Many times parents have to make difficult decisions that are in the best interest of their child. Temple University Professor Gabriel D’Amato writes that “some children need to be removed from the home in order to allow for a possible change in behavior and to permit new types of behavior to emerge” (Ref 3). Sending a child away to school may prove to be the wisest course of action, even when the child fights the idea.
Bruno Bettelheim, a world-famous child psychologist, writes in his book, A Home for the Heart, that parents who have to place a child in a therapeutic residential setting have to assume that their judgment and knowledge about the situation is superior to that of their inexperienced child. He writes, “To accept the child’s view that he does not need to be there is to initiate a folie a deux. Sometimes we must reserve the right to take actions which we feel would be beneficial in the long run” (Ref 2).
As a parent, you have the authority of what’s best for your daughter and for your family. Your daughter may be very emotional about the subject, and you should be prepared to empathize with her feelings. But you have to be clear that the decision belongs to you and will not be made according to emotions, but according to what’s best for her and your entire family.
When she talks about boarding school, listen to her feelings about the subject. She may think she has been a “bad kid” who must be sent away, and that placement in a boarding school is a punishment for poor behavior. She may feel you are abandoning her when she needs you the most. As Bettelheim writes, it is important to understand and appreciate her view as a logical consequence of how she experiences the world. “We can agree with her about the validity of her feelings and demonstrate that we appreciate and comprehend them…. We can empathize with their sadness that such a step is necessary” (Ref 2). Validate her feelings, but reserve the right to take what you know is the best action.
That said, there are some other things you can do to make your daughter accept the decision about boarding school.
Introduce the idea slowly and gradually.
Let her read all the literature about the school. Bring up the subject several times over a series of weeks as a matter of discussion, not as a done deal (Ref 4).
If she is seeing an educational counselor or therapist, have that person point out the advantages of going to boarding school.
Talk about it with her in terms of this expert’s opinion….“sDr. So-and-so thinks it may be a good idea for you to try this school because…”
Point out the advantages of the school, but back off from arguments.
There’s a lot of individual attention. The class sizes are really small there. They encourage everyone to do a lot of outdoor stuff.
Emphasize the positive idea of getting a fresh start.
Don’t talk about the past, but the future. The girls here seem nice. You’re going to make new friends. The dorm looks like fun. There’s a real chance to excel and be a leader here.
Visit the school together.
Talk to faculty members and other students. Let her get a real picture of exactly how life will be there. Ask questions. Have a meal in the cafeteria and attend some classes. If she has a picture of life at the school in small detail, she’ll make a better adjustment.
Let her decide all the small things.
Dr. Charles Behrens, a psychologist with over twenty years of experience in residential therapeutic schools, says the more choices your daughter makes as the enrollment process goes on, the more she’ll feel empowered. Let her have the deciding vote over her roommate, what clothes to bring, whether she wants to take a teddy bear and family photos, what classes might be the most interesting, etc.
Keep in touch once she’s at school.
No one can take your place as parents in her life. Let her know you love her and miss her with letters and calls, but keep encouraging her success at school. If she’s homesick, listen to her feelings about that, but stay positive. I know you want to come home, but we’ll be together in just a few weeks. Wow, great grades in math this time!
Get counseling for yourself and spouse, if necessary.
Many parents have feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and mourning over their child’s leaving that need to be worked through in counseling. Some research shows that the better the parents adjust to the idea of boarding school, the more likely the student will too (Ref 4).
- Behrens, Dr. Charles. Telephone Interview, July 9, 2004.
- Bettelheim, Bruno . A Home for the Heart. New York: Knopf Publishing, 1974.
- D’Amato, Gabriel. Residential Treatment for Child Mental Health. Fort Lauderdale, FL: Charles Thomas Publishers, 1969.
- Schaefer, Charles and Arthur Swanson. Children in Residential Care: Critical Issues. New York: Van Rostrand Reinhold Company, 1988.