Q: My husband and I just divorced; our two elementary school-aged daughters will spend the school week with me and most weekends with him. They are still dealing with the impact of their father moving out. Should we let their new teachers know about the divorce?
A: Yes. You don't need to go into detail, but alerting the teachers is in everyone's best interests. Research shows that children whose parents were divorcing reported being more anxious, lonely and sad than children whose parents remained married. According to a 2011 study of 3,500 elementary children, parents' divorce caused setbacks in math and social skills.
"Any major change in a family's circumstances can have a strong impact on children's emotional wellbeing and sense of security," says Dr. Jane Bluestein, an Albuquerque-based educator and psychologist who works with teachers and parents to improve the social-emotional climate in schools. "Any big transition can affect children's concentration, commitment to school, achievement and behavior. So it makes sense to let the school know anytime some significant incident, loss or change occurs."
Bluestein says that when she taught, she always appreciated knowing if a student's parents were going through a divorce -- "not to make excuses for the child's backsliding or acting out, but to know that a little extra support and TLC might be in order. Teachers want to build a productive home-school relationship. Letting them know means that they can help your daughters through a time of change."
Keep an eye out for changes in behavior or signs of stress and anxiety. "Most schools have resources -- likely a counselor -- who can support students through these transitions," advises Bluestein. "Find out about what's available, even if you think you won't need it."
Routines and consistency are important for all children, but especially so for kids who are dividing their time between two different homes. Bluestein advises working with their father to align your school-related expectations for the girls. For example, establish a common bedtime for school nights and weekends; decide when homework will be done and how it will be checked; make sure you're on the same page concerning extracurricular and weekend activities so that they don't miss experiences that their friends are a part of.
Most important is establishing strong, ongoing communication with the school. How will you and their father stay informed about your daughters' progress?
Unless there are extenuating circumstances, "both father and mother should receive communications from the school, such as teacher and school newsletters, access to the school portals, notices of upcoming events, and report cards," says Bluestein. "You should both be listed as emergency contacts and, if possible, attend parent conferences together so that your daughters know that you both care about their schooling and share expectations for their success." Bluestein offers more practical tips parents on her website: janebluestein.com/2016/ways-to-help-your-child-survive-your-divorce/.
Another helpful resource is the book "Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce" (Avery, 2010). The author, Joanne Pedro-Carroll, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who has studied the impact of divorce. Her research-based advice can help you guide your daughters in the big transitions that accompany separation and divorce.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)