For children processing a recent parental divorce, their emotional landscape can vary on a daily basis, depending on their age and maturity level. They can sometimes feel forced to continue on with their normal lives, knowing that the two most important influences in their lives are no longer together. For a child, this can be a debilitating distraction.
With school starting soon, children are thrusted into the world of education. Children rely on their teachers to be their guiding influence during school hours and maintain a positive image throughout the school year. For a teacher, that may sound like a lot of pressure, but their education and training have prepared them for the task at hand.
Depending on the age and maturity level of the group, they have to face some of the most challenging experiences that a child may go through. From their voice cracking for the first time to their bodies in constant change, it can be difficult to navigate what a child may be going through.
For teachers, handling children of divorce also means that they not only have to handle the emotional complexity of children whose behavior can vary from day to day, but also the children’s competing parents, who are looking to prove their case in court.
According to the University of Missouri Extension, their partnership model of working with families in the middle of a divorce emphasizes families and schools working together toward the shared goal of ensuring all students’ success in school. Teachers are asked to apply this model to their interactions with divorcing parents, and this model includes appreciating family strengths, two-way communication, and mutual problem-solving.
This requires keeping the teachers informed about important events in a child’s home life, and the teachers keeping both parents informed on their school activities. This may require an understanding of the flexibility that a child has to learn or the role of family members or family friends in a child’s life. Teachers need to be aware that significant figures in a child’s life may not share the same last name as the child. A child clinging between various concepts of what a home is or should be is not thinking about whether or not an aunt or a family friend shares the same last name as them. Their comfort level in the midst of this displacement should be the priority, and teachers need to be aware of a child’s home environment.
It also requires teachers to be a mutual partner in problem-solving endeavors. As difficult as it may be to get two divorcing parents in the same room, teachers have to attempt to do what is in the best interests of the child, and keep both parents in the loop.
In addition to being aware of the conflicts involved in the divorce process, a teacher also needs to be mindful of the socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds of the child. They need to be able to be accommodating to the constantly changing schedules of both parents of divorce and children themselves. Children are creatures of habit and can often have clubs, practices, games, or other extra-curricular activities.
In addition to the child’s schedule, divorcing parents still are adjusting to not having one another in their day-to-day lives and could have fluctuating schedules, as a result. One parent could be reentering the work force, making their schedule significantly more complicated than it previously was.
Teachers need to be able to work with the divorcing parents and accommodate their schedules. As challenging as it may be for teachers, they need to think of themselves as teammates with the parents, helping each other out, in order to give the child the best opportunity to succeed.
Seeking a professional
From a psychological standpoint, many institutions recommend that teachers seek professional help for the child if a student appears to be encountering a great deal of psychological stress. According to the University of Delaware, the school counselor or psychologist needs to be notified immediately, and if the parents have shown interest and concern on the matter, teachers need to offer them assistance in seeking out a trained mental health professional.
Many children can feel a sense of loss, guilt, rejection, anger, and other devastating emotions during and after a parental divorce, and seeking counseling helps the child, while alleviating the teacher, who only has a limited capacity to assist in the matter.
Limits and understanding
While teachers may look to lend a helping hand by offering moments of assistance and compassion in the midst of a child going through a parental divorce, the child is not extended a hall pass on every issue that may arise. Teachers will set limits to the student, that prevents the parental divorce from being used as an excuse for misbehavior or irresponsibility.
Children may respond positively to those limits. According to clinical psychologist JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, children in the middle of a parental divorce may look to their school as a place that provides support and stability.
The support sought after is one of understanding. Teachers need the child to develop an accurate understanding of their parents’ divorce. They need to be aware that they are not the cause and they cannot solve the problems between the divorcing parents. Through these displays of attentiveness and compassion, teachers need to be equipped with the emotional tools needed to lend a hand in a challenging time in a child’s life.