Parenting: Getting Divorced? Tips to Cope as your Child Goes Back to School
If you and your spouse have split up during the summer, going back to school can be a traumatic time for your child as he or she faces the prospect of what it means to have divorced parents. Divorce360.com experts offered three tips to help during the new school year. They include:
1. Meet the new teacher.
Jodi Seidler, founder of the single parenting site, makinglemonade.com, thinks it is always good to meet with the new teacher. Let her/him know your child comes from a divorced home (or a shared custody home). That way, the teacher knows…if a child acts out — the divorce could be a reason. I always introduced myself to my son’s teachers, up through middle school; I felt we were co-parents because they had my son during the day. Always good to keep the other in the loop and keep a line of communication open.
2. Share contact information for both parents.
Dr. Jann Blackstone-Ford, Psy.D., director of the non-profit Bonus Families and author of “Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” suggests both parents should send an e-mail or call the school to make sure the school has both addresses and contact numbers. In addition, she suggests that you should not rely on the other parent to communicate with your child’s teacher for you. If they are angry, they won’t do it. Then you are angry. Ask teachers for two of everything so that both parents can stay abreast of their child’s work.
3. Make transitions easy.
See this as a time to focus more on your child’s adjustment and try to put your divorce issues on the back burner for now, said Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D., and Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D., authors of “Sandwiched Boomers: How to Nourish Relationships without StarvingYourself,” and founders of hermentercenter.com, a site devoted to women in transition.
Tina Tessina, Ph.D., also known as Dr. Romance, has written a number of relationship book on marriage and divorce. Her tip: to make life easier when kids are moving between two different houses, especially after they go back to school, make mindful transitions.
When saying goodbye to your child who will be going to the other parent’s house, be sure to say “I love you, I’ll miss you.” but don’t make it too emotional. Then, when your child comes home, have a short debriefing. Ask how the child’s stay was, remind him that the rules in your house are different, and let him know any changes that may have occurred. Preparing your child in this way, and helping him negotiate the changes from one house to another will make your time together go more smoothly.
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. and Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D.Website: www.HerMentorCenter.comBlog: www.NourishingRelationships.blogspot.com Authors of:”Sandwiched Boomers: How to Nourish Relationships without StarvingYourself”
4. Talk about school routines.
Rosalind Sedacca, author of “How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce?A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love!,” said school can add a new level of complexity to the life of children recently faced with divorce. The key to success involves two factors: open communication and smooth transition into school routines. When Mom and Dad are on the same page regarding school routines, children will adjust much more rapidly – even if transitions between homes are involved. Discuss the routine details first between you and your ex to handle any disagreements, emergency procedures, meals, pick-up, weather, after-school activities and all the other components of the school week. Once you both agree, make some simple written notes to share with your children. Keep the steps simple and be consistent.
5. Ask questions.
Sedacca also said parents should not be afraid to ask questions and discuss emotions with the kids. “Are you nervous about seeing your old friends? Are you afraid to tell them about Mom and Dad getting a divorce? Do you think they will care? What will you say to the coach? How did you feel when Johnny asked if your Dad’s moved out of the house?”
Sharing your own fears and insecurities when talking to your own friends and work associates can be helpful to let children know they are not alone. Don’t make them feel guilty or ashamed of whatever they feel. Empathy goes a long way toward acknowledging that your children are okay in feeling what they feel. Let them know that this too will pass and life will move on into a new normal.
6. Give your child a safe place to vent.
Blackstone-Ford, author of the book “Ex-Etiquette for Parents,” suggests finding a forum for the child to be able to share their emotions, whether in private counseling or a kids of divorce group. Make sure the child has a place to vent his or her concerns or worries and a trusted adult who can ease that worry with constructive suggestions.
7. Listen to your child.
Most importantly, according to Mark Goulston, M.D., a business advisor, consultant, trainer and clinical psychiatrist, listening to your child is the key to making the transition back to school after the split. His advice: The more you want to talk, the more you need to listen. It’s less important what you tell kids than what you get them to tell you.
His suggestion: the best place for a heart to heart talk is when you are driving with a child, because you’re both looking forward instead eye to eye, which can lead to a head to head stalemate (remind you of any legal proceeding recently?). When you’re taking that ride, ask your child: “I’m curious about something, would it be okay if I asked you a question?” If they respond, “No,” then you respond in a calm, matter-of-fact way, “Okay, it’ll keep” and then let it go.
That will drive them nuts and in most cases cause them to ask you, “What did you want to ask?” At that point say, “I was just wondering…going forward how can you tell the difference between a subject you need to stay on top of versus one that you can get away with putting it off to the last minute?” Then whatever they say, respond with, “Really (in a inquiring versus challenging tone), tell me how you figured that out.” And then don’t get into an argument or do a bait and switch and sneak in a lecture. That only indicates that you really weren’t interested in their answer or helping them develop judgment. All you cared about was their obeying you. This is a way to plant the seeds in their brain for judgment.
Here’s another question that may also be on your mind: “How do you tell the difference between a friend who goes too far and will either get in trouble or put themselves in a dangerous situation and someone who doesn’t?” Then again, drill down and ask them to explain.
This is all in line with a quote from my friend Tim Gallwey, author of the “Inner Game of Tennis (Skiing, Golf, Work),” who said: “If you give a child a fish, you feed him for a day; If you teach a child to fish, you feed him for a life time; But if you teach a child to learn, you feed him for a life time…And he doesn’t have to just eat fish.”