Tuesdays in the Teacher's Lounge:

How Teachers can Communicate with Divorced Families

By DK Simoneau

Every teacher has one.They probably have more than one.They all have students who are part of a divorced family.That used to mean that on the weekends the kids would go off with the dad, and the affects were not so noticeable in the classroom.In today’s world often a divorced family means children that are living two very different lives every week or even as often as every day.How is a teacher to cope?Here are ten strategies to decrease the stress and increase communication between parents and students who are coping with divorce.

  1. Accept split family living as part of our society.Just like teachers of the past had to adjust to competing with the television and working moms, you will have to make some adjustments to this new way of life.

  1. Realize that the children didn’t choose to be in these situations.It is something that was out of their control.Often they have had no say in this way of life and they are just victims of circumstance.Based on this realization, try to be understanding and empathetic when a child has forgotten his library book for the 3rd time this week.He or she is already living a chaotic life of tension and stress with two sets of rules, routines, and homes.He doesn’t need more stress from a frustrated teacher.

  1. Invite the parents to a joint conference to discuss the effects on the child.Often parents are so caught up in their own turmoil they don’t even see the effects, and they will welcome the input.If both parents won’t come jointly, suggest they work out who should come in for the discussion and to call you when they are ready.Offer to send written documentation to both parents to reflect the outcome of the meeting.No matter what the situation have only one meeting, or you will find yourself in the middle.You can explain that you have x number of students and that if you had to have 2 meetings for every family, you would never get to meet with everyone.

  1. Don’t suggest another schedule or that the parents are doing something wrong.Instead place yourself as an advocate for the child and explain that you are trying to help make the situation work.Ask what you can do to help them.If it’s reasonable try to accommodate.

  1. Work with the child to help him with some routines that might help in remembering school assignments.Perhaps work with them to use their backpack as their traveling home.“If it’s related to school and you’re not using it, where does it go?”“In the backpack!”

  1. Suggest to the family to get a spiral notebook for communication.Some schools now use daily planners.In either case, it can be the communication tool that has communication from you the teacher to either parent, so that communication doesn’t get lost and both parents have opportunity to view it.

  1. Learn what the schedules are for your students.If you find that homework just isn’t getting done at Mom’s but is always done at Dad’s see if you can accommodate your due dates to ensure the child has some chance to work on it at Dad’s.

  1. Create an “I did not fulfill my mission” slip.Have the child write down what the incomplete mission was,(forgotten book, homework, to study spelling words, gym shoes, permission slip, etc.), along with an explanation as to why it wasn’t complete.Often in split families, it has something to do with being at the wrong house.Then require a parent signature so that the parent also becomes aware of the unfulfilled missions.Hopefully one or both parents will catch on to what is happening and help the child practice responsibility.

  1. Create an assignment that might help get some of their feelings down on paper.Maybe have them do a journal entry, “I don’t like it when………..” or “I like my mom’s/dad’s house when………”Or read a book that might have similar circumstances (like We’re Having A Tuesday) and have the kids write down things they miss about their mom or dad when they are not with them and what they would stuff into their own backpacks if they could.This works well to have children of traditional families imagine what it would be like and what they would miss, or what they miss when they go to grandma’s for the weekend etc.

  1. Don’t be afraid to refer the child to the school counselor.There are often deep feelings that can be resolved with the right kind of tools.Sometimes having a non-biased party can make all the difference in the world.

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