Kids, divorce, and school success
It's best to keep the focus on the kids, and leave parents' egos aside to help kids achieve success in school. Here are some tips to help.
Dos and don'ts for divorced parents
- Do make the extra effort to stay involved. "It may be a challenge to take the first step to get involved at your child's school," says Hill, "but it's well worth it."
- Do focus on your child's needs. No matter how contentious your relationship with your former spouse has been, remember that you're the adult. "Ask yourself, 'What does the child need from both of us?'" Garon suggests.
- Do provide consistent discipline, security and structure. Don't overcorrect the situation by becoming too strict or too lenient. Your child will do better if there are common rules and expectations.
- Do spend time with your child and provide support. Garon observes that once parents have separated, they are often better able to focus attention on their child, and to learn more about the child's strengths and weaknesses. In this way, the parents are more apt to support their child, provide a loving environment, and foster success in school.
- Don't just present the bills. Collins advises keeping the other parent in the loop, especially when expenses are involved. Let the other parent know about school-related expenses and all after-school activities. "A dad might get resentful when he gets the bill for ballet without knowing about the actual activity," she says.
- Don't put kids in the middle. "Don't talk negatively about the other parent in front of your child," advises Garon. Don't refer to your ex-spouse as your ex in front of the children. Say "your dad" or "your mom." Don't use kids as messengers when you should be the one communicating with the other parent (i.e., Avoid saying things like "Tell your father to pick you up after basketball practice."
- Don't act as though you're the only parent. "It makes things hard when one parent sabotages the other. It's better if both parents can be on the same plane," says Alpert.
- Don't be hostile, even if you're angry at your former spouse. "Hostility limits any willingness to listen to each other's point of view or consider differing opinions about the children's needs," authors Lewis and Sammons write in Don't Divorce Your Children. "Hostility also lessens receptivity to children's requests for more time with one parent or for activities that limit parental time, including after-school activities, classes or just hanging out with peers."
By GreatSchools Staff
Going through a divorce can be a painful process for everyone involved. Children often feel caught in the middle, and the stress can affect their performance in school. But it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. Experts and parents who have been there say that with good communication, effective planning, heightened awareness of problems that might arise, and time to iron out the difficulties, families can emerge with positive, supportive relationships and kids can be successful in school, too.
Keep the focus on the child
Family counselors, authors, parents and even the kids who've been through it agree: The main thing is to focus on what's best for the child. They provide us with a wealth of tips for helping divorced families cope and helping their kids achieve academic success.
"When there's a divorce, it can feel like your whole world is crashing in," says Mary Lynn Crow, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of education at the University of Texas at Arlington. She sees a tendency for divorced parents to focus on survival first because of the intense turmoil and fears that a divorce can cause. "But maintaining support for the child," she adds, "gives parents something positive to focus on. Sometimes that can help to ease the strain of divorce as well as benefit the child."
"Just as there are good and bad marriages, so there are good and bad divorces," says Marian Wilde, a senior editor at GreatSchools and a divorced parent. "In a good divorce, parents can continue to co-parent and communicate with each other. Much of what divorced parents need to communicate about is logistical: Who has homework? When is it due? Who needs a permission slip signed? It can be tough the first year of divorce when parents are focused on creating arrangements and dealing with lawyers. But it's important to be aware of what's happening with your child." She adds that with good communication, family relations do get better over time. "Things tend to mellow out," she says.
Make a plan — for homework, after-school activities, and college costs
Effective planning is key to lessening conflict, making sure everyone is in agreement about expectations and helping your child focus on school. The more that can be clearly laid out the better — that includes communication with teachers, household policies on homework and TV, who will attend school functions, and even what kids should wear to school.
"For younger kids, they should agree on the same homework procedures down to the details. For example, when the child gets home from school, will she have snack, then playtime and then do homework or will she do her homework first? It's better if both parents can agree on the same routine," says Crow. She suggests parents come to an agreement about after-school activities, too — how many activities the kids will do, who will pay for what and how school performance and concerns will affect after-school activities. She adds, "It's key that parents sit down together, if they can, and draw up these procedures. If necessary, they should hire a mediator to help devise a plan they can agree on."
Risa Garon, author of Stop! In the Name of Love for Your Children: A Guide to Healthy Divorce and executive director of the National Family Resiliency Center in Rockville, Maryland, advises parents to agree on academic concerns for older kids, too, and plan accordingly. Do both parents agree that the child should go to college? Can they agree on a range of costs and what each parent is willing to pay for tuition? They should agree on what courses the child should take in high school to prepare for college. They should agree on what types of colleges the child will consider and who will take the child to visit colleges, and whoever accompanies the child should agree to report back to the other parent.
Have consistent rules and provide support
"It's important to have consistent rules, have expectations and provide support," says Crow. "There can be a tendency for divorced parents to be permissive, to think, 'Well, he's had so much stress, I'll just do his homework for him or I won't check to see if he is getting and doing his homework.' That is a mistake," says Crow. Garon adds that it's important for kids going through a divorce to have discipline. "Consistency in parental expectations and discipline provides security and structure," she says.
Think of the other parent as your business partner
"Parents need to communicate as co-parents. Think of being a co-parent like being a business partner. This will take emotion out of the equation," says Garon. She suggests that parents agree to communicate once a week and always away from the child. They should agree ahead of time about the topics of the conversation and keep their focus on what is going to help their child be successful in school. Keep the conversation short, respectful, and keep blaming and judging out of the dialogue.
"Most parenting agreements are about how much time the child will have with each parent, and where the child will be for holidays," she notes. "But it is more important to focus on what the needs of the child are, rather than time spent with each parent. Focusing in this way can help to take away anger as part of the conversation." For example, if a child has a science project due, discuss the logistics of how it is going to get done. If the child will be with one parent for three days, then that parent should inform the other parent where the child is on the project and make sure the child has everything he needs to complete his assignment when he is with the other parent.
"When you have a conversation about your child and school, it should be as two parents talking about their child rather than as two ex-spouses talking to one another," says one child, now in his 20s, about his parents' divorce. "And the focus should be proactive rather than reactive."
"Parents should act like adults in front of their children," says a young woman, now in college, about her parents' divorce. "I remember having hurt feelings when I would hear my parents fighting on the telephone. I would feel especially bad for my dad, and it would turn me against my mom and make me feel bitter."