Starting the School Year on the Right Track: 5 Tips for Divorced Parents

By: Deanna Conklin-Danao, Psy.D.
Last Update: November 21, 2017

Before starting the school year, co-parents need to create a structure that supports their children's needs and helps them succeed.

Schedules for divorced families get more complicated during the school year. While this is true of all families, divorced families have an added layer of complexity. For these families, here are some tips for managing that complexity to minimize stress and to help get your kids off to a great start.

1. Review the School Calendar

Parents should review the school calendar and create a plan around it before the school year starts. You and your co-parent should determine how you will handle day-to-day functions such as drop-offs and pick-ups, as well as special school functions such as assemblies, parent-teacher conferences, sports, etc. 

Outside of day-to-day activities, you should also identify the off-days that are outside of the normal schedule. Most parenting plans cover holidays and school breaks, but don’t cover those seemingly random days when kids are out of school for reasons such as teacher training or report card pick-up. Having a clear understanding of the school calendar will allow you to develop a child-care plan for those days.

Having a clear and consistent understanding of the school calendar provides a foundation for developing a parenting plan that supports both children and parents and reduce stress going forward.

2. Create a Homework Plan

Homework can be difficult to manage. Kids approach homework differently—some are highly diligent and don’t need to be managed, while others need to be closely managed to ensure that the work gets done. Some kids require little academic assistance, while others need a lot.

As with other parenting decisions, it’s important that divorced parents collaborate on a plan that meets the needs of the child and execute that plan consistently. A plan for a highly motivated and academically achieving fourth grader should be different than the plan for a procrastinating high school junior who struggles with school. If your kids do homework in different homes, work with your co-parent to create consistency—have the space and the resources needed to do homework, enforce the same rules around when and homework needs to be done, and provide the same rewards and consequences for performance.

Given that academics can fluctuate during the year, it’s important for both parents to keep in touch with their child’s performance. This means reviewing work and grades and checking in with teachers and your school’s parent portal (if they have one). It also means checking in with your co-parent. Helping your child understand that you care about their academics and showing that through collaborative co-parenting is an important way to build your relationship with your child post-divorce.

3. Figure out Consents and Paperwork

As divorce can lead to multiple people having responsibility for your children, make sure that each child’s paperwork is up to date and that the school (or schools) has each parent’s cell number. Also, make sure that your children’s teachers have each parent’s email address for the daily or weekly communications he or she sends out.

4. Evaluate the Extracurricular Activities

An increasingly important component of the school year is managing those activities that take place outside of school. Parents should continually evaluate the slate of activities your children are doing to see if they should be continued. Don’t exhaust yourself managing your child’s travel soccer team if they would rather be in art class. Once you know which activities will be pursued, work with your co-parent to understand the scheduling of those activities. Knowing who is taking the child to swim team three times a week or having the date for the band concert on your schedule ahead of time allows each parent to balance work and child-care schedules.

Another important consideration is the gear that goes along with activities. If your child will be going to violin lessons from each parent’s house, talk about how the violin will be transported between homes. Also, you should have a discussion about expectations for practicing in between lessons. This is an opportunity for consistency between homes. For example, if the child is expected to practice the violin for 20 minutes a day, make sure each parent is on board with monitoring that expectation.

5. Build in Some Check-In Times

Even the best laid plans can fall apart. Knowing that problems are inevitable, develop mechanisms for checking in with your co-parent. For small things, brief texts or emails works well. For example, a quick email saying “I heard the spelling test got changed because of the field trip. Can you make sure Sam practices his words with you?” keeps both parents in the loop.

However, if you are running into bigger problems such as dropping grades or activity refusal, then you need to schedule some face-to-face time. If your relationship is high conflict or if these conversations are daunting, you should consider enlisting the assistance of a therapist or divorce coach to help keep the conversations focused and productive.

Starting the School Year: Make a Plan First!

Managing schedules during the school year is complicated for all families, and while it can be especially complicated for divorced families, it can be managed effectively. To do this, parents need to work together to create schedules and plans for their kids and execute on those plans consistently. Your kids will look to you to help them navigate the school year, and the best thing that you can provide is a structure that supports their needs and helps them succeed. Co-parents need to remember to work together, communicate, and adjust as needed.   

Use any technology resources, such as shared calendars, that help manage the communication so that your child doesn’t feel stuck in the middle. Planning ahead and having some patience during the bumpy spots will go a long way in making the school year smooth for your kids (and you)!


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