Millions of school children have recently returned to school. Regardless of age, this new beginning brings with it excitement, anxiety and fresh goals for children. Some of these children have been told about their parents’ separation or are beginning to live what their parents have explained to them: two homes, one school, some days going to school from one parent’s home, the other days the second parent’s home.
Sometimes, there are tears when the first graders get on the wrong bus to return home. No matter how many times parents, teachers and bus drivers have tried to help the children, remember they still get confused and make mistakes. Children may worry about who their teachers will be, how much homework they will have and most importantly for older children, will they have classes with friends.
Parents experiencing a family transition, not only are juggling their own work, school and children’s scheduled activities, but also conflict that often occurs with a co-parent about decision -making regarding what activities children will participate in, how each parent will be active in their child’s school and how they will attend events such as sports events, concerts, plays. Sometimes, parents argue about whose home the children will stay at the night before the first day of school and which parent will be at the bus stop the first day.
Being a single parent who doesn’t communicate with the child’s other parent evokes significant stress because single parents have to handle many self and child responsibilities alone. Perhaps one of the greatest stressors is planning children’s after school activities while being a working parent.
When children are 2 years old, they want to do it all themselves; at the same time, they look for their parent and need their approval. While children grow up and don’t need their parent physically right by their side, they always need you emotionally by their side.
Based on my work with children, teens and parents, the following can be gifts for your children and for you and your co-parent.
1. Share information about schedules and activities. If you have not already done so, meet over the summer to decide and discuss fall activities, registration deadlines and what each parent is willing to commit to.
2. Agree that each parent will sign up separately for e-mails and other notices.
3. Develop a system, especially for younger children, that goes from home to home with separate folders that indicate what work needs to be done, special projects being worked on, testing coming up and work completed and graded.
4. Help children with school milestones, such as starting middle school, when preteens and teens want to act cool but may be very anxious about finding their way around a big new school.
5. Include your child’s other parent and be advocates for your child, when your child may have difficulties with peers, feel judged by a teacher or have trouble with one particular class.
6. If you are a single parent with little or no family support, be open to building your own support system of neighborhood parents, friends and business associates. There is nothing wrong with you for needing support; you deserve it.
7. Work out how you and co-parent will attend child’s activities. This is your child’s activity and children feel really good when both parents can attend a game, concert or practice and be civil to each other.
Whether you are the parent of a preschooler or a teen in high school, you are never finished being a parent. Whether you are a single, separated, divorced or remarried parent, you model belief in and hope for your child when your child knows, when possible, both parents “have him covered.” To you and your child, wishing you a wonderful, happy and healthy school year!
By Risa Garon, LCSW-C, BCD, CFLE, Executive Director