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A Bereaved Child at Boarding School

What does September evoke for you?

Many ex-borders have spoken of a level of melancholy that comes over them at this time of year. Grief. Their body is reminding them of how they experienced pulling out their trunk and packing again to return to boarding school, leaving their family, pets, and all that is familiar behind.

The summer holidays may have been long enough to have adjusted back to being their “home self,” and then they have to pack that self up, along with their trunk and pull on that armor and adapt back to being their “school self.” This pattern is repeated over and over again, which can cause a split in personality and a disintegration of the self.

Many young children will be feeling “homesick” for the first time over these next few weeks as they are left by their parents to begin life at their new institutions.

Advice online by the Independent Education Consultant encourages parents to “not give in to emotional blackmail. You have made this choice for the right reasons so try not to take seriously any miserable communications from your child, which may imply that you do not care or are in some way cruel. Quite the opposite. You have made a selfless decision in giving your child what you believe will be an amazing opportunity.”

Reading this and various advice given on present-day Boarding School Website pages to parents on how to manage their child’s feelings, as well as their own reads like propaganda. Joy Schaverien in her book “Boarding School Syndrome,” claims that the term homesickness does not do justice to the depth of losses to which the boarding school child is subjected.

The broken attachments of the first days in boarding school amount to a significant, but unrecognized form of bereavement, and the child must learn to live without love. Often children’s losses are minimized and glossed over as insignificant and therefore many children hide these feelings for fear of being seen as childish and pathetic and subjected to bullying.

The term homesickness encompasses a complex system of unprocessed grief and many children are emotionally wounded (traumatised), exiled (homeless), and bereaved (grieving). Suddenly children are abandoned and have to adapt to the abrupt and irrevocable loss of the childhood state. Children lose their role, their sense of themselves as people who belong in a family group and they have to prematurely appear grown-up.

So, what do the children do with these emotions? Not wanting to upset their parents who want them to be happy…? It is not uncommon for the repressed distress to come out in symptoms such as bedwetting and vomiting as tears do not appear permitted.

If you are an ex-border and this resonates with you, try and do nourishing things for yourself this September. If you notice your mood dip as the season changes, think what that little child would have wanted and needed to express. Try and give that to yourself. xxx

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