Prepare your child for boarding school

By Drum Digital
07 January 2014

Sending your child to boarding school is a difficult decision to make at the best of times, whether you’ve got a choice in the matter or not. We give you some tips to prepare.

Sending your child to boarding school is a difficult decision to make at the best of times, whether you’ve got a choice in the matter or not.

If you want to give your son the best education and you live in the rural areas or on a farm, or if your daughter has special needs, or if your personal circumstances don’t allow you to spend enough time with your children or you feel your child might benefit from the structure, you may need to look at the option of them spending all or part of their school years away from home.

Children need to be prepared in advance for boarding school, advises Gauteng psychologist Tebogo Makgabo. Parents also need to take their children’s needs into account.

“Not all children respond in the same way, and some of them, especially those who are starting boarding school in Grade 1, may not be ready to separate from their parents,” she says.

“It helps when there is an older sibling, family member or child from your community attending the same school,” she adds.

Tebogo believes boarding school can be a positive experience for children as they “often have the chance to excel when they are not distracted by family upheaval, chores and squabbles, sibling rivalry and the temptation of peer pressure”.

Here are tips on helping you and your child make the transition effectively and happily.


Adapting to a strict routine

From early morning there are bells, queues and routines. Explain to your child what to expect by going through the rule book or code of conduct of the boarding school. They will probably have a set time for getting up, going to bed, eating meals, studying and watching TV. Explain the benefits of this to your child.

Learning to share

Your child might not have their own room and they will also have to share other facilities such as bathrooms.

Give them ideas about finding “me time” if they need to be alone, and what to do in their free time. Speak to them about how they can retain a sense of their own individuality in these new circumstances.

Making new friends

Help your child become open to making new friends – especially if they are shy or selfconscious and don’t enjoy sport or other recreational activities offered by the school. Let them practise introducing themselves and starting a conversation.

Encourage participation in sport or extra-murals which will help them to make friends.

Overcoming language barriers

If English is not their home language they might struggle, especially if they’re expected to follow new traditions. “Speak English at home,” emphasises Tebogo.

“Build up your child’s self-esteem and cultural values so that these are not undermined when he mixes with the other children from other cultures.”

Solving problems

Children need to understand that they will have to solve their own problems and they won’t be able to turn to their parents for support for day-today issues.

“They also can’t hide behind the excuse of not doing their homework because they left their book at school,” laughs Tebogo. Help them to feel empowered by presenting certain problematic situations to them, ask them how they would handle them and which solutions they find workable.

Feeling Loved

Reassure your child of your love and that you’re not sending them to boarding school to get them out of your hair or because they’re a nuisance.

Emphasise that you believe it is in their best interests to attend a good school and you are not rejecting or punishing them. “There’s no shame in showing your emotions when leaving your child for the first time,” says Tebogo. “Being ‘stone-faced’ for your child’s sake may give him the false impression that you don’t care.”


  • Buy uniforms, books, stationery, sporting equipment and casual clothes early and mark everything clearly.
  • Let your child choose a few “comfort” items from home – a cuddly toy, a favourite pillow or some family photographs.
  • Make a special calendar for your child and mark their holidays, the weekends they will come home, when you will visit them and other special occasions, so they can look ahead and feel positive about their situation.
  • Keep in touch with your child via Facebook, SMSes, e-mails, letters or phone calls. It’s good to have a set time to phone every week, for example Sunday at 7 pm. Let them know that you miss them and tell them what’s happening at home, with their friends or pets they left behind.
  • Maintain regular contact with the principal, teacher and head of the hostel so that you know what is happening in your child’s school life.
  • It’s important that you attend parent meetings even if it means you have to travel.
  • Make a fuss of your child when they’re at home for the holidays. Plan special outings, bond as a family and include your extended family in activities too so that your child can reconnect with their family and doesn’t feel isolated.


Comfort food

Find out what kind of treats your child can keep in their locker. They may be allowed to take their favourite biscuits and snacks.

Pocket money

Most schools allow children to have some pocket money. This is usually given to the house-mother and children learn to budget and buy things such as treats, toiletries or school supplies if they run out. Be realistic with the amount you give your child. Try to stick to what the school recommends, if you can afford it.


There will probably be cellphone rules and allocated home-calling times. This teaches children to limit their air-time. Call boxes are also available.

Many boarding schools provide e-mail addresses for the children, and send regular newsletters to parents

Where to find help

For more information about boarding schools in South Africa log on to

- Burgie Ireland

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