Nearly half of all children in the UK will see their parents divorce. That is a staggering number and one where teachers can play a very important stabilising and supportive role.
Divorce can be a really disruptive, stressful and worrying time for children, regardless of their age, and of course it will have a direct effect on their learning.
I am a former Deputy Head & Class Teacher of 25 years and I worked closely with children going through family break up, separation and divorce as I set up a ‘Drop In And Chat’ daily place for them to pop into during breaks, or after school, where they could express their fears and worries, feel heard and nurtured, and feel supported in school during their family’s divorce.
I also know first-hand how it feels as went through a divorce 4 years ago myself, and I have 2 children.
You play a very important role in the lives of the children you teach. The constant daily contact you have with children and their families, provides a unique perspective to observing the effects of divorce on a child in your care.
You can be a wonderful support to children through simply listening as that will help to minimise their stress at a time of great change.
I give talks in schools to teachers, teaching assistants, and parents around the ‘Ages & Stages’ of how children react and cope with divorce and I have created a number of very practical resources from my ‘Divorce Journal For Kids’ designed to help children express, explore and understand some of the strong emotions that they may be feeling and to help them process the divorce for themselves. ( Available from September 2016
Keeping a Journal is a very simple, but powerful way to support children.
Click here to pre-order it.
I have created a series of ‘Talking to Children about Divorce Conversation Cards’ to support you in opening up those often difficult and painful conversations or to help you to just listen to the small & ordinary worries that a child might have.
While you are a teacher, not a counsellor, the following information may help you to help your pupil.
The effect of divorce on a child
When parents decide to separate, a child feels as if their world has been turned upside down. The level of upset and distress a child feels can vary depending on how their parents separated, the age of the child, their maturity, how much they understand, and the support they get from family and friends and teachers.
A child may feel a sense of loss, feel angry at one or both parents for the split-up, or guilty that they may have somehow contributed to the separation.
Most children long to get back to normal, and for their parents to be together again.
Emotional and behavioural problems
Emotional and behavioural problems in children are more common when their parents are fighting or splitting up. This can make a child very insecure. ‘Babyish’ behaviour (e.g. bedwetting, ‘clinginess’, nightmares, worries or disobedience) may be caused by the separation. This behaviour often happens just before, or after, visits to the parent who is living apart from the family. So be mindful on a Monday morning.
Teenagers may show their distress by misbehaving or withdrawing into themselves. They may find it difficult to concentrate at school.
What to do
- Maintain consistency and discipline
Don’t suddenly start letting the pupil get away with behaviour you would not normally tolerate. Consistency in expectations strengthens the pupil’s sense of security.
- Make the pupil feel competent
Focus on the pupils’ competencies and successes. They may be more sensitive to criticism due to their increased feelings of uncertainty.
- Listen to the pupil’s point of view
As the pupil’s teacher, you may be the most compassionate listener at this point in their life. Create a non-judgmental, safe environment for them to get used to the new living arrangements.
- Keep both parents involved
Strive to engage both the child’s father and mother in your pupil’s school life. If you can, send newsletters and notices to both parents. Separate meetings with each parent may prove helpful if they both want to discuss your pupil’s well-being and academic progress.
If you would like me to come and speak to your school about any aspect of divorce, please give my office a call on 01883 818329 or email me at [email protected]