School Daze: Heading Back to School After a Divorce

by Laura Favin

No matter how amicable, necessary or even desirable for a child’s well-being, a divorce rocks their world. Parents can help them navigate any unfamiliar terrain with a little planning.

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The first day of school can hold a mix of excitement and dread. Children will have new teachers, classrooms and schedules. Finding a place on the playground or in the cafeteria may be fraught with anxiety.

It’s even more difficult for a child to navigate back-to-school jitters after a summertime separation or divorce. But there are steps parents can take to make a child’s transition easier.

Recognize Emotions
Children whose parents are divorcing may feel scared, angry, insecure or depressed. They often try to hide negative feelings to avoid making the situation worse.

Younger children may feel embarrassed or afraid of crying if they talk about it. Older children may affect a nonchalance that belies the turmoil they feel, and act as if it’s no big deal.

Encourage children to talk about their feelings. Ask if they are nervous about seeing old friends, and if they’re afraid to tell them about Mom and Dad getting a divorce. Be sensitive to the physical and hormonal changes that may affect a teen’s volatility.

Rehearse Strategies
If the divorce resulted in a change of address, walk young children around the new neighborhood. Make a map together of the streets and include landmarks like the golden retriever’s house, the park and the mailbox painted red. Be sure to include a tour of their new school.

Help older children work out how to talk to their friends about the divorce. Robert Emery, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, suggests statements such as, “You know what really sucks? My parents are getting divorced,” and “Thanks for listening. I really need a friend right now.”

Reassure Anxieties
Let children know that one or both parents will continue to attend sports events, class plays and parent-teacher conferences.

Young adults may feel needed at home and consider putting off college and taking a job to contribute financially. Reassure them that they and the rest of the family will do just fine, and that what everyone needs most is for them to stay on the course they’d planned.

Recruit Assistance
Apprise the school’s administrators, guidance counselors, social workers and coaches of the family’s situation. Informed adults can more readily recognize any need for specific support.

Commit to co-parenting by keeping routines as consistent as possible. Share apps such as Our Family Wizard or TeamSnap to track class schedules, homework assignments and after-school activities. Make every effort to attend school conferences together. Ask teachers to alert both parents to changes in a child’s behavior that may not be apparent at home.

The best predictors of a child’s successful re-entry to school after divorce are parents that are prepared to guide, monitor and support them.

Laura Favin, LCSW, is a parenting-mediator for the Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation, headquartered in Doylestown, with offices in the five-county southeastern Pennsylvania area, New Jersey and Colorado. Favin earned her MSW through NYU and her MA in psychoanalysis through the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. For more information, call 800-310-9085, email, or visit and August 2016