Through no particular fault, sometimes, marriages simply don’t work out. But when children are involved, it can be a very difficult transitioning process — no matter how amicable the separation. A child’s life can feel as if it’s being turned upside down. Not only does this have an impact on their home life, but also their relationships with their peers and their performance at school. But is there anything teachers and professionals can do to support their students?
School professionals play a vital role in helping children develop, act as role models and give them the confidence to lead their own lives. When children are dealing with issues beyond their power to change, teachers are in a position to support them with their home life to ensure they grow into the best person they can be.
Why Should Teachers Get Involved?
When a child’s parents are getting divorced, they are suddenly faced with an array of emotions they may have never had to deal with before. Confusion, sadness, anger and even guilt can arise. While parents will be there to support their child in expressing how they feel, a child may sometimes find it easier to communicate with someone they’re comfortable with, but are external to the situation.
Duty of Care
All teachers owe a duty of care to their students. While this can mean simply taking responsibility for their students on a school trip, it can also mean providing a welcoming environment where a child feels able to express their concerns — especially if it could have an impact on their progression at school.
What Can Teachers Do to Support Their Students?
It’s important to remember that your role as a teacher may extend to supporting divorcing parents as well as their children. The most effective way to do
this is to create an atmosphere that encourages the involvement of everyone.
Be a Trusting Ear
Sometimes, all it takes for children to feel comfortable coming to their teacher when they may feel they can’t speak to their parents — especially if they are on negative terms — is to know you are willing to listen. This doesn’t mean you should openly ask them to talk to you if you’ve been informed by their parents of the separation, but you should appear open to them coming to you if they choose. This can be by making yourself more available outside of classes, such as by being in your classroom during breaks and before or after your class begins.
Communication with Parents
In an ideal world, when two parents choose to separate, the decision would be mutual and the divorce amicable. However, this isn’t always possible. While it’s important that teachers avoid being “stuck in the middle” of a dispute between two warring parents, the teacher can take action to minimise the impact of any hostility by arranging separate meetings for parents to discuss their child’s progress, especially if it could give rise to an argument between both parents.
Also understand that during a divorce, parents will likely be in contact with a number of parties, including their legal 500 family law firm, counsellors (either as an individual or a couple), and external mediators. Because of this, parents can get understandably swept up about the situation. As an educator, it’s your role to ensure that this isn’t putting any avoidable, additional strain on their child (such as through badmouthing the child’s other parent).
Keep a Record on Children's Progress
It’s important to ensure that children in your care are getting as much support as possible, particularly when they are dealing with an upheaval at home. Regardless of whether a split is friendly or hostile, it’s wise for professionals to create a log of the child’s progress. This can include communications with either parent or how the divorce is affecting a child’s behaviour, attention and relationships with their peers.
No parent will argue that during a divorce, their child must come first. Anything that you can do as a teacher to assist the process and help parents be more aware of the impact of the situation on the child (without overstepping your professional boundaries, or those set by parents) will ensure you’re playing your part in supporting your students.
Ultimately, schools are in the prime position to support children experiencing family transitions by creating an atmosphere that welcomes families and takes a partnership approach to communication. Education plays a vital role in helping children develop. It is only through clear communication with all involved that as teachers, you are to understand the issues the children in your care may have while going through a divorce.
Author bio: Clayton Miller is a founding member partner of KMJ Solicitors — a highly sought after London divorce solicitors. Legal 500 family law describe Clayton as being especially able to “assimilate and master the details of complex financial cases and keep on top of them”. He has over fifteen years of experience as a family law specialist, including divorce and separation as well as offshore trusts, prenuptial agreements and cohabitation law.