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Reluctant boarder - will this pass?

(33 Posts)
winterfruit Mon 10-Feb-20 15:34:56

Hi all, I'd be grateful for your thoughts and advice.
I don't want to out myself or my DS so apologies for any vagueness. My DS (aged 12) has a 13+ boarding place at a well-regarded boys private school in South East England so would start Sept 2021.

He is currently at a very small all-boys prep school and last year did 2 nights per week boarding which he seemed to enjoy. However, this year he has got increasingly upset about boarding these two nights. I am getting really worried that he may not be suited to boarding but we haven't got a plan B. He did try for a couple of day schools last year (in Y6) but didn't get offers. He really likes the school he is due to go to in 2021 and says he thinks he will be fine to board then...he just doesn't want to do so now.

What do you think? Should we be thinking of other options?

OP’s posts: |
mumsiedarlingrevolta Mon 10-Feb-20 15:39:51

I think sometimes only boarding two nights can be a bit back and forth-
as soon as he settles in at home routine he is back at school and I can see potentially very unsettling-next year would probably be easier.

He will be older and it will be more of a set routine-is it somewhere like Eton or Harrow which is full or is it a more relaxed weekly board?

Also-Please don your hard hat for replies as MN can be tough on this topic...

winterfruit Mon 10-Feb-20 15:52:39

Thanks for replying and yes, I do see what you mean about two nights being potentially more unsettling. It isn't Eton or Harrow. It will be weekly boarding.

Hard hat donned. I'm hoping people will provide constructive advice but appreciate its an emotive subject. My bottom line is that I want my DS to be happy. We thought we had made a school choice that suited him but I am worried it may not now...

OP’s posts: |
Tombakersscarf Mon 10-Feb-20 15:55:00

Can't he put into words why he doesn't like it? If he thinks he will be fine at a different school then that suggests something is happening at this one that makes him unhappy..

Autumnnightsaredrawingin Mon 10-Feb-20 15:58:07

Is trying for some day schools for 13+ an option? Just to have the option there if he continues to have a wobble?

mumsiedarlingrevolta Mon 10-Feb-20 15:58:31

Weekly boarding will be a settled routine but still lots of home time.
Sports Wednesday afternoon and Saturdays so you will have some time to see DS, bring food etc-some schools are flexible re nights at home and some are very strict re sticking to exeats.
Most do -even with weekly boarders-make them stay at the beginning for the very reason that the to-ing and fro-ing is unsettling.
It is still a long way away but I think I'd not force the boarding at the moment if it's optional. It's a grim, dark time of year etc. Maybe re-visit when weather is nicer and fun things are happening?

77seven Mon 10-Feb-20 16:13:55

Does he share a room when he boards the two night now OP? Could there be something making him unhappy in these nights, or he doesn’t get on with the other boys?

GrasswillbeGreener Mon 10-Feb-20 18:21:42

He'll grow up a lot in the next 18 months I would think. Our situation was somewhat different; but my youngest (when in a small day only prep) was turned down by two schools on year 6 pretests; the boarding one was concerned he wouldn't cope. In year 7 another boarding school also weren't sure and wanted to wait till year 8 to decide. In the end he sat scholarships for 3 schools and is very happy at the school that originally turned him down age 10.

I would be relaxed about pushing boarding again at his current school if he would rather not and it works for your family and routines. Summer term may be better (this year or next)?

Interestingly, it was my eldest who went from boarding prep to boarding senior school who found settling in the hardest (but was fine by the end of the first term).

Takeittotheboss Mon 10-Feb-20 18:30:13

My son never boarded at his prep. He was insistent that he didn't want to. Headed off to full board at a school some distance away where he knew no one at Year 9 and slotted in straight away. He expected it to be tough, but found in reality he was so busy in first few weeks that he was back home with us for half-term before he had his first wobble. Sending him back then was nerve wracking, but he had commited himself to his House and the school by then and was determined to enjoy every bit he could. This got him through any further wobbles and now he refuses to consider anywhere else for sixth form!😁

thekidstaxi Mon 10-Feb-20 19:33:26

Boarding at a prep school where different kids board on different nights and no guarantee that dc's friends will be there is a very different experience to secondary boarding where everyone is there all week. Also things like bed times, having own phone in school, potentially being in a mixed age dorm, (where you are at the older end of age range so rules & activities are aimed to include the younger ones) can make the experience very unlike full boarding.
If your d's likes the school and is not saying he has changed his mind about boarding at 13 then it may just be the back & forth of flexi. It may be wise to have a plan b in your pocket. There is still much emotional growth to be done in the next year & a half, don't panic yet.

Veterinari Mon 10-Feb-20 19:47:48

I'd give him a break from boarding, get his anxiety levels down and give him plenty of reassurance and hopefully you'll find it's just a blip and he's ready to head off in 18 months.

I'd worry that by sticking with the 2 nights/week you're building up increasingly bad associations with boarding

SurpriseSparDay Mon 10-Feb-20 19:49:19

I’m sure you’ve talked to him - but if he’s happy with boarding in principle then the problem must be something specific.

Something wrong either at school or at home. Bullying or teasing in the boarding house? A housemaster or matron he doesn’t get on with? A routine he finds irksome or embarrassing? Alternatively, is there any underlying domestic issue - relationships, finances, health, pets - that you’ve assumed he hasn’t picked up on? These things can loom so large in a young mind - particularly where you don’t feel you have any control.

Strugglingtoquit Mon 10-Feb-20 19:55:18

Will the majority be boarding at his senior school? That might help rather than at prep where his friends are going home and he’s “stuck” at school?

As PP said, try to get him to talk about why he’s finding boarding difficult, to make sure there’s not an issue like bullying going on. And try and establish what (other than age) will change at the other school.

I would quietly start looking for a plan b day school as well, to have options there if he isn’t ready for weekly boarding in 18 months time.

Mallysmomma Mon 10-Feb-20 20:05:15

One of my boys started boarding in September at age 13 and he really didn’t want to go (unfortunately he isn’t academic or sporty and London day schools are so competitive; this school seemed perfect for him) The first 2/3 weeks after he got there were hell. He would call home constantly saying he hated it and wanted to come home on a Wednesday as well as a Friday (they are very flexible with this but we went with weekly boarding) we persevered and told him kindly and lovingly that he should try and throw himself into boarding life. We sent care packages every week and drove and picked him up the first few Fridays and honestly after about three weeks and definitely after the October half term things really improved as he had made friendship connections and that made all the difference. Plus our weekends are much nicer now with a lot of family interaction instead of the usual teen grunts. Just be patient and loving with him and don’t feel the typical mummy guilt that we are all prone to. The apprehension makes them way more anxious than the actual boarding experience. It’s a major change for you all but I’m sure it will all work out to be fantastic. Good luck. Xx

Mallysmomma Mon 10-Feb-20 20:08:04

And I just realised it’s 18 months away. My goodness the changes he will go through in the next 18/20 months will be crazy. My sweet loving 11 year old became a spotty, tall, deep voiced talking, stinky teenager grin so believe me he will go through a lot of emotions about it between now and then. Lots of talking about it will help xx

keyboardwarrior1 Mon 10-Feb-20 20:49:27

IME boarders are happy when the majority of students at the school are also boarders. This is now rarely the case at all but a handful of prep schools. So when all your friends go home you are left at school with a handful of overseas boarders. It is worse if you are only there for two days a week as you are a minority within a minority so you feel like an outsider.

His experience at senior school will be quite different if he is going to a school where most of the students board. Weekly boarding will also be quite different to two nights a week. And he will be older. So I would not agonise about it too much at this stage.

winterfruit Mon 10-Feb-20 21:15:42

Thank you so much everyone for your responses, I really appreciate you taking the time to post such thoughtful replies. For those who asked about whether he can articulate what he doesn't like, he hasn't been able to. I have asked him (gently, I think) about whether there is anything specific going on but he says he is happy at the school and no issues with friends. He just says he would rather be at home than staying over. He currently boards Thursday and Friday (they have Saturday school) and it is the Weds evening when he gets anxious and says he doesn't want to stay at the school.

It is helpful to hear some of you say how much he may change in next 18 months and the suggestion of not pushing it too much now. The school he is going to in 2021 does have large numbers of children boarding so I am sure that will help.

As for 13+ places at day schools, I had assumed places would have been filled by boys taking the pretests in Y6 (as my DS did last year). But perhaps it is worth phoning around?

I did wonder whether a plan B would be to move nearer the school he is joining so he could attend as a day boy (we are currently about 60mins drive away but 2 hrs public transport) but I guess school won't have a day place available?

OP’s posts: |
winterfruit Mon 10-Feb-20 21:21:37

Sorry, yes boarding is optional at his prep (for those who asked) so we could back off a bit now. We had thought that keeping him used to boarding would be better but I can see what you are saying about not pushing it for the moment

Thank you again for your responses

OP’s posts: |
happygardening Mon 10-Feb-20 21:46:03

We were once told by the head at DS2s boarding school prep that schools tend to treat all children about the age he reckoned that they treated all of them as if they were 10 around yr 7 my DS became unsettled there despite having boarded for 4+ years he has always been vey mature and independent and I think he liked it in the beginning because he was treated as if he was older than he was but grew to dislike as he got older as he was treated; as if he was much younger than he was, Does that make sense?
Secondly I think the ethos of the school has to match yours at home. His prep got a new head his ethos on life over time changed the ethos of the school and it was totally alien to him (and a few others). The new head was basically a stuffed shirt his idea of really letting his hair down was undoing the top button on his shirt! We are a hopelessly relaxed touchy feely informal family. Or for example the new head was a sports nut in particular team sports and cricket it was the heads sole topic of conversation. Many boys in his form were the same, my DS is a lone wolf, has little interest in team sports in particular cricket!
He happily carried on full boarding at senior school and settled down quickly and enjoyed but as one don at his school once said “we like lone wolfs here!”.

winterfruit Mon 10-Feb-20 22:00:49

@happygardening Thank you. Your comment about how they are treated as a certain age does make sense and can certainly see that might not help in older years! Interestingly, my niece is similar age as DS and started at a state secondary in Sept. She is absolutely thriving (she is a lovely outgoing, very bright and very sporty girl) there and I do wonder whether all the tales of getting the bus and hanging out with friends has made DS feel a bit restricted. But, to be honest, we live on outskirts of a town so we would always be driving him anyway (whereas DN can get the bus to see friends etc).

Sorry, I am rambling! I think I just need to calm down and wait this out a bit. And keep fingers tightly crossed.

Does anyone know the answer to my question as to whether a boarding school would "change" a boarding place offer to a day offer if we moved?

OP’s posts: |
XelaM Mon 10-Feb-20 23:21:56

Are state schools near you not an option as a plan B? Or a non-selective independent school?

77seven Tue 11-Feb-20 06:48:45

OP, if it didn’t work out, I’m sure you could get him a place at a day school somewhere? Are there any international schools near you - these have a lot of movement? A friend of mine had to take her son out of weekly boarding very suddenly mid-term as he wasn’t coping, but they got him into an international school with no entrance exam etc within a week and it’s been all good ever since.

I think you do need a back up option for Year 9. Could the prep not advise you in schools that don’t require the pretext? Also, what is their take on the current situation?

Maybe he’s finding boarding too claustrophobic, being stuck with the same people all the time? Some people need their own space for their sanity.

77seven Tue 11-Feb-20 06:49:30

Pretest not pretext

CountessDracula Tue 11-Feb-20 11:08:03

Do you have any other children? DH boarded and his sisters didn't, it made him very unhappy as he felt he was missing out on family life. He begged to be allowed to day school in London but his father said no (stupid reason, he and his father had been to the same school, in those days you didn't think about what was best for the child though!)

It destroyed his relationship with his father, which has never recovered.

I mention this as it might be a reason for his unhappiness. Even without siblings he might feel he is missing out on family life.

Regardless I would be prepared to move him if he really doesn't like boarding at the new school. Don't ignore him if he says he wants to move!

ittakes2 Tue 11-Feb-20 13:12:40

Sorry I don't know how to bold text on Mumsnet! But I have copied three sentences you wrote below which stand out to me - I think you need to get to the bottom of why he used to seem to enjoy doesn't like it but seems confident he will like it in his new school.
What changed for him from when he first started boarding until now? New boarding master, new someone being unkind to him?

He is currently at a very small all-boys prep school and last year did 2 nights per week boarding which he seemed to enjoy.

However, this year he has got increasingly upset about boarding these two nights.

He really likes the school he is due to go to in 2021 and says he thinks he will be fine to board then...he just doesn't want to do so now.

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