It can’t be avoided; there will be times when your child feels sad, lonely, homesick or worried while away at boarding school (as you will too).

The biggest fear for us boarding parents is that we will get a text, email or phone call from our child saying, ‘I’m sad, I’m lonely, I’m worried; I want to come home! I have no friends.’

And it hurts! It feels like our heart has been ripped out and stamped on and sometimes we can’t even breathe for a moment!

When our kids are sad, we are sad and then we often go into ‘fixing mode’ because all we want is for their hurt to go away so they can be happy again and we can stop feeling guilty. But when we go into ‘fixing mode’ we lose our ability to listen to understand, be curious rather than to react, talk or fix and we can actually make the situation worse. #

So here are our 5 tips for how to deal with your child’s sadness:

Tip 1: be curious to the why:

Before you jump into conclusion and problem solving, step back and look into the WHYs and the facts, what lies behind your child emotions?

Is it just a wobble and they need to hear your voice, miss you or are they been bullied. Are they struggling in their room or academically?

Help them translate how they are feeling and what they say:

They might not have the maturity to put the exact words on what they are feeling or maybe they don’t even know. So, help them:

  • Child: I hate it here
  • You: I can hear that right now you are sad and find it hard to settle into the school?


  • Child: I have no friends
  • You: I can hear you are sad, so you are saying that you have NO friends at all? Maybe they don’t have a lot but only a few so help them focus on the positive and grow from there


  • Child: I want to go home.
  • Parent: I can hear you miss us very much – we miss you too.

Gather facts from teachers:

Once you have spoken to your child, contact the child’s ‘contact teacher’. Make them aware of how your child feels so they can observe and support. Then follow up on it and see what come back. Maybe they are fine as soon they get off the phone from you or maybe there is something that need to be address.

Tip 2: Don’t cry with them, just listen:

Yes, we are sad too, but this is not about our sadness so keep it to yourself.

Try to show empathy instead of sympathy.

  • Empathy is when we listen, understand and accept the way they feel.
  • Sympathy is when we cry with them, which can reinforce the situation as they might think, ‘Well if mum/dad are so sad too then it must be a big deal!’. Furthermore, they might start feeling guilty that they have caused you this sadness and might stop telling you how they feel.

So, try to just acknowledge their feelings but try to contain your own.

What to say so they feel listened to, but without sympathy:

Listening here is the key. You might not like what you hear or when agree, but right no whey need you to listen. Listen, to understand not to talk or fix.  Listen as you believe in them and without judgement.

You can use this very simple but powerful trip called listen, understand, accept:

  • I can HEAR that you are very sad/upset/angry and I UNDERSTAND that this is how you feel right now and that is OK’.

Tip 3: STOP and BREATHE:

I know it can be really hard to remember not to cry with them or go into fixing mode straight away so try to use this tool called ‘awanress breath’:

  • STOP what you are about to say or do and take a deep BREATH before you say anything.
  • Then LISTEN to what your child is saying – still don’t say or do anything! This gives you a few seconds to think about the situation and take control of your own feelings, so they don’t take over and start controlling what you say or do.
  • Make a DECISION of what you will you do and say, or not – your behaviour, actions and words.

Tip 4: Try some positive self-talk:


While, and after, you have spoken to your child try to give yourself a positive self-talk:

  • They will get over it – we are doing it for their best – it is a great school – we trust that the staff are professional and can deal with this – we will see them soon etc.

This will help you to not go fully down and start reacting instead of responding. It will remind you that there is an end and solution to this. This will help you to have the strength that you child need from you right now.

Tip 4: And knowing that they WILL get over it:

Our kids get over things much quicker than we do. They might just need a little empathy and to be heard. The next day they might be good again and are too busy to be even giving a thought to what they told us.

But sometimes we cannot shake off the feeling of their sadness. Try to trust them (and the staff) that they will get through this and allow them to move on. If you are sending constant texts: ‘are you ok now’?, ‘do you have friends?’, ‘are you happy?’ this might just remind them about the sadness or they might feel they have to ‘play along’.

My son sent me a text me on the second day of being at his new boarding school and said, ‘I have not made any friends, why did you do this to me?!’. It really hurt but then just 3 days later I got a text saying ‘I know it’s a free weekend but can I stay at school this weekend?’ Next time he came home he was SO happy and loved it. I never mentioned the ‘I have no friends’ text!

And finally, I want to end with these two points:

  • Trust your child that they can cope, that they are resilient!
  • That it is ok to be sad. No one goes through life happy and stress-free all the time. Once you have gathered facts then allow your child to have a wobble, be sad and home sick. That is ok, as long as you listen to them, they get over it and have the right support to pick them self-up again from the school, you and friends. I am sure you have been there yourself, when you were sad and just needed to of load to feel better again.

Best wishes

Mette Theilmann, founder of Predictable Parenting & creator of The Parenting Community App