Going Back to School After Divorce

Back-to-school is always a stressful time for children and parents; some greet it with joyful excitement, while others are anxious and depressed when the summer holidays are over. This is true for all families – but when there has been a separation or divorce over the summer, children can be especially anxious about heading back to school. What are they going to tell their friends? Their teachers? How will it work going back and forth between homes? Will bedtime be the same at Mom’s as it is at Dad’s?

Below are Back-to-School Tips for Parents who have Recently Separated or Divorced:

1. Alert Teachers About the Divorce
It is important to alert your child’s teacher about a divorce that happened or is pending over the summer, no matter the age of the child. Ask the teacher to look for opportunities to show understanding and emotional support if the child shows stress, is distracted, not completing homework or classwork, or acts out. Instead of responding to misbehavior with disciplinary procedures, parents (and teachers, if possible) should talk to the child privately and ask how he/she is feeling. Then the parent or teacher can do some problem-solving with the child in a discussion rather than through consequence and discipline.

2. Decide with Your Children How to Answer Questions from Peers
Before kids make the back-to-school transition, plan with your children about how to answer questions about your separation or divorce. Discuss the fact that that they may be facing a lot of questions from curious schoolmates and let them know that’s it’s okay to politely decline to answer any questions that make them uncomfortable. You get to empower your children about how to politely deflect personal questions as well as discuss what would be appropriate to share with their friends and acquaintances. Their peers may ask where they will be living, will they move, will they get to see both parents, which one will they live with most of the time. I recommend asking your kids what they would want their friends and classmates to know about the divorce and support them with the language to use when answering questions.

3. Reassure Your Children They’ll Still See Old Friends and the Other Parent
When back to school begins, your children may be anxious to know whether they’ll still be attending the same school, or whether they’ll have to change schools because of a change in residence after the separation or divorce. If the parent with primary physical custody has moved to a new school district, he or she should reassure the kids that they’ll still be able to see their old friends – and then make sure to keep that promise. Since fear is often the reaction to a family breakup, parents get to reassure their kids that they will do their best to keep their lives as consistent as possible.

4. Allow Your Children to Feel Loss
According to research, it takes about a year for children to come to terms with their parents’ divorce. This doesn’t mean that they are no longer experiencing any feelings of sadness or anger, but they should be coping well with those feelings by the end of the first year after the divorce. One bad grade or schoolyard scuffle aren’t reasons for parents to panic; these incidents may or may not have anything to do with your separation or divorce. Unless a child’s adjustment problems are really severe, you should give their kids at least six months to a year to deal with his/her feelings of loss as a result of separation and/or divorce.

5. Seek Professional Help If Necessary
You should consider seeking professional help if your child becomes uncharacteristically withdrawn, sad, or angry for several months. Warning signs that your child is not coping well with the new family dynamic could include:
having his/her grades plummet in school, losing friends – or suddenly hanging out with a new group of troubled kids displaying radical changes in behavior, including uncharacteristic, intense anger; lying, cheating, or stealing; playing hooky regularly, or fighting at school, developing physical symptoms, such as sleep or eating disorders, unexplained stomach or headaches or substance abuse.

It is important to keep an eye out for crying and grief that does not subside after several weeks – especially if there is a sign to seek professional help that involves the parents and advise them how to reduce their children’s distress.

The bottom line: back-to-school season can be stressful for children of divorce in ways that it isn’t for children whose parents are still together. Communicating clearly and presenting a united front on school and behavior issues will minimize the stress on everyone.

Now, take a deep breath… you’ve got this!

Sending love, light and joy,

P.S. Do you want to go from Boundary Setting Beginner to Boundary Setting Bada** Expert? Join me starting tomorrow for a 4-week workshop teaching you HOW to set boundaries that people RESPECT, LISTEN TO and ACKNOWLEDGE! Sign up HERE!

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