When you and your partner are separating, your divorce can have an immediate impact on your child’s wellbeing. This may affect all areas of their life, including their concentration and performance at school.
The good news is that, as parents, you are not alone in supporting your child through this difficult period. You can ask for help from their school or nursery, where there will be processes in place to provide the appropriate care.
We interviewed three people with teaching experience about the best way for parents to communicate with teachers and other key support workers about their divorce.
When to Inform the School About Your Divorce
Before she started Power Thoughts – a teaching, coaching and mindfulness service that supports children with their mental and emotional wellbeing – Natalie Costa spent ten years as a primary school teacher, working with children from Reception to Year 6.
“From my experience, it would be the parents who would inform the school” Costa said. “Roughly one or two new cases of divorce were made known to us each year. Although usually a few pupils’ parents would already be divorced.”
“Every now and then, the kids will bring up the news themselves, and their parents will come to talk to us briefly afterwards,” said Mimi, a primary school teacher who wishes to remain anonymous.
How to Contact Your Child’s School About Your Divorce
“If your kids are in primary school, you can come to the Headteacher, SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator), as well as the class teacher to inform the school about your divorce,” Costa said. “You can either make an appointment or have an informal meeting or catch-up before or after school. In some cases, it’s possible to communicate via school email too.”
Genevieve Passamonte is a Nursery Education Officer at a nursery in London. “At our nursery, we operate an open-door policy, so any time a parent wants to speak to a manager or member of staff face-to-face, they are welcome to,” she said. “They can also use the telephone or email.”
Giving the school regular updates about your divorce procedure is not necessary, unless it has a considerable negative impact on your child. “As long as the parents continue to communicate with each other in a constructive way, the school doesn’t need to be informed of everything that’s going on,” Mimi said.
“If one of the parents ceases to have custody or have the right to collect the child, the school should be informed as well,” added Passamonte.
How Does Divorce Affect School Performance?
How your divorce will affect your child’s performance at school is very much dependent on the situation. High-conflict divorces tend to affect children more than amicable divorces, and some children adapt more quickly than others. A lot of the time, the impact of divorce on a child’s school performance is caused by the changes that are taking place in their daily routine.
According to Costa, “In cases where school performance is affected, it usually impacts their attention, focus and ability to engage. They may easily get upset and feel sad, guilty, depressed or preoccupied about the future. Because of this, they may not be that interested in learning. Sometimes they withdraw from their peers because they feel left out, and in other cases they have frequent emotional outbursts and tantrums because they are seeking attention or are feeling hurt and afraid.”
How to Minimise the Impact of Your Divorce on Your Child’s School Performance
Even though there may sometimes be resentment between you and your former partner, both teachers and parenting experts agree that it is crucial not to express these views in front of children in order to avoid distress. Although separation will take a lot from you as adults, it’s important not to disregard the child in the process as getting a divorce with kids is a tough situation to be in for all those involved.
“Keep the communication open: explain what’s going to happen and allow your child to talk about their feelings,” Costa said. “Let them know that it is alright to feel sad and angry.”
From the school’s perspective, it’s preferable that both parents continue to be involved in their child’s progress and development, if circumstances allow. As Mimi explains, “A situation in which both parents are still in touch and continue to attend parents’ evenings is ideal.”
How School Can Help Children Cope with Divorce
Classroom teachers and SENCOs (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators) can provide your child with the day-to-day support that they might need to cope with your divorce. On top of that, some schools may have additional processes in place to help children with the transition.
“We use transition boxes with props, resources and stories to explain the concept of divorce to children through play. Parents can take them home,” Passamonte said.
Transition boxes are designed to support a child through major changes, such as going to a new school or processing bereavement or divorce. They can contain a variety of resources, such as story books that help explain the event, toys for comfort or suggestions for activities to do together with their parent or carer. Often, a transition box will contain ‘emotions cards’, which offer the child the opportunity to talk about their feelings.
What’s more, simply going to school each day can provide your child with a comforting routine that gives them a break from the changes at home. “At nursery, we keep our daily routine and structure the same, with long-term staff that provide consistency and familiarity,” Passamonte explained.
There might still be some anxiety around collection time or drop-off, however, especially when a different parent is collecting the child or when they are going to stay at another home. Teachers recommend that parents are patient with their child during this transition phase.
Natalie Costa is the Founder of Power Thoughts, a teaching, coaching and mindfulness-based service aimed at empowering children to tap into the power of their minds. Before starting Power Thoughts, Natalie spent 10 years as a primary school teacher, working with children from Reception to Year 6.
Genevieve Passamonte is a Nursery Education Officer at a London-based nursery.
Mimi is a primary school teacher in Year 6. She wishes to remain anonymous.