It’s September again and for many families that means it’s time for their child/ren to go back to school. Each new school year brings change and transition as students change grades, teachers, and maybe even schools depending on what grade they are going into. It also means buying school supplies, new clothes, and coordinating parent-teacher conferences and school breaks.
The start of a new school year can be stressful. It may be even more challenging if the start of the school year comes after a recent divorce. You may need to reassess routines if you are dividing time between you and your child/ren’s other parent, explore communication tools to help stay in touch with your child/ren’s other parent about important school events or updates, and/or come up with a more structured homework routine to ensure consistency across what may now be two households. Although each divorce is different and each family has unique dynamics, there are tips and tools that can help make this transition go more smoothly.
Listen to Your Child/ren’s Concerns
As your child/ren navigate the challenges of the divorce, it’s important to listen to their concerns and feelings. The start of the first school year after a divorce is likely to feel different for your child/ren. It’s important to listen to their worries and to help them navigate the changes by asking open-ended questions. Your child/ren may feel lonely or isolated because of the divorce. It’s important to show interest in their day-to-day life and assure them that if they feel uncertain, sad, or anxious, that they can talk about it. If your child/ren are having a difficult time opening up, seeking professional counseling or therapy may be helpful.
If your child/ren changed schools because of the divorce, talk to them and make a plan so that they can spend time with friends from their previous school. It is likely that daily and weekly routines will look different for your child/ren because of the divorce. Be sure to be open and honest about new routines and the changes that may arise during the new school year.
Create a Comfortable and Consistent Routine
Routine and consistency are incredibly important for child/ren, especially when they are experiencing a life transition or change. Because your routines are likely changing, it may involve more extensive planning and coordination. Ideally, you want to have a consistent routine and “house rules” that are the same for both the custodial and non-custodial households. If you and your child/ren’s other parent cannot come to an agreement about routine in the different households, it is best for both parents to communicate with their child/ren so that they understand what the expectations are at each household.
• Transportation Schedule
Transportation to and from school may look very different after a divorce. This is especially true if both the custodial and non-custodial parents have their child/ren on school days. Both parents will need to communicate about bus schedules and/or who will be responsible for drop-offs and pick-ups. It is very important to share your transportation schedule with you child/ren so that they know who will be transporting them to and from school and when. This could be the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent, grandparents, or other trusted family members or adults. Anxiety is often the result of a lack of knowledge and your child/ren are no exception to this. Letting them know the plan on transportation will help your child/ren feel less anxious about their day.
• Homework Schedule and Expectations
Regardless of what your family and household dynamics are, the goal is to help your child/ren focus on school and accomplish the best academic outcomes. Therefore, it is incredibly important for there to be cohesive expectations around homework deadlines and obligations. To ensure consistency during this time of transition, it can be helpful to be as detailed and concise as possible. Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Education at the University of Texas Arlington, Mary Lynn Crow states that parents “should agree on the same homework procedures down to the details. For example, when the child gets home from school, will she have a snack, then playtime and then do homework or will she do her homework first?” These are the types of questions that will be important to explore as you determine your new schedule and routine post-divorce. Ideally, these routines would be the same at each household so that your child/ren know what to expect.
• Extracurricular Activities, After-School Activities and School Events
The start of the school year often means a busier schedule and more time spent on coordinating events and other activities. Your child/ren may be involved in sports or clubs or there may be school events such as open houses that need to be attended. To make the transition smoother, it’s best to come up with an agreement with your child/ren’s other parent as soon as you can about who is responsible for signing your child/ren up for activities, who will transport them, how many activities your child/ren will be involved in, and how academic performance will impact your child/ren’s ability to stay involved in extracurriculars. Establishing clear expectations about activities and events before the school year starts will help your child/ren adjust and will make the stress of the transition after divorce smoother for you, your child/ren, and your child/ren’s other parent.
The Importance of Communication
In times of change and uncertainty, healthy communication is your best tool. When it comes to your child/ren and going back to school in the aftermath of divorce, honest, transparent, and open conversations can help to avoid surprises, future issues, and unnecessary tension. If it’s possible, include your child/ren in conversations about school and your new family dynamics in age-appropriate ways. It’s important to keep your child/ren updated about changes and give them a space to voice their concerns and have their questions answered.
• Develop Effective Ways to Communicate with Your Child/ren’s Other Parent
Communicating about your child/ren’s progress in school is incredibly important. Staying in touch consistently, particularly with the non-custodial parent, can help you to avoid arguments when or if issues arise. There are many apps and tools, with varying price points, that you can use to help make communicating with your child/ren’s other parent easier. Communication is particularly important when the non-custodial parent lives far away. It’s best to find a method that everyone can agree on for updating your child/ren’s other parent about education and school-related decisions. Some apps that can be useful for communication and scheduling include:
o Google Calendar
It is best for you and you child/ren’s other parent to choose only one method of communicating about your child/ren. Whether that be email, texting, or an app, choosing one method can help to establish boundaries, stay organized, and decrease feelings of overwhelm.
• Communicate with Your Child/ren’s School, Teachers, Coaches, and Other Trusted Adults
Communication with your child/ren’s school is incredibly important after a divorce. It is best to speak with the school, teachers, coaches, and other trusted adults your child/ren works with at their school about your new family dynamics. Knowing this information can help the adults in you child/ren’s life notice changes in behavior, academic performance, or in other areas of their lives that the divorce may be impacting. It’s important to keep open communication with the school and to find out the best ways to contact your child/ren’s teachers and other adults at the school. If there is a new custody agreement in place, you may need to provide that to the school or your district’s registration office. You should contact your school district for more information.
If it is safe to do so, it’s important to ensure that both the custodial and non-custodial parent can communicate with the school. This can include providing the school with contact information for you and your child/ren’s other parent and ensuring that both of you are able to utilize the methods that your child/ren’s school uses for communication. This can include, mailing lists, email lists, or apps like Remind. You will also want to be sure that you and your child/ren’s other parent are listed as people who can drop-off and/or pick-up your child/ren from school and after-school activities and events and that you are both listed as emergency contacts.
Parent-teacher conferences are a great way to get updates on your child/ren and to meet your child/ren’s teacher/s. They are also something you will want to plan ahead for post-divorce. If it’s possible and safe, try to attend parent-teacher conferences together. If that isn’t possible, the non-custodial parent can contact their child/ren’s teacher to inquire if a separate conference would be possible. If the teacher/s are unable to accommodate two separate conferences, the custodial parent should update the non-custodial parent about what was discussed in terms of progress, behavioral changes, and any other important information that was shared during the conference. During a parent-teacher conference, or at the start of the new school year, it may be helpful to ask your child/ren’s teachers how they incorporate different family arrangements into their lessons or activities. For example, if elementary-aged students are making a holiday gift for their household, is it possible to make two? Having this discussion as soon as you can may help your child/ren feel less alienated in the classroom.
Safety, Collaboration & Communication
When considering your child/ren’s school routines and schedules post-divorce, the most important aspects to consider are safety, collaboration, and communication. If it is unsafe to collaborate and communicate with your child/ren’s other parent, the process will look different for you and that’s okay. When considering how to talk to your child/ren about the changes that come post-divorce, it can be helpful to connect with trusted friends and family to help. You may also want to consider counseling for yourself and your child/ren to work through the transition and get tips and strategies for how to navigate the new school year.
If it is safe to work with your child/ren’s other parent, collaboration and honest, transparent communication are key. Not only will this help for a smoother transition into the school year, but it is also a way to model healthy relationships and communication for your child/ren. As mentioned previously, it is integral to include your child/ren in conversations about school, routines, and schedules in age appropriate ways, so that they can feel like they have a voice and so they understand what is expected of them. With collaboration, communication, and consistency, you, your child/ren, and your child/ren’s other parent will be on the road to a smooth transition into a successful school year.
Donnellan Law, PLLC, is a full service matrimonial and family law firm located in Ballston Spa, New York. -The attorneys at Donnellan Law, PLLC are well equipped to answer all of your matrimonial and family law related questions. For an initial confidential consultation, please contact us at 518-884-0200 or visit www.dlawfirmny.com for more information.
Please note: This blog is not sponsored by any of the apps or online resources mentioned in this article. Donnellan Law, PLLC does not recommend any app or resource over another.
5 Back to School Tips for Newly Divorced Parents. (August). Haas & Associates, P.A. Attorneys at Law. Retrieved August 19, 2021, from https://carolinafamilylaw.com/5-back-school-tips-newly-divorced-parents/
Child Custody & 15 Back-to-School Tips for Divorced Parents. (2019, August 5). Pearson Butler Attorneys at Law. Retrieved August 19, 2021, from https://www.pearsonbutler.com/blog/2019/august/child-custody-15-back-to-school-tips-for-divorce/
Kids, divorce, and school success. (2009, August 25). Great! Schools. Retrieved August 19, 2021, from https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/kids-divorce-and-school-success/
Locus, H.L. (2018, August 26). How to Plan Ahead for A Successful School Year After Divorce. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/heatherlocus/2018/08/26/how-to-plan-ahead-for-a-successful-school-year-after-divorce/?sh=cb3c25ec4256