How to Help Kids Have a Better Back-to-School Experience After a Recent Separation
For kids, heading back to school after a break can be exciting and scary all at the same time. But if big changes happened during that break—like their parents getting separated or divorced—going back this year might feel even harder.
Getting asked about how their break was might not be so easy or comfortable to talk about, especially if they're worried that they might get upset in front of their classmates. It can also be hard to focus on schoolwork if they're constantly thinking about the troubles at home.
As a parent, your support is crucial in helping your child get through this difficult time. You won't be able to take away all the pain they may be feeling, but you can do things to help them cope with your separation or divorce and the back-to-school transition. Here are five tips to consider.
Curb Any Embarrassment
Children and teens can be self-conscious and concerned about what others think of them. It's so common for kids to be embarrassed by their parents for one reason or another, but the shame they might feel because of their parents splitting up could be harder to cope with.
The embarrassment a child feels over their parents' separation might be rooted in feeling like they're the only one who has gone through this experience. Reassure your child that having separated or divorced parents is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it uncommon.
Your child probably has friends or classmates whose parents are also no longer together. Knowing that their experience is not abnormal in any way can help them navigate encounters with kids at school who may be less aware of this fact.
Talk About Setting Boundaries
Your child’s friends and classmates might be curious to know what’s going on with your family. This curiosity might not be ill-intentioned, but any questions, no matter how innocent, may still cause your child discomfort.
If your child is having a hard time talking about family’s situation, reassure them that they don’t have to talk about it with other kids if they don’t want to. This is part of learning how to set emotional boundaries with friends and peers.
Talk to your child about setting boundaries and how to deal with situations where they feel like someone is trying to cross a boundary. Knowing how to politely say that they don’t want to talk about something can be a powerful tool for your child in navigating interactions with other kids at school.
Inform Other Adults in Your Child’s Life
It’s not just parents who can offer support to kids during a separation or divorce. Teachers, coaches, parents of friends, and other adults close to your child can all help in being there for kids to help them through this difficult time.
It might be hard for you to have these conversations, but it might be even harder for your kids to have them with these people. You certainly don’t have to share all the details of what’s going on. Just knowing that your child is facing a certain situation at home can help these other adults navigate how they interact with your child.
Look for Extra Support at School
You can’t predict how your child will feel day by day about your separation. New emotions take time to process and can overwhelm children when they least expect it, even when at school.
Research the support options offered by your child’s school. Many school counsellors are well-experienced in supporting children going through their parents’ divorce. Some schools also offer student support groups for changing families, stress management, or grief.
Once you know what’s offered at their school, fill your child in about what’s available. Pushing them to meet with a counsellor or attend a group might be off-putting, so try to get make the information available to them in a way that won’t make them immediately uncomfortable. Let them know that there are resources at school if they want to check them out.
It’s important to get kids the right help if they are having a very difficult time that is impacting their health, safety, or other areas of life. In this situation, consult with a mental health professional on how to get the help they need.
Prepare Them for Handling Other Kids’ Reactions
If your child does decide to talk about divorce with their peers, the reactions they receive might not always be so sensitive or kind. Children who are still learning how to express empathy may have upsetting reactions stemming from a lack of knowledge or emotional awareness.
Build resilience in your child by preparing them for how to handle these tough interactions with other kids. This might be a talk track you practice with your child or a plan for removing yourself from an awkward conversation.
They still might have tough interactions with classmates. If they come to you after a rough day at school, listen to what your child has to say about it. Be there to counter any misinformation your child might have heard from another kid. Acknowledge how hard that conversation or experience with another kid might have been, and help your child plan for how they might handle this situation in the future.
When a family has gone through a divorce or separation, children are often grappling with overwhelming emotions, making the thought of going back to school and seeing other kids really tough to cope with. By keeping lines of communication open between you and your child, introducing them to support resources at school, and reaching out to other adults in their life, you can better set your child up for a better back-to-school experience.