As children, most of our parents have threatened to put us in boarding school when we refused to behave. And when that happened, a scene ensued: a teary-eyed mother, a determined father and a troubled child, suddenly abandoned by his/her loved ones. Something similar happened to Shikha Sood when she was nine. “When my parents sent me to boarding school, I was mischief personified. Today, I can proudly say that I’m one of the most well-mannered children in class. Of course, I hated my parents for putting me in a disciplined academic environment. Secretly, I was scared they’d love my younger brother more and eventually forget me. But over the years, I have learnt to adapt to different kinds of people. My friends are like my extended family now. I don’t go home and throw tantrums anymore. I see my parents once in three months, and I make sure I’m on my best behaviour then,” she smiles.
According to psychiatrist, cognitive therapist and co-founder of InnerHour, Dr Shefali Batra, Indian parents should stop referring to boarding schools as a punishment and instead, talk about the positive lessons they teach. “Sending children to a hostel is a personal preference, and not a threat. Several Indian families indulge their children, which results in behavioural issues such as irresponsibility, aggression and anger. At boarding school, there’s no one to meet the child’s unreasonable demands. So, he learns to heat his/her own food, do his/her own laundry, live within his/her needs and become physically and emotionally independent,” she points out.
WHEN IS IT A GOOD TIME?
Just because you’re too weary or tied up to bring your child up doesn’t mean you send him/her to boarding school. “It’s important for parents to understand the reason: is it because they want their child to excel in all aspects of education; is it because the family hails from a small town with limited amenities or is it because the parents are going through a legal separation. There have been cases when a child has been packed off to boarding school without prior intimation and has ended up feeling traumatised and detached from his/her family,” shares Mumbai-based psychologist Shruti Save. The age at which the child is sent to the hostel may depend on factors like the atmosphere at home, the child’s inherent personality and family circumstances. Experts believe that the ideal age to send kids away is after they turn nine. “Speak to your child about the positive aspects of the boarding school, stay in touch with the teachers and keep communication lines open,” adds Save.
WHAT PARENTS SAY
Carrying forward the family’s tradition, 46-year-old ex-army officer, Malhar Shinde, recently enrolled his son, Vikram, at Bhonsala Military School, a residential school in Nasik that aims to inculcate military virtues in the Indian youth. “Bringing my son up in a cosmopolitan environment was a challenging affair. Every parent enrols their child in a good school but the pollution, traffic and coaching classes zap their energy level, making it difficult to focus. A couple of weeks at Bhonsala Military School and my son is a pro swimmer. A healthy competitive environment always makes
a difference,” he emphasises.
Peer pressure and favouritism at the day school pushed Manjula Godia of Varun Worldwide Vacations to send her son to Good Shepherd International School in Ooty. “In a city like Mumbai, it was getting increasingly difficult to help Varun manage his time. It got to me when he no longer found the time to read. He was in grade VII when I made an impromptu decision to send him away; and it worked for him. The fresh Ooty weather, strong rapport with the teachers and a well-balanced daily routine transformed my son into a confident, versatile person who excelled in everything —from football to cricket and soccer. What’s more, he chose his own career, too,” she says.
The modern woman is well-qualified and works at par with her husband. There is no reason why she should sacrifice her booming career and sit at home for the sake of her children. “When you send your children to a hostel, they learn to be on their own and don’t take you for granted,” adds Godia.
THE GOOD PART
Enrolling your children in a renowned boarding school at an impressionable age broadens their horizon, sharpens their interpersonal skills and helps them develop a unique personality. Reema Rathod shares, ex-student of a residential school in Ranikhet, “Living in a girls’ hostel taught me all kinds of survival skills. You feel utterly proud when you can swim, skydive, sculpt, run, draw and debate when the rest of the kids merely know one sport. For me, 10 years of school just flew by. I’m glad I didn’t spend them watching TV or playing video games.”
The best thing about most boarding schools is the stunning range of sports — from hockey to basketball and faculties of art — from music to fine arts — on offer. “At the hostel, the rigorous academic culture is balanced out with a variety of extracurricular activities. Also, there’s no pressure from the family. A child can take his pick without being nagged by his parents,” highlights Save.
WORD OF CAUTION
All said and done, sending your kids to hostel is still not completely acceptable in the Indian society, and that’s probably because we still believe that a loving family provides the most conducive environment for the overall well-being of a child. Forty-two-year-old corporate banker Sudha Nair sent her 14-year-old daughter Veena to the hostel but immediately withdrew her from there in six months. “Children need immense parental support during their teenage years. During the last month, my vivacious daughter withdrew into a shell and refused to talk. When I went to see her, she broke down and pleaded me to take me home. I realised I made a mistake by sending her away. Kissing her forehead every night gives me immense relief,” confesses Nair.
Psychologists are of the opinion that school authorities often lack the skills required to handle young children. Then there’s also the fear of ragging and bullying, which most freshers are subjected to. Even crimes of a more serious nature are suppressed or ignored by school authorities. “Even when they are away, parents need to pay close attention to their children and look out for any sudden mood changes, fall in grades and other complaints,” advises Save. Sending the child to a boarding school is an important decision and can have long-lasting repercussions that can be positive
as well as negative.
1.Speak to your child before making the decision to send him away and give him enough time to understand why he’s going to a boarding school.
2.Give him/her examples of boarders who have stood out from the rest.
3.Make sure that your child doesn’t interpret this move as a punishment.
4.Give him a glimpse of the activities he will be engaging in besides studies.
5.Get a friend or relative your child is close to to dispel his/her fears and boost his/her confidence.
6.The mentors at school will never replace you. Make sure you have a strong parent-child bond before you send him/her away.
7.Try to visit your child at least once a month. Be available for him/her when s/he needs you.
8.Write a letter or an email to them every week updating them on what’s happening at home. This will make them feel part of the family.
9.If your child is upset or unusually quiet, bring it to the notice of the school authorities.
10.pen up to your child so s/he opens up to you. Show them that you’ll always stand by them no matter what.