Even the healthiest divorces can have adverse effects on your children.
For children, the dissolution of their intact family unit is nearly always traumatic, and those who experience the fallout of particularly bitter or high-conflict break-up often struggle academically after a divorce.
By paying attention to your child’s performance at school and helping them with their schoolwork as well as their self-esteem, you may be able to stop this problem in its tracks.
Understanding How Divorce Impacts a Child’s Academics
The first step to helping your child improve their schoolwork is understanding the many ways that divorce can impact academics. Here are just a few:
- If your child is emotionally affected by the divorce, they could be distracted at school or disinterested in subjects they used to love. They may also act out and develop behavioral problems.
- Children with divorced parents may be more likely to develop ADD or hyperactivity, which can result in lower grades.
- Older kids who are upset about their parents’ divorce may feel so distracted or burdened that they might skip school several days throughout the year.
- It’s not uncommon for children of divorce to develop new fears, such as being afraid of specific adults (even if they aren’t actually threatening).
- Physical complaints are common, such as headaches or stomach aches, which can impact how well a student pays attention in class.
Divorce is complex, even for two adults who have carefully thought out their decision. For a child who didn’t see the divorce coming and who doesn’t have enough life experience to understand this type of change, it can be even more confusing and upsetting. Academic struggles aren’t necessarily a sign of low potential; instead, they could point to emotional needs.
Here’s how to help kids who struggle academically after a divorce.
Head Outside to Spark Creativity
You may assume that the answer to academic issues is more time in front of books and practice tests, but this won’t inspire your child to learn or be creative. Instead, consider investing in ways to help them develop their creativity.
According to PBS, art education and developing creativity can help young children with everything from motor skills and language development to cultural awareness, which in turn might help turn a struggling student back around during a time of distress. Further, students who participate in these programs are more likely to participate in academic programs in traditional subjects like math and science. Colleges are also prioritizing creativity as an important skill to learn for any field.
One of the best ways to spark creativity is also one of the simplest and most fun: get outside. Creativity isn’t just about creating art; it’s used in practically every academic discipline (and job, for that matter). Thinking innovatively and coming up with solutions requires creativity. To help your child engage with school, go outside for a hike, a long walk, or a day at the beach.
Sign Up to Be a Volunteer
Whether your kids are young or are heading off to college, encouraging them to volunteer can do wonders for their daily life, social circle, and confidence — all of which can positively impact their academics. [Ed. To read what volunteers had to say about their experiences and how they benefited from volunteering, see “Volunteers Share Their Stories“.] When kids and teens engage with activities they enjoy and feel somewhat in control of their lives, they may have an easier time focusing on their other responsibilities, like schoolwork.
If you have a super busy schedule and can’t carve out time right now for volunteering commitments, make a point to go green at home. Teach your kids about recycling, give them goals to reach (like using five fewer trash bags per month by recycling more), and treat them to something special when they hit their target. Giving your kids something new to focus on and a way to spend part of their time at home may keep them from worrying about the divorce.
Prepare for Going Back to School
If you and your spouse divorced during the summer, you may have had plenty of bonding time with your child to help them through the emotional turmoil. However, going back to school can pose new challenges. Here are a few ways to make the change easier:
- Let the school know about your divorce. You don’t have to give personal details, but letting them know what’s going on at home will help them adjust to a new routine and keep an eye on your child for emotional reactions.
- Create a shared calendar that everyone has access to. If your child is able to keep a normal routine and continue to engage in their regular activities, they’ll have an easier time adjusting to the school year post-divorce. Both parents should know when events are happening and what’s expected of them, like who is handling pickups and who will be present at certain activities.
- Communicate so that kids only get one set of school supplies. If both parents buy the child a backpack, notebooks, folders, etc., it can become overwhelming — and may even cause the child to think they have to pick sides. Figure out what your child needs at each home, then make sure that what they’re carrying to school remains the same, regardless of which parent they’re staying with that day.
Divorce is complicated, and it can be difficult to know what is or is not impacting your children. For kids, small things can feel big. Something as simple as having two backpacks can be a difficult visual reminder that they have divorced parents now.
Divorce can have an array of negative effects on children and teens. Having the family dynamic change so drastically can traumatically impact a child of any age. Parents and teachers can help children of divorce by familiarizing themselves with the signs of trauma, teaching them how to cope with new situations, and helping them find ways to enjoy their new life.