Communication With the School During Your Divorce in South Jersey
School personnel can provide a wonderful back-up safety net for your child when you are going through a divorce in South Jersey. Sometimes, a child will seek out a favorite teacher, the nurse or guidance counselor because they believe these trusted adults won’t take sides and can provide the comfort the child seeks.
It’s understandable if you are reticent to “air dirty laundry” in school, however, it’s also important to weigh the pros and cons of making sure those who interact with your children have the information needed to help when approached. In fact, some experts suggest that briefing the school leaders and teachers about the situation early on in the process may be in your child’s best interests.
Will My Information be Kept Confidential?
Parents often worry about sharing their private affairs with school personnel. Those who work in schools routinely handle highly confidential information. You don’t realize that it happens because they don’t talk about it! So, except for rare circumstances, any information you share will be kept completely confidential and shared with individuals in the school setting only on a “need to know” basis.
The only exception is when you share that the child is in a physically or emotionally abusive situation. Legally and ethically, they must report that type of information to child protective agencies.
At What Point Should I Contact the School about My Divorce?
The sooner you let the school personnel know about the child’s level of stress, the more help they can provide. Often times, teachers know “something” is wrong before the child speaks up. Therefore, when teachers know what’s going on, they can naturally be more sympathetic to your child’s behavior – including depression, anger, lashing out, arguing with other children, failure to do homework and general lack of interest in school work. If they don’t know there is a problem at home, the child will be held accountable for behavior they may not be able to con
Additionally, many schools have support groups that bring children going through similar situations together during the school day or even after school. These groups provide a safe place for children to share their feelings and be assured that they are not alone or at fault. Alerting the school to what’s going on at home can allow personnel to encourage your child to participate in these groups and ask for help when needed. When a teacher is aware that the home life is difficult, he or she will often find ways to help the children make up missed homework or get extra help.
How Much Information Do I Have to Share with the School?
There is probably no right or wrong answer to this question because, after all, people are people. You may be dealing with a teacher who has gone through the process themselves and can offer a sympathetic ear. Other times, you may not feel personally comfortable with the school personnel and prefer to exchange minimal information.
Consider the fact that the sharing of your personal information with the school is because everyone involved has your child’s best interest in mind. Regardless of the extent of communication, consider keeping the school updated about major upcoming events such as a day one parent is moving out of the home.
Managing Contact with the School Going Forward
When there is shared custody, ideally both parents will remain actively involved in the child’s education. When it works well and both parents are committed to putting the child’s needs first, the child usually does very well.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. When there is discord between parents, the child’s emotional and academic progress may very well suffer. Keep in mind that school personnel should be on the child’s side — not part of the argument. Don’t put the school in the middle by issuing conflicting requests or asking them to go beyond what is reasonable to keep both parents informed and involved. That being said, it is completely reasonable to request that duplicate report cards and copies of important school communications be sent out so that both parents can be informed.
Put the Child’s Needs First!
Periodically, schools will convene parent/teacher conferences to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of the child’s progress in school. Some teachers will accommodate families that request two conferences so the parents don’t need to sit together with the teacher. However, as a parent who wants to act in their child’s best interests, you may want to reconsider that request.
Hearing the same information, at the same time, allows you both to see the problems more clearly and more similarly than you would if you have separate conferences. It can be used as a neutral opportunity for communication about what you need to do to address any problems that the child is having. For example, if homework isn’t being completed when the child is at one parent’s house, you can make a plan to address it.
Set up a System for Maintaining Contact
Depending on your child’s needs, you may want to touch base with your child’s teacher or counselor on a regular basis. Systems like a quick weekly email or a communication log in the child’s notebook can help keep communication flowing with the minimum of effort on the teacher’s part. Keep in mind that the teacher is probably providing special communication for at least a few other children in the class, so be mindful of his or her time.
Don’t Forget to Include Your Child in the Communication
Talk to your child about how school is going. Listen, really listen, to your child and make sure that the teacher knows what your child is saying to you about school. The teacher will want to know. Don’t be surprised if the teacher tells you know that there is something that the child has revealed in school that he or she hasn’t said to you. School can be a safe haven for children during times of stress. They may share information there that they haven’t shared with you because they know you are having a difficult time. Praise them for letting someone know how they are feeling. It will keep the communication flowing.
Most Children Survive Divorce!
Keep in mind that no matter how difficult things are during your divorce, your children will survive and, hopefully, go on to be competent, caring citizens. Working with the school can help your family move through these difficult times a little easier.
It may help if you take some time to speak with an experienced South Jersey family lawyer who can advise you when attempts at working things through with your child’s other parent go astray. Call Posternock Apell, PC today at (866) 879-8855 or 856-642-6445 or fill out the contact form to schedule your consultation.