It's that time of year again. Summer is ending and kids are headed back to school. Back-to-school season is always a stressful time for children and parents, and it can be even more complicated if you are divorced.
This time of year is a mixed bag of emotions for everyone involved, with feelings of excitement, anxiety, fear, nervousness, sadness, and joy. For divorced parents and children of divorced parents, the intensity of emotion and level of stress are often amplified.
Here are 6 tips for divorced or separated parents to help reduce stress and ease the back-to-school transition:
*Get on the same page about routines. It is a wise idea to meet before school starts and hash out the details of school routines. Predictability and routine are good for kids. Keep your plans simple and as consistent as possible (drop-off, pick-up, emergency procedures, after-school activities, meals). Consistency will reduce chaos and will help avoid unnecessary stress for your children.
*Meet the new teacher. Introduce yourself to your child's teacher. Inform them of your family's circumstances, including custody arrangements. Don't draw the teacher into personal conflict but keep them informed, especially if the separation is new. Keep communication open.
*Coordinate calendars.Create a shared Google calendar or something similar to keep everyone in the loop. Coordinate the school calendar with your parenting schedule and ensure all parties are aware of upcoming school events.
*Attend parent-teacher conferences together.Putting your kids' best interests first should be the top priority. As much as possible, it is recommended that you attend parent-teacher conferences together and work collaboratively to support your children's progress in school. This should also include periodic communication or debriefing about important school-related updates.
*Listen to your child.Give your child a place to discuss their feelings. If the separation is new, or even if it isn't, they may feel anxious about what to tell people or how to handle the family dynamics. Give them space and time to tell you how they feel. Help them feel validated and reassured and assist them in finding outside emotional support if appropriate.
*Be aware of warning signs that your child is not coping well.Be mindful of how a significant family change may be affecting your child. In addition to listening to your children and providing a safe space to share their feelings, you should be aware of warning signs that they are not coping well. If you notice the following warning signs, please alert the school counselor and seek professional support for your child:
- significant mood changes, including your child becoming uncharacteristically sad, angry, or withdrawn for several months
- significant drop in grades
- increased isolation, or suddenly spending time with a more troubled group of kids
- radical changes in behavior (e.g. lying, cheating, stealing, fighting, intense anger)
- physical symptoms, such as sleep or eating disorders or frequent unexplained illnesses
- substance abuse