Supporting your children through divorce: navigating the negative effects on education

01 April 2019 | Advice for Parents | Guest Author

For those aged 16-21, deciding on a possible career path whilst also dealing with the pressure of exams, coursework, apprenticeship learning or further study is difficult. This important time can become even more stressful if they are also navigating a tricky personal situation like a parental divorce. Back in 2014, research revealed that 65% of children dealing with a divorce felt that it had adversely affected their exam results.

Of course, sometimes tricky personal situations are unavoidable. If you are going through a divorce, there are things you can do to minimise the impact of your personal circumstances on your teenager’s education.

Firstly, if your child is about to go through a set of exams like GCSEs or A Levels, it may be worth considering whether you can hold off on taking steps to divorce until those exams are over.

If this is not possible then for your child’s sake it is important to try and maintain a constructive relationship with your co-parent. Your child is about to undertake potentially life-changing exams and they will be in need of support and advice.

Studying whilst dealing with the emotional fallout of divorcing parents can be particularly difficult, but there are a few other things you can do to help:

Try to keep your child’s schooling consistent

After a divorce some children find themselves having to move school, which is another upheaval. For those studying GCSEs and A Levels this can also mean interrupting their education at a crucial time, so if you can, try to avoid moving them.

If a new school is the only option, then talk to the schools and try to do this with as little disruption as possible. Try to also keep other aspects of your child’s life consistent, for example, regular contact with the wider extended family such as grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Inform your child’s education provider

For teenagers studying GCSEs or A Levels, it is a good idea to keep the school or college up-to-date with the situation. That way, teachers and support staff will be aware of your child’s circumstances and can keep an eye on them, both in terms of their general wellbeing and when it comes to their studies.

Most schools have a Separated Parents Policy which means they need to keep both parents up-to-date, but they are likely to also expect a level of cooperation and information sharing between both parents.

Work with your co-parent to set realistic study time expectations

All exams require hard work and revision, and for most teenagers this is not exactly enjoyable. If your child is splitting their time between different locations it might be even harder to keep an eye on what they are doing, but if you and your co-parent are on the same page and communicating clearly, then your child will benefit from a united front.

In terms of future plans, make sure you agree on any logistics

Your child may also want to discuss their future study options or career plans at this time. Make sure that you and your co-parent regularly discuss any practicalities and logistics so that you are consistent in your responses and do not contradict or undermine each other.

For example, if your child wants to go to university, make sure you have discussed how this might be paid for.

Work to keep the lines of communication open and uncritical

In practical terms, if the divorce is amicable these discussions might take the form of face-to-face meetings, handover discussions at the beginning or end of a contact visit or telephone conversations.

If none of these are realistic, then you might prefer written communication by email or text message. However you do this, try to keep all discussions constructive and do not criticise your ex-partner.

Listen to your child

This may sound obvious, but simply being available for your child to talk to whenever they are ready - about their future plans, study worries, concerns about the divorce and everything in between - is probably the most valuable thing you can do. Engage with what they are saying and try not to take any of their worries personally.

Seek out support

Of course, divorce can be difficult for everyone concerned and you are likely to need support yourself. When it comes to your own wellbeing, make sure you are also seeking out the support you need, whether this entails speaking to friends and family members, or single or couples therapy.

If you are able to share your own anxieties elsewhere and keep these away from your child, this will benefit you both.

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