Managing Separation and Divorce (of Parents) at School
The end of a marriage doesn't just affect you, it affects your children, including their behaviour and school performance. Divorce is a difficult event for everyone involved. Having an open, solid support structure in these times of crisis is essential for children.
There are a few steps you can take to make it easier on your child at school and at home. Read more to find out what you can do to help your child cope with separation.
What Can Teachers Do?
Make your classroom open and respectful to non-traditional families
Make sure the children in your class know that not every family looks the same. Teach them about different families, like ones with same-sex parents, multiracial families or even families who have separated. You, as their teacher, need to make your classroom an open and safe space.
Give the class reading or research homework that will teach them about complex topics
Dealing with heavy topics like divorce in a classroom can be difficult if not everyone understands it. Before explaining divorce and what happens, let your students read a story or research statistics about divorce and learn about it themselves first.
Be Accepting, but Aware
It's important not to push a child into sharing anything with you and the class; you must be respectful and accept their privacy. However, if a child starts showing emotional distress or a sudden behaviour change, it's best to notify the school psychologist/counsellor and their parents. Keep checking in for a while after most of the mess is over and make sure they’re doing okay.
What Should Parents Do?
Tell the School
Let the school know about your separation. Usually, a letter to the principal will suffice, but it's best to have a meeting with the class teacher that sees your child every day. The school needs to know whether to look out for a change in behaviour or emotional state and plan for counselling if they have those services.
The school also needs to know who the primary carer will be and who will pick the children up. If a parent is likely to take the child out of school without permission, they need to know.
It's also ideal to have regular checkups with the school and your child to ensure everything is okay. Make sure to let your child know they're still the most important thing to you.
Parents’ Evenings and School trips
It's best for both parents to attend parents’ evenings, preferably together. This way, both parents receive the same information, and both are still involved in making decisions. If the separation involved domestic violence or something similar and the parents don't feel comfortable sitting together, make sure you give both the same info in separate meetings.
Both parents need to give permission for school trips; this is to protect the school. If one parent hasn't signed and your child gets hurt, the school is liable for a court case.
Just Be There
The most important thing to remember throughout the divorce is that your child is still a child, and you're still their parent. Don't make them grow up too fast because you're going through a tough time, and don't confuse them more about the situation. Talking badly about your ex in front of your children or using them as a messenger between the two of you isn't going to help anyone and will only serve to confuse your children further.
Remember, they're still your child, and you're still their parent. That dynamic shouldn't change; if anything, it should become more gentle and caring than before. Both of you will need it.
Divorce is a challenging event for everyone involved. All parties are usually insecure, angry, sad, and confused about the situation, including your children. You can do a few things to minimise changes in their life and not put more of an emotional burden on them.
Your children don't need to hear how terrible your ex is; they don't want to be the messenger between you two and they don't want to be put in the middle of your disagreement. They're children who deserve to be carefree and happy. Let them be; no one will appreciate you more than your child.
There is a lot of information available online and you may find this guide to children and divorce helpful.