Boarding school: 12 tips for maintaining positive relationships


Transition to boarding school can be hard on boys and their families. Boys might feel rejected by their parents, leading to feelings of abandonment, fear, anger and loneliness. Parents often feel guilty, even when they consciously know they are acting in their son’s best interest. Siblings, depending on their age, might be confused and frightened and just really miss their brother. Luckily, most boarding schools provide a smooth transition for families and help them anticipate and manage the wide range of emotions that arise.

Consistent contact and thoughtful gestures that convey love, forgiveness and commitment allow boys the safety and security they need to get the most out of their treatment. Actions speak louder than words. He must never feel that his parents have given up on him. He must know that they still love him and always will. With time, he will gain understanding and insight into his behavior and the reasons why boarding school became necessary.

Students are likely to compare themselves to other boys at the boarding school and their families. If the other boys are receiving visits, calls, letters and care packages from their families and one boy is not, he can suffer deep psychological wounds. Boarding school staff make every effort to ensure that each student knows that he is loved, regardless of his past behavior.

It is crucial for parents to attend any opportunity to visit or communicate with their son. Some practical tips for family members of boarding students include:

1. During visits, video calls and even phone calls, always show extreme happiness and excitement to see or talk with the student: Even if the last communication ended on a bad note, start each contact anew. Remember, eye contact, body language and tones of voice convey far more communication than actual words spoken.

2. Don’t miss visits

3. Be consistent with phone calls: Even if calls only last a minute, tell him you just wanted to hear his voice. Imagine how he is looking forward to your call and listening for the phone to ring. Never taper off your call frequency.

4. Always ask the student first if he is OK: Do your best to ensure he is not in any danger or major distress. Trust your parental instincts and speak to staff if you are concerned. Be prepared with a response to requests to come home.

5. Give encouraging words but not advice: Let his counselors advise him for now.

6. Ask the student what he needs or would like and send it to him: If you are unable to do so, let him know so he won’t be waiting for it.

7. Recruit siblings, extended family members and close friends to reach out as much as the facility will allow: Make sure everyone has his contact information.

8. If the student initiates contact, take the call right away or return it as soon as possible: Let him know you are always there for him.

9. Send letters, pictures, funny things, favorite treats or other thoughtful items: Include a note that says something like, “Always thinking of you” or something similar.

10. Remember that little things make a big difference: Draw pictures on your letters or add stickers.

11. Be consistent with mail: If you send something once a week, don’t skip weeks. Just drop a line on a postcard if you can’t think of anything to write.

12. Remember the student on holidays and special occasions: Family gatherings are a great time to call and pass the phone around.

Staying as positive as possible during times of contact can help students’ perspectives change from negative to positive and can help them to imagine a positive future.

White River Academy places an emphasis on the family and healing emotional wounds. Specializing in adolescent males with behavioral issues or addictions, classes and programs break unhealthy behavior patterns and promote positive futures. For questions about White River Academy or addiction, please call 866-520-0905.

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