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Helping Your Children (and Yourself) with Going Back to School

Helping children transition to the routines of school can be challenging for any parent. When parents are divorced or living apart, another level of complexity is added to an often-difficult process. Change is hard for most people, but it can be particularly difficult for children whose families don't live together under one roof.

When a relaxed summer schedule - vacation trips, swimming, staying up late or just doing nothing - changes into a routine that requires consistent bed times and doing the same thing every day, things can get stressful for both parents and children. However, with some planning, parents can minimize the consequences of the upheaval that can result from abrupt changes in schedule.

  • If your children stay up later in the summer than they do during the school year, start transitioning before school starts. You don't want the first day of school to come hard on the heels of an adjusted bed time. Make the change gradually - even five minutes earlier each night will eventually add up to significant change.
  • Let your children know what is coming. Talk about the new teacher or new classroom, develop a count-down calendar, and walk through any changes in how the child gets to school. If the bus pickup location is different, go with your child to check it out. If the school bus route is different, drive it with your child.
  • Communicate not just with your child, but with your ex. Discuss the details, even details that you think might be insignificant. Make a plan with your ex that covers as many contingencies as possible. If something goes wrong, it's important that both of you know exactly how things are supposed to work. If you are in disagreement about something, figure out a process for coming to agreement. This is not about you. Rather, it's about your child. Having both parents agree is comforting,
  • Have a positive attitude, at least in front of the children. Don't complain about your ex's work schedule that affects pickup times, a new teacher's inflexibility or a how far away the school is. Be excited about another school year.
  • Work with your child's teachers so they know about the home situation. Talk with them about services that might be available for your child, such as programs for children whose parents are going through divorce. If your ex isn't involved in the child's life or lives far away, let the teacher know.
  • If you are a weekend parent under your parenting plan, stay involved. If you can, help them with homework by phone or email and attend school events as much as possible. It is important for both parents to participate in the child's life. If you are the weekday parent, be sure your ex knows what is going on.
  • Make sure that both parents receive school notices. That way there are no surprises for either and parents are able to present a united front when it comes to school information, grades, events and changes.
  • If you and the other parent have a less-than-ideal relationship, consider scheduling individual parent conferences. Individual conferences are common, and schools often encourage them. There is no need to feel ashamed if you and your ex do not get along.
  • Don't overwhelm your child with after-school activities. That creates an additional level of stress both for parents who have to manage transportation and for children who become overscheduled.
  • Enlist your child's grandparents. They can attend school events in your place, and help with transportation.
  • Don't use your kid as a go-between or messenger about school matters. It's unfair to all involved.
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