Preparing for College

Help for apprehensive boarding-school freshman?

Question: What words of advice do you offer to parents of a very apprehensive 9th grader who is going away to boarding school for the first time? What encouragement can we share with her to help her get beyond the homesickness?

As your daughter takes this big step, however apprehensively, the encouragement you offer might be tied to the reasons she's going away in the first place. For instance, if the high school at home doesn't offer the interesting and challenging classes that her new boarding school will provide, then you can emphasize the pluses of a stronger academic program. If sports or arts are priorities and took a starring role in this decision, then be sure to remind your daughter of the opportunities she'll have. If she'd simply grown weary of the same ol' crowd she's known since kindergarten, then point out that she'll make friends at her new school from across the country or perhaps from around the world.

In other words, think about whatever prompted her---or you--to choose boarding school in general and this one in particular, and then haul out all those reasons and include them in your pep talk.

If your daughter is a Harry Potter fan, be sure to mention that her new school may feel a bit like Hogwarts. Even without quidditch, charms, or spells, there's something magical about a community of teenagers living together that a day school just can't equal.

But also explain that the first two or three weeks of boarding school probably won't be indicative of what's to follow. A terribly homesick child will need those weeks to get beyond it, and even a deliriously happy one may experience a downturn once the "honeymoon period" is over. So do tell your daughter that, however boarding school life begins for her, she should be aware that it may not be the real deal, especially if she's miserable.

Finally, before you say anything at all to your daughter, reflect on why she's making this move. I do hope that it was her idea or at least that she got a big vote in the decision. Of course, sometimes parents have to push a bit to get a reluctant child to do what's really for the best. As a parent myself, I've found that one of the hardest parts of the job is deciding when to do that pushing and when to stand back and bite one's tongue. So, even if the boarding school choice was really more your plan than your daughter's, it doesn't mean it's the wrong choice. But it does mean that it may take a bit longer for your daughter to decide that it's the right one for her. And, if she eventually determines that it's really not, I hope she knows that the decision isn't irrevocable. This should be part of your words of encouragement, too.

Good luck to you as you endure this transition. I hope that your daughter has a wonderful experience at her new school, even if it means that her parents feel a bit neglected by her new-found enthusiasm. :)