It's time for the kids to head back to school. You've picked out the new clothes and stocked up on supplies. At Back to School Night you plan to tell the teacher all about your child's likes and dislikes, hobbies, allergies and what you thought of last year's teacher. Will you tell the teachers that your family is facing divorce?
I am an educator by training. Prior to founding SAS~ Support and Solutions for Women™, I taught for many years and was a school administrator at a leading girls' school in New York. While I now work with women who openly share with me details about their family issues, this was not my experience as a classroom teacher. And as a teacher I always wondered why.
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During my 19 years as a teacher and administrator, there were many, many times that I wondered why parents didn't just tell me what I already knew. Something was wrong at home. Often, I guessed correctly that they were going through a divorce. Either that, or they were thinking about getting divorced or perhaps they should be getting divorced. No matter the case, I was already seeing it play out in the classroom.
Typically quiet and reserved, Olivia has been picking fights with the other kids lately. She seems more tired than usual and lacks her usual enthusiasm for free time in the classroom.
Matthew broke down in tears for the third time this week when Mom dropped him off. He's really having a hard time separating in the mornings this year.
Paige has been asking to go to the nurse nearly every afternoon, saying she has a stomach ache or a headache… but the nurse can't identify anything that is wrong. Something must be going on at home.
If you are contemplating or facing divorce, it is best to notify the school. Inevitably, teachers will be faced with the emotions your child is experiencing. If you are proactive and tell the teachers what's going on, they can be ready and available to help your family through it. They may even have suggestions and resources for you.
If you haven't had an open conversation with your kids yet, it's important for you to talk to them sooner rather than later. Your children see and hear far more than you give them credit for. They will worry, wonder, and speculate. They imagine the very worst. They are too afraid to ask questions because the answers might be worse than what they are imagining. Sometimes parents think they can shield their children from what is happening by keeping them out of the loop, but that doesn't really work. And you can't expect your kids to concentrate on school if they are preoccupied with wondering or worrying about what's going on at home.
Find a way to tell your children what's happening in a developmentally appropriate way. If you have kids of different ages, tell them together, but let them know they can come to you with their specific questions anytime. Try not to say things like, "You are too young to understand," or "It's between mommy and daddy," because these comments can shut down the conversation and tend to make them feel invisible. Acknowledge that it's not just happening to mommy and daddy but that their lives are about to change too. Answer their questions simply but honestly.
Tell your child's teacher, but also remember to tell the school nurse, the principal, and guidance counselor. If they already know your child, chances are they already suspect something is awry. Just like your children, they will worry, wonder, and speculate about what’s going on. If they are just getting to know your child for the first time, it helps to get them off on the right foot. They will be much more helpful to your child and your family if they are working with the correct information.
• Make the mistake of assuming your child doesn't know something is wrong
• Assume the school knows or will figure it out
• Put teachers in the middle
• Tell your kids not to tell anyone
• Tell your kids everything is fine
• Tell your child so he/she hears it from you first
• Let your child know it's safe for her/him to talk to the teacher
• Give teachers enough details about the situation to be sure they understand, without getting too personal. They don't need a play by play of your last argument with your spouse. Things that are important for a teacher to know include:
o What are the current living arrangements for the child?
o Are pick up or drop off patterns changing?
o How would you like the teacher to communicate with each parent. For example, would you like the teacher to send copies of notes to each parent separately?
o Are there any custody or safety issues to be aware of?
o Are there any new/unusual behavioral issues cropping up at home? (Emotional outbursts, sleeplessness, bedwetting?)
• Help your kids figure out how to tell their friends
• Tell the teacher exactly what words you are using with your child to describe the situation. Be specific and give examples such as:
o "Mommy and daddy are getting a divorce."
o "We are not going to live in the same house anymore, daddy is getting his own house and we'll stay in this house."
o "Mommy and daddy are taking a break from each other to figure out what is best for our family."
It helps to realize that you are not the first family to experience trouble like this at home. The school can help you reinforce the message that the divorce is not your child’s fault, give your child a safe space to talk about it, and give some extra TLC to your child during this transition. To ensure your child has a successful school year, open the lines of communication and let the school become an important part of your support network.
If you would like to learn more about helping your children through a divorce or to find out how SAS can help you navigate your divorce, visit http://www.sasforwomen.com.
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