Don’t Dismiss the Effect of Divorce on a Child

Unfortunately, divorce is a fact of life. Teachers often have multiple students from broken homes in their classrooms.  It is absolutely imperative that these students get the support they need.

Because it’s so common it may be easy to overlook a child whose parents just became separated or divorced.  The teacher may be of the opinion that the child in today’s age should adjust, and with time, move on from the initial shock and uncertainty.  They may rationalise that since others in the class have been through the same situation, there is a peer support system there for the child, and no further intervention is required.

Whilst I understand that rationale, I do not agree with it.

Firstly, I need to make 2 things clear:

1.  It is not a teachers place to pry, make judgements and involve themselves in the personal decisions of their students’ parents.

2.  The support that I am talking about is one of keeping the child in a positive frame of mind, not asking personal questions or initiating dialogue about sensitive issues.

It is my opinion that while divorce is a fact of life and that in most cases there is nobody to blame, it is quite distressful for the child.  The fact that it is common and has also effected other classmates provides next to no comfort for the child.  I believe that when a child’s parents separate the teacher must refer the matter to the school councillor (if the school has one), and spend more time with child building their confidence and displaying patience when the child plays up or has difficulty completing a task.  It is not sufficient to wait until the child shows signs of anxiety or rebellion.  The time to initiate support is straight away.

There are a number of school-related changes that the child may undergo that is worth considering.  Below are just a few:

  • The child will have 2 homes.  Meaning he/she may have to bring an overnight bag to school.  It is best to have a discreet place to put the bag.  The bag, I have found becomes a sort of symbol of the separation, and the child is often bashful about it.  A special spot for the bag often reduces some of the anxiety of bringing it.
  • The child often receives 2 newsletters, notices and reports.  For the first few months (if not indefinitely), discretely handing out these notices is the best policy.
  • It is best to have both parents at the Parent/Teacher meeting, if possible, at the same time.  This can be a tense session and involve the former partners engaging in point scoring and blaming. It is in these sessions however, that the teacher has an opportunity to address the importance of co-operation and inclusion when it comes to matters concerning the child.
  • Homework, books and uniforms are often left at mum’s or dad’s.
  • When the child fails to bring money for school photos, camps or excursions it is often because one parent refuses to pay half the cost and the other refuses to pay for the entire cost.  In this event, for the child’s sake, I have paid the cost out of my own pocket (without telling anyone) and have on occasion approached my boss in a bid to get the school to wave the cost.

I read an article which discussed the link with children of divorce to higher levels of suicidal thoughts. I suppose this is not surprising at all, but it does back up what I have been discussing.  Some interesting findings from the Canadian survey that inspired the article include:

Researchers from the University of Toronto said Wednesday that they had studied 6,647 adults, including almost 700 who had been under the age of 18 when their parents divorced and found men from divorced families were three times more likely to have seriously considered suicide than adult males whose parents had not divorced.

Women whose parents had divorced were twice as likely to have thought about taking their own lives, according to the research published in the journal Psychiatry Research.

I recently completed a children’s novel about a boy struggling with the separation of his parents.  As a guide to see if the manuscript was good enough to engage an audience, I used to read it to my students (without mentioning that I wrote it).  I was always worried that the passages describing the separation may be too confronting for children who have experienced separation and divorce in real life.  I was staggered to find that the opposite was true.  They were the ones that connected most strongly to the story.

It provided them with a voice.  A voice that is buried somewhere beneath the surface.  A voice that shouldn’t be dismissed, ignored or taken for granted.

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8 Responses to “Don’t Dismiss the Effect of Divorce on a Child”

  1. kadja2 Says:

    When my parents divorced, I was 9 years old. I did talk to my teachers about this, but there were other issues going on as well. It was the teachers that helped me to make some sense of it. I had lost my grandfather that year also. Very difficult. You’ve got some great suggestions. I am just glad that I had teachers I could talk to. It made all the difference.

  2. Margaret Reyes Dempsey Says:

    Great post! I’ve added you to my blogroll. You have some thought-provoking topics here. Keep up the good work.

  3. Anthony Purcell Says:

    I have been blessed to have parents that this March will celebrate 35 years of marriage together. I don’t know the full impact that divorce plays on a child. However, I know that it is tough. I have not been a teacher of a student while they go through this. I do hope that when I do, I can take the time that they need and help them out. Thanks once again for a great post. I really enjoy reading your blog. Keep up the great work!

  4. Kate Says:

    I am a child of divorce three times over, my brother, once, and I can tell you that it definitely effects a child in school. I was lucky enough to have a lot of support from my teachers in dealing with the divorces, and it made school a place of reprieve for me. My brother on the other hand, he did not have the kind of in school support that I did, and it greatly affected his school experience, in a very negative manner. So much so that school became hell for him, often worse than home. Thank you for writing about this. It is an important issue that needs more attention.

  5. cre8yourhealth Says:

    Excellent post, it is a good complement to my related post in http://mediation4family.wordpress.com/
    Would you mind if I share yours with my readers?

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