School Tips for Divorced Parents

4preschoolkids Cropped

With a new school year, thoughts of making lunches and how much homework the kids will have this year creep into summer barbeques. For divorced parents, however, thinking about the school year may cause questions about how best to support their child academically from two different households. Let’s look at a few tips that will help — assuming that both parents have agreed to co-parent and it is safe to do so.

Consider how what a child thinks about the divorce may affect schoolwork.

? Remind your child he or she did not cause the divorce and that your love for child will never change. Many kids feel divorce is somehow their fault, says Stephanie Bruce, an elementary school counselor in Chapel Hill.
? Answer questions about the divorce honestly – but without criticizing the other parent. “It’s important to answer questions directly and developmentally appropriately,” says licensed psychologist Anita Schimizzi from Chapel Hill. “Different siblings will need different levels of communication.”
? Make an appointment with a mental health professional if this will benefit your child. Parents can often benefit from sessions, too.

Look for changes in your child’s behavior — in and out of school.
? Watch for atypical behaviors, which, as Schimizzi suggests, can be more extroverted or withdrawn than normal. Children are effective at hiding their true feelings. “One of the things to remember about kids is that they really want to fit in and they don’t want to appear to be different or that something is wrong,” says Schimizzi.
? Ask your child’s teacher to look for atypical behaviors.

Communicate with school personnel.
? Talk to teachers and counselors about the family situation.
? Ask counselors about small groups for children experiencing divorce.
? Provide a master transportation and lodging schedule to the school.

Establish consistency between households.
? Provide a space and similar routine for schoolwork at each home. Bruce recommends providing children with some choice in what works best for them so they feel a bit of empowerment.
? Consider the special needs of a child with an Individualized Educational Plan, says Schimizzi.
? Ensure consequences are similar in each household.
? Maintain consistent schedules — for school and extracurricular activities. Remember that in some instances, school is the one constant in your child’s life during and after a divorce. “School is a safe place for kids. School is very consistent,” Bruce claims.

Make each parent’s efforts visible.
? Attend events together or share duties. Will you both go to school conferences and athletic events? Or will you take turns? If you decide to rotate events, consider sharing duties so the child sees both parents’ efforts. If one parent goes to the school party, for example, the other parent could send in the cupcakes. However, plan ahead of time for events that only happen one, such as high school graduation.
? Acknowledge each other’s strengths, Katy Malley, former middle school counselor in Durham suggests, noting that one parent may be an expert in math and another in Language Arts. Parents can contribute to their child’s projects in ways that allow them to showcase their strengths.

Establish consistent communication methods.
? Develop methods for sharing information. If one parent is the school contact, establish a method of forwarding information to the other parent. A shared notebook, Dropbox, or email are ways to share the information parents and child need at both households. “Having that open form of communication between households for the sake of that child’s education is so important,” says Malley.

Kathryn Caprino is a freelance writer living in Chapel Hill.