One in three children will live through their parents’ separation during their childhood.
For many of them, it can be a confusing and stressful time, affecting their mental health. Teachers, who spend much of each day with these children, are in a unique position to support them. The current position - with limited children in school and live (or recorded) lessons for children - may limit some interaction but teachers can still play an active role with children when parents are separating. With most schools now regularly calling parents for learning updates, this can be a good time to check how the home situation is.
When parents separate, it can feel to children as if everything around them is changing - from major factors such as where their parents live to apparently simple things like bedtime routines. With its structure and predictability, school can be a place of respite from the turbulence they may be experiencing in other parts of their life.
Teachers can offer a listening ear and a safe space for children to talk. A class teacher knows the children in their class and can tailor support to individual needs. This could include helping a child manage the situation with their friends, setting up a nurture group or referring them to the school counsellor.
Teachers observe the effects of separation on children. A child who is feeling concerned about the wellbeing of a parent can find it difficult to concentrate on their school work; a child who feels guilty about their parents’ separation can suffer from low-esteem and become a reluctant learner, scared of making mistakes; a child who feels angry and out of control can have behavioural issues.
Both during normal schooling and COVID times, teachers are well placed to talk to parents about changes they may have noticed in their children at school or during online lessons. And this, in turn, can help parents - who may themselves be struggling to cope - to think about their situation from their child’s perspective.
Teachers are also aware that, although it’s normal for children to feel sad when their parents separate, the situation doesn’t need to have long-term negative effects on children if it is handled well.
Looking back on my years as a teacher, I see how mediation can build a foundation for a collaborative co-parenting relationship that allows children to thrive at home and at school.