Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Exercise and Health Sciences

Faculty

Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Professor Donna Cross

Second Advisor

Professor Marilyn Campbell

Third Advisor

Associate Professor Leanne Lester

Abstract

Transitioning to boarding school during the middle years of childhood impacts upon the social, emotional and academic wellbeing of young people (Bramston & Patrick, 2007; Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991; Earls & Carlson, 2001). Students who live at school as boarders, may experience greater transitional changes in all three components of wellbeing due to the extent of change experienced during this transition. While research addressing transitioning to school has indicated the importance of connectedness to school, bonding, friendships and a sense of autonomy (Eccles et al., 1993), there is limited research addressing the transitioning experiences of boarding students and their families.

This mixed methodology study sought to understand how boarding students experience transitioning into boarding school, its possible association with connectedness to the boarding house, reported levels of staff support, loneliness, homesickness and help-seeking for homesickness. Focus groups and interviews were used to better understand how parents experience the transitioning of their children into boarding school.

This thesis used data collected from a Healthway funded Starter Grant. The research was cross-sectional by design involving a purposeful sample of 267 students, 59% male and 41% female, aged 12 - 15 years, who lived in one of eight metropolitan and regional boarding settings in Western Australia (WA) in 2011, and 37 of their parents. Data for this project were collected from October, 2010 to September, 2011

The first research question used qualitative data to explore the experiences of boarding parents. Findings suggested parents appeared to be more affected by their children leaving home than did the majority of boarding students. The following strategies were suggested as helpful to support positive transitions: preparing both parents and their children effectively for the move; making contact with other boarding parents at least six months prior to the transition; having meaningful connections with the staff caring for their children communicating and visiting their children regularly; co-developing with their children communication and visiting plans; and, keeping busy.

Research questions two to five analysed quantitative data collected through a student survey. The following transitioning activities were found to be either very helpful and / or associated with other benefits (as listed above): tour of the boarding house; sleepover with or without parents; separate information targeting students and parents sent or given to boarding families, up to date information on the Internet; Orientation Day; peer mentors; staff telephoning students prior to transition; and, boarding staff meeting with each family individually on or following Orientation Day.

Homesickness was most commonly experienced during the first two weeks of boarding and when students returned after their holidays. Girls, younger students and International students reported experiencing more homesickness. Three factors: psychosomatic symptoms; separation distress; and, grief and loss, best explained how students in this study experienced homesickness.

Help-seeking behaviours comprised the factors contacting parents, keeping busy and conversing with staff and students. A number of activities were associated with reductions in both psychosomatic symptoms and separation distress; however, for those students who experienced grief and loss, going on leave with their parents and knowing when their parents would next be visiting or taking them on leave appeared to be the only activities that reduced students’ grief response.

Help-seeking was most evident for students who experienced psychosomatic symptoms or feelings of separation distress. Students who experienced grief and loss were less likely to report seeking help. Girls and younger students reported utilising the most help-seeking strategies.

The findings of this study and the subsequent recommendations will assist families and staff to better understand the experiences of boarding students and their families as students transition into boarding.

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