Complicated pick-up schedules, homework left at Dad’s and permission slip at Mom’s, requests for separate conferences,even restraining orders—there’s no question that school issues come up for two-household families. Divorce is one of those tough childhood transitions that inevitably spills over into school. It obviously affects the child and his or her behavior and academic success, but it also changes the job description of the educator. However, when parents get divorced, the school can play a pivotal role helping the family through the transition.
Here are eight incredibly powerful things that we can do, as educators, to support families that are going through a divorce.
1. Teach students to write about their feelings.
When Fatima Pardo got divorced, her daughter was in second grade. Her daughter’s teacher, whose own parents were divorced, showed the second-grader some pages from her own journal. The teacher did this to show the child how writing helped her get through the difficult transition when she was younger.
Writing is therapeutic, and it can be an effective relief for kids in difficult times. You don’t necessarily have to share your own journal with students, but by simply showing them how to write about their feelings or by giving them the opportunity to do so may help them through this challenging time.
2. Host a Banana Splits Club.
Invite students to connect with other kids who have gone through a similar experience. For example, host a Banana Splits Club for children who are going through a transition at home. It could simply be a time where kids get together with a club sponsor and talk about what’s going on. And to sweeten the club a little, you can give the kids ice cream!
3. Stuff two “Parent Pockets.”
When mom, Kelsey Clark, was getting divorced, her son’s teacher made two “parent pockets” for him to send home hand-outs, reminders, and classroom work. That way both parents got information and neither was left out.
Another thing to send home two of: the handbook, directory, and other important school information that parents will reference often. Send home two at the start of the year so that you’re not relaying the same information over and over.
4. Communicate with parents seperately.
Once a child lives in two households, provide recognition to both parents on outgoing communications. For example, separate “the Cleavers” into Ward and June. Even if both parents have the same last name, recognizing each person separately goes a long way for them and the student who often has to bring those letters and handouts home.
It’s also a good idea to make sure both parent contacts are in the automated communication system. In order to do this, you may need to touch base with the office Admin Secretary.
5. Extend deadlines for students who need it.
When families are settling into a new routine, homework, notes home, and permission slips may get lost between two houses. “When kids go back and forth between parents at night, things easily get lost,” says mom, Tina Wallace. “And, sometimes one parent is better or worse at helping, so a quick turnaround is a problem.” Provide as much lead time as you can to get forms signed and projects back. And whenever possible, allow some grace for students when delays are caused by external factors.
6. Have clear conference and event policies.
If your teachers can host two parent-teacher conferences for divorced parents, great. But if that’s not feasible, have a clear policy that is communicated early so parents can plan accordingly. In some extremely difficult or emotionally-charged divorce situations, it may be wise to invite the school counselor or a member of the Administrative Team just as a little added support during conference time.
7. Safety first: know who has what rights.
In some cases, one parent may have a protective order which restricts contact and decision-making and determines who will be transporting the child to and from school. Make sure that this information is handy and that all the people who are involved with the child are aware of it. This includes all administration, teachers, front office, and support staff.
8. Let parents know that your team has their back.
As Pardo made the transition from a two-parent to single-parent household, it was helpful to know that the school had her back. “I didn’t realize how taxing divorce is on your emotions and mental state until I was in it,” says Pardo. When she realized how confident the school was at helping her kids through the transition, she felt “like I can do this.”
Divorce is not easy on anyone, especially the student. But when the child’s school serves as a partner to families going through a divorce, the transition becomes less challenging. Following these simple ideas–but more than anything, providing support for the child–can make this upheaval a little easier for everyone.
Plus check out this article about helping students through trauma.