‘If you don’t behave yourself, I will send you to a Boarding School!’ This is an oft-repeated refrain by parents who feel pushed to the limit. The child cries at the thought of the separation and scurries to do what is expected of him. The parent knows that the child is happier at home, and hence boarding school is used as a threat or punishment for not complying to their wishes. This action of a parent raises two questions. One, what is the impact on our children when we threaten to send them away like this? And two, is it fair to use ‘boarding school’ as a threat and make it seem like a scary place?
Traditionally in India, there has been a belief that children do benefit from leaving home and being part of the Gurukul system. And later, the British advocated boarding schools as a place that would provide the best all round education.
There are families whose circumstances are such that boarding school seems like the best option for their children- both the parents have demanding jobs, living in remote places with no convenient access to school, parents are separated, too much conflict at home, single parents, transferable jobs etc. In such cases, it is believed that the boarding school would be a safer, secure place and good for the child’s holistic development.
A friend whose parents had been estranged confided that boarding school had been, practically, her second home since class two when she moved there with her older sister. “My father could not have provided all that care for my sister and me,” she said. She was still in touch with all her friends from boarding school whom she considered her ‘family’.
However, another acquaintance who was sent to boarding school at five years of age says she just could not adjust or belong. She kept wanting to ‘go back home’. After every vacation she was panic-stricken at the separation from her parents and hated going back to school. ‘’I can’t help but think that I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I had been a little older and understood why I was sent there.”
There has been a debate on the effect of boarding school on children. The age at which they are sent and the manner in which the reasons for sending are communicated to the child, play an important role.
Psychologists and child specialists recommend that being 12 years and above is an age at which they can benefit from boarding school. It is argued that at this age the child’s brain is mature enough to understand why she is being sent and hence does not go into alarm mode, overwhelmed with the feeling of ‘I want my parents and nothing else!’
What is proven, through the science of brain development, is that it is important for children to feel connected to their parents and caregivers at all times, as this forms the foundation for all their future relationships, learning, health and behavior. And a huge part of this parent-child connection forms in the early years of life.
Knowing this, it is important that there should be a good enough reason to send children to boarding school at a young age. In the case of older children, it should be decided in partnership with the child and based on the child's personality. The child needs to be mature to understand his parent’s intentions. She will then make the most of that environment if she is eager to go and does not feel she has been sent away.
Finally, every parent looks out for their child's wellbeing and different families will make decisions based on their unique circumstances. These are just some factors that could help parents in making the decision of whether their child would benefit or not from boarding school.
Author: Shalini Modi is a trained Montessorian and part of the team at Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connections in families.