As we all know, the stress of divorce can affect a child’s academic performance as well as all other areas of school-life success. However, parents who have been divorced for some time, as well as a variety of experts and educators, say that with good communication, effective organization and shared awareness of their child’s needs, parents can smooth the path for school success.
Keep the focus on the child!
In a “good” divorce, parents are able to put aside their negative feelings, fears and turmoil to put their child’s needs first. Divorced parents need to learn to communicate differently. Often, for the first time, both parents need to be made aware of the logistics and scheduling requirements of school. Additionally, another key issue for supporting children who live in two homes, is for both parents to assist their children with the organizational needs of homework, special school events, assignment deadlines, as well as regular home-school communication.
For most children/teens living in two homes, life is emotionally stressful. Layer on top of that their obligation to continue to manage and organize day-to-day school requirements, and life becomes even more challenging. Effective planning between parents is key to lessening conflict, making sure everyone is in agreement about expectations and helping the child focus on school. The more shared expectations between both parents the better; that includes determining who communicates with teachers, who will attend school functions and meetings, as well as who organizes after school routines. It is so important for parents to have consistent rules, have expectations that are realistic, and provide various supports when required.
Homework is one area where children/teens feel “pushed and pulled”. So many students tell their teachers that they were unable to complete their homework or prepare for a test, because one or the other parent has not made homework support a priority. Additionally, the challenges of organizing school books and materials in two homes is often overwhelming for kids. Sometimes, parents make the choice of reducing or completely omitting parental expectations around school work. This can be a result of anger towards the other parent, a parent’s own lack of confidence scholastically, and/or an overall desire to please their child. Experts agree that consistency in parental expectations around homework and school routines, provides security and structure in a child/teen’s life.
Many parenting agreements focus on how much time the child will spend with each parent, and where the child will be on holidays and special events. What is critically important is to focus on what the needs of the child are, rather than the amount of time spent. For example, if the child is presenting with any challenges at school, it is always in the child’s best interest for both parents to schedule a specific time each week to talk about those issues, without the child around. If this communication is too challenging for parents, school principals, teachers and social workers can help facilitate helpful conversation with each parent with the goal of successful planning for the child.
When a child has learning challenges, parents’ reactions can become more emotional for a variety of reasons. In addition to seeking professional support from medical practitioners, therapists and educational consultants, there are many useful and practical organizational tools to help maintain consistency between homes, which, of course, only helps the child. Online family schedules, such as www.cozi.com, can provide organizational consistency. One exciting, new app https://brili.co is a visual schedule for kids with ADHD or other organizational challenges. Parents and kids can input information together to help each day run smoothly.
One of the biggest challenges for all of us who support separated families, is how we can convince parents that consistently demonstrating proactive rather than reactive communication, will only enhance the well-being and academic success of their children.
Nancy Lerner, M.A.