school in September.We have lived in the Middle East for over 10 years. He is an extremely good sportsman, and the opportunities for him to play at a higher level just don't exist where we are living. He has aspirations to play professionally. Schools here also, in my opinion, provide a pretty mediocre academic education as well.

Therefore we found a school back in the UK that has a huge empahsis on the sport of his choice with close links to professional clubs, and an approach that agreed with our ethos of eduaction.

After 8 weeks, however, our son is having real trouble settling at his new boarding school. He is doing very well in his lessons and absolutely great at the sport but he is really suffering with what I can only describe as "separation anxiety" which really gets him down during quiet times.... In the mornings, at study sessions, and at the weekends when some of his mates have disappeared back home.

He is not very good at filling his time, which was automatically done for him here, at home of course!!

He is now saying that he doesn't want to carry on with it anymore.He says he wants to come back to the Middle East, and get back to a "normal life"

We are certain that this would be a backwards step for him, and one that he would regret. We are determined to help make it work as we know that he could flourish at the school. We have even discussed the possibility of his sister and I moving back to the UK earlier than we had planned, so that he could see us more often.

It certainly didn't help that my mum passed away after battling cancer, just over two weeks ago and of course he came out of school for the funeral.

That was his first experience of someone passing away and that's all in the mix too!

He's only been there 8 weeks!! He's now coming home at half term next week. We are hoping that when he sees that nothing has changed, us, his mates etc then he will realise that life isn't moving forward without him. He's just this week got himself in a real pickle with his feelings.

It's just heartbreaking to be receiving texts and calls from him when he is really upset. I've been shedding plenty of tears too. How long do we perservere?. Its so hard to see my confident, happy, sociable, popular boy riddled with anxiety.

I've arranged for him to see a teen counsellor a couple of times while he is back, over the half term break. Hopefully she can help him with his anxieties and provide him with some coping strategies when he gets down, and to help him move forward. He is very very good at talking about it, and indeed wants to.

Does anybody have any pearls of wisdom to share? I really cannot believe that he would be one of the small minority that cant get on with boarding school. How long did it take for your child to settle in? How did you help them past this phase?

MuseumGardens Tue 25-Oct-16 12:07:29

Is there anything about the school he doesn't like or is it just missing home? Could you get the school involved in helping him settle?

EleanorRigby123 Tue 25-Oct-16 12:45:47

Sorry to hear you are having these problems. It is difficult when you are so far away. The first half term boarding is tough because DC are usually completely exhausted. Sometimes they will moan to you down the phone or over Skype and you will be left feeling devastated. Meanwhile they have returned to school life, have forgotten all about their complaint and are having a great time.

But - what I would say is that a good boarding school with experience of overseas boarders should be all over this. What have your DS's housemaster, tutor, head of pastoral care said to you? If they have not been in touch, contact them yourself. They should be monitoring how each child is settling in and taking action if a child is unhappy. The reason you pay astronomical fees is to cater for this kind of situation. It is of course possible that your DS is actually quite content and has, like all DC at boarding school, used you as someone to whom they can have a moan in safety. Talking to the staff may help set your mind at rest.

You say DS is 14. Did he join in Y9 with everyone else or in Y10 as a "new boy". If the latter it can make settling in a bit harder. But when he returns after half term he will be much more familiar with the routines. What is the full boarder/weekly/day balance at his school? It is tough for overseas boarders if most others go home for the weekend and they are left on their own. This does not happen in full boarding schools but can be a problem elsewhere. If there is indeed a mass exodus could he go to relatives or friends?

I would persevere for at least a couple of terms unless your DS is really desperately unhappy. Focus on the advantages of boarding and the reasons he went there in the first place. But do not skirt over the downsides. There are definitely downsides to boarding and it is counterproductive to pretend there are not. But ime there are very few DC who do not settle at 14 - and from your description of your DS he will be fine in the longer term.

EleanorRigby123 Tue 25-Oct-16 12:49:37

Also, sorry to hear about your mum. That must have made things difficult for you all. flowers

Skinimum Tue 25-Oct-16 13:05:53

My son stated boarding this year and loves it and has settled well but it's not always so easy. I have friends with boys the same year and older who have struggled. Some of the problems seem to come from the difference in 'time away' at weekends. At my sons school it is full boarding so no one leaves. Think this is easier if they are all doing the same. Presumably he has a guardian? Has he made friends? Could he go home with the guardian on a sat night? Or a friend?

At my sons school they also limit massively the amount of time they are allowed mobile phones and they have schedules that mean they never stop and think. Could he join some new activities, fill some more time? Play new sports?

Good luck

user1477382925 Tue 25-Oct-16 14:08:14

just missing home and our company I think.....the ease of just chilling with us in front of the tv when he has nothing on, occasionally eating his dinner on his lap...he has commented that he "loves boarding during the week", but at weekends it is harder as some boys go home.

user1477382925 Tue 25-Oct-16 14:10:52

he IS the new boy in year 10 and not all are full boarders; school are aware of his worries and are working with him. Thanks everyone for your assurances xx

Parsley1234 Tue 25-Oct-16 14:14:21

Has he got a guardian to go home to - there are so few full boarding schools in the U.K. If he had a guardian with a similar aged son that might be better for him ?

MissWillaCather Tue 25-Oct-16 14:18:00

I think you should consider letting him leave and make a different plan.

I was miserable at boarding school and could never truly forgive my parents for not listening to me and making me stay.

itsbetterthanabox Tue 25-Oct-16 14:31:17

Why don't you move near to the school and he can just go daily. He'll still be able to play sport without living at school.

ajandjjmum Tue 25-Oct-16 14:37:01

I would ask him to make the most of it until Christmas, and then agree that you'll all have a talk about the best way forward for him. Make it clear that doesn't mean he can walk away at Christmas, but that you'll start to consider other alternatives if he is not finding it easier.

MrsBernardBlack Tue 25-Oct-16 19:10:43

You seem to have pinpointed the problem yourself, it would appear that it is the quiet weekends that are at the bottom of this. This might be quite difficult to solve if the school really does empty out on Friday evening.

He's taking on a lot of new stuff all at once, and it does take time to adjust to it all, but he does need to give it a bit more time, if he is enjoying it otherwise.

As a first step I would try and find out from his housemaster if there are any weekend clubs or activities that he could be encouraged to join. Keeping him a bit busier will help, I'm sure.

sendsummer Wed 26-Oct-16 01:10:39

Agree with MrsBernardBlack. If the school is worth it for him then he needs to be kept very busy initially whilst he settles in during the first couple of terms.
No help to you now but this is why there have been so many posts in boarding threads on the advantages of full boarding schools for DCs (particularly before sixth form) who can't go home at weekends.
Missing home is completely natural when starting boarding; activities shared with new friends helps alleviate if not initially make up for it. If a DC's potential new friends are not there at weekends which has the most free time for hanging out (especially if no Saturday school) and cementing friendships then that it makes it very likely to aggravate relative loneliness and homesickness.

JoJoSM2 Wed 26-Oct-16 01:15:45

I know a few people emotionally scarred for life by boarding. I find it really cruel to leave children like that if they are miserable. If you're very keen for him to stay at the school, then at least I'd fly over in the middle of every half a term to see him (with him coming back every half-term that would mean he gets to see you every 3weeks). Perhaps I'd even move over there so that he can attend as a day boy or a weekly boarder for a year or whenever he feels ready to board full-time.

Blu Wed 26-Oct-16 04:09:28

I'd move back, with his sister . Especially if she is subjected to an academically mediocre school in the ME. For whose benefit are you all out there for?

Flum Wed 26-Oct-16 04:19:44

Mmm sounds tough. My dd is due to go next year we live 10 hour flight from UK. She really wants to go but I think she will be homesick. We have said one year minimum.. Unless something truly awful happens. k thinki t takes a good year to get used to a big new change like that. We were all hopelessly homesick when we first moved here.

happygardening Wed 26-Oct-16 09:56:30

Hi OP I lurk but rarely post now but I thought I would post on this thread. My DS's boarded from prep and I've worked in boarding schools. Give him a couple of terms to see if he'll settle, some children need this. I once worked with a boy who was absolutely beside himself with homesickness in the first two terms, the worst anyone had ever seen, none of us thought he'd last, I didn't see him for ages (frankly I thought he'd left) then one day a tall grinning 6th former bounced up to me and it was the same boy. If at the end of the second term he's still utterly miserable give notice to leave but if possible keep your options open, look at other schools I couldn't agree more with sendsummer he'd be better off at a full boarding.
You only problem is that moving for year 11 may not be possible although perhaps easier with the changes in the format of the (I)GCSE's I think course work has gone, you'd need to ask a teacher who would be able to advise you.
Do talk to house staff they should help and support both of you if they're not then frankly your in the wrong school.

Feetup09 Thu 27-Oct-16 09:06:52

Hello I've been using Mumsnet for a while but just joined the chat to post. My DCs boarded many years ago and similar to what you describe here. Where in the Middle East are you because I recently went to a talk by a lady there who was an expert in the area of expatriate children in boarding schools and she is also researching this area. I cannot tell you how much I wish I had attended this presentation while my children were going through this.

AtleastitsnotMonday Thu 27-Oct-16 15:29:27

I work in a boarding school and what you are seeing is fairly common, but hang in there it does get easier. What is your son doing at the weekends? Do they have Saturday school and fixtures? Are there family nearby that could have him for a weekend? What provision does the school have for weekend activities? Is your dd signing up for trips etc? Do any of the other boarding houses have more children staying in at the WE? If the school aren't providing enough to keep him busy I'd look at his sport. Is there a local team he could join with Sunday fixtures?
I think this stage in the first term is the toughest for newbies. The novelty of everything has worn off but they aren't quite settled enough to relax like they would at home. It's likely as he finds more friends your DS is likely to get more invites out at the weekend. Also, as work load increases the kids start to think of weekends as opportunity to just chill and catch up on work. Contact the housemaster and let him know your concerns, I'm sure he will be keen to help.

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