Practical Tips for Boarding Home Parents

Random thoughts specific to boarding home parents:

Make the hostel (boarding home) your home.

If you are comfortable there, the kids will feel more at home. Be available. Hang out in the kitchen (or wherever you serve snacks) after school and/or at study time, etc.

Family Fun Night

Mandatory! Whether it is weekly, monthly, Friday nights when there is not a school activity, or whatever, it is important to have family time together to have fun for a few hours. (We did excuse kids as the situation warranted, but did not allow an alternate prayer meeting for a few of the girls since there was ample time for them to meet at another time.)

Know the policies, follow them, and be flexible.

The kids (and their parents) need to know what the rules are and what is expected of them/what they can expect from the hostel parents.

Fair Treatment

When faced with a challenging situation with one of the kids, it helped me to think through how I would handle it if I were dealing with my biological child. Often that was a good filter for me to know I was not being too firm with something like a broken curfew, etc.

Communication with parents

Let them know how things are going if there is a challenge for their child, or if you are being challenged by their child’s behavior. Ask them how they would deal with the situation. We tried to do a general weekly update about hostel life, but were not able to keep up with that. The parents said it was nice, but what they were interested in was anything specific to their child. They were all communicating regularly with their kids and they did not feel like a general update was necessary.

Employees at the hostel

Make sure you know what is culturally appropriate for the employer/employee relationship. For example, North Americans generally focus on productivity over relationships in the workplace, and daily greetings are often minimal. This is not necessarily true in other cultures.

Relationships with kids

I think one of the biggest challenges for a new hostel parent is it just takes time to build relationships with kids. Do not expect them to automatically trust you, but be who you are and be consistent. The kids may have a completely different set of life experiences than you do and there is going to be a lot of information gathering/sharing until you get to know each other. Do not let things fester between the kids or between yourself and one of the kids.

Hostel Rules

One of the fun things we did was have the kids write a list of supplemental hostel rules before the end of the year. It was our goal to keep things running smoothly and stick to the simple rules of schedule and avoiding inappropriate conduct. We had a great group of kids, so we felt safe inviting them to submit their “Hostel Rules”. It provided a lot of laughs when they came up with a lot of supplemental rules, including some insightful stuff:

Hostel Assessment

One thing that some short-term hostel parents from a different mission did is have the kids do an evaluation. They were hostel parents for just one year, and it was a challenging year for many reasons. They invited specific comments and were hurt when that is exactly what they received. We do not recommend this! Asking the kids for general input to make improvements may be appropriate.

Hostel Traditions

Find out what the hostel traditions are for birthdays, holidays, end-of-year activities. Add your own traditions if appropriate. Change things up if it does not work well one year. Our first Thanksgiving as hostel parents was a little lacking. It was well thought out, with a meal with the other hostels and then an outing the next day. But, the Thanksgiving meal was a lot of work and it had to be early in order to accommodate everyone and then we just went home. In retrospect, we realized we should have had a family activity in the evening. So, the next year we reordered the events. We met with the other hostels earlier for games and dessert and then went home for dinner, where we invited other guests. After dinner, we had a scavenger hunt that will be tradition now: so much fun!

Notes to Self

Keep many notes to refer back to and to pass on. There are many once- a-year activities and for most of us, the details tend to get fuzzy.

White Board calendar

We have one posted in the major hallway. Kids wrote activities that are out of the ordinary on it (after asking permission, if that step was required). Every Monday evening we had a hostel meeting with devotions to go over any housekeeping details and look ahead to see what was on the calendar for the week. These tips came from Laura Johnson, a former SIL Hostel parent in Yaoundé, Cameroon.