It’s that time of year again, back to school!  For many families, the new school year is full of excitement and anticipation of new opportunities.  For others, it brings sadness and anxiety as relaxed summer schedules are replaced with earlier bedtimes, routine, homework and more structure.  For children of divorced and separated families, the stress and anxiety can be even greater, but it doesn’t have to be.  Here’s how you can help your children with a smooth transition into and throughout the school year.

Parents who still live together but have decided to separate can take the following actions to help reduce the stress and anxiety children may have.

  • Discuss ahead of time what you will tell your children and tell them together that one of their parents will be moving out.
  • Reassure your children that the divorce or separation is not their fault and that both parents love them very much.
  • Share with them what they need to know: Where will each parent be living?  When and how often will they see each parent?  Discuss plans for school (especially if a change in school will occur), extra-curricular activities, and how you plan to help them maintain friendships.
  • Don’t share with them what they should not know: Don’t blame the other parent for the divorce or separation.  Don’t talk badly about the other parent.  Don’t discuss court, financial issues or points of parent conflict.

 In addition to the points above, parents who are already divorced or separated can take the following steps to help their children through this period.

  • If both parents have placement on school nights, work together to develop a school night routine that you can both agree to. This may require compromise, but the more consistent both parents can be with homework, evening activities, bedtime, expectations, discipline, etc., the easier it will be on your children.
  • Encourage positive communication between your child and the non-placement parent. Don’t make your child feel guilty for wanting to talk to the other parent.  On the other hand, if you are the non-placement parent, don’t demand that your children speak to you on your terms.  Children should never be made to feel torn between two parents.  They should be made to know that they can love both parents without hurting the feelings of the other.
  • Don’t obsess about “who’s day it is.” Ideally, both parents should be able to attend your child’s school and extra-curricular activities regardless of who has placement and the child should know it’s alright to interact with both parents.

The tips above may seem idealistic in many cases, and I recognize that these recommendations require respectful and meaningful communication and cooperation between parents.  This may not be possible if one or both parents are high conflict, controlling, angry, etc., but to the extent you can follow these tips and remind your children, again and again, that the separation is not their fault and that both parents love them very much, your children will benefit tremendously.