Dr. Amy Stark
Child Psychologist, Author & Speaker
Teaching Families How to Live Divorced
and Self-Esteem for Girls and Boys
Food For Thought
Getting Ready for School
It's official: school is starting. I can tell things are gearing up because of the commercials on television for school clothes and supplies. As a therapist who works with families in shared custodial situations, I find myself running into the same problems over and over with families as they learn how to be divorced, share custody and interface with the school system. Therefore, I thought I would take a few moments here to address the most frequently seen problems, as well as possible solutions:
1. School needs to be neutral. It should be your child's safe place to be–the one place where the divorce does not go. School is not your opportunity to make your case with the classroom teacher about how awful your ex is. School is also not the place to go on your non-custodial time to attempt to interact with your child. Do not go there to have lunch with your child because that time is very valuable to your child in terms of making friends and interacting with them. Your kid deserves time with his or her friends during lunch!
2. The packet. Every year during registration, your school passes out packets. Inside, among other things is an emergency card. The packet must be shared with the other parent. If you are the first parent who comes upon the packet, make a courtesy copy for the other parent. This way, they can also sit down with your child and go over the school rules. When you happen upon the emergency card, if the school will not provide for two cards, make sure that the other parent's information is on there as well. Do not cross off their emergency information. It is childish and ultimately does not benefit your child. Remember that, in an emergency, the most important thing is to get your child the help he or she needs.
3. School notices. Establish a way in which both parents can have access to school notices. Either write the information down for yourself and give the other parent the notice, or give the teacher a self-addressed, stamped envelopes so the teacher can send notices out as needed. Just think: if your child misses an activity or field trip because you kept notices for yourself, just what has been accomplished?
4. Back to school night. I think attending back to school night is very important. It's the first opportunity to meet the teacher and better understand the goals and rules of your child's particular classroom. I recognize that, since your child will be at home, this is also an opportunity to be stuck with your ex in a classroom–and that might not always be pleasant! You kind of have to put your feelings aside and go there anyway. Here are some golden rules:
- Do not bring your new significant other. It's for moms and dads only. Date on another night.
- Do not arrive early to grab all of your child's work inhibiting the other parent from seeing it. Your child deserves the praise and acknowledgement from both of you.
- Do not make a scene. The teacher does not need to become your divorce mediator.
- Do not use this as a forum to bring up divorce or child support issues. Resist the urge. Remember: this is about your child, not about you.
5. School pictures. Your child's pictures should be shared. If you are the one who gets the order packet, select your photos and send the packet on. The pictures are a source of pride for your child and they should be shared at both homes. If you are the one with your child when the pictures arrive, do not hold them hostage from the other parent because they made you mad or because they have not given you something that you want. Besides the fact that you will be an incredibly bad role model for your child if you do this, it will really hurt your child the most.
6. School supplies. Each parent should participate in the buying of the supplies. Don't make this hard! Kids need new clothes and they need school supplies. Decide who will do what and work together to get it done. Do not withhold additional last minute requests from the teacher because you feel put upon. When your child can not buy the extra requested notebook because you insist the other parent provide the 20 dollars first, he or she will feel bad and won't be properly equipped. Why stress out your kid?
7. Help your child hang onto their proper materials between households. Homework is a mutually shared responsibility. Both parents must participate. If your child has homework on your custodial time you should relish the opportunity to help complete it with your child. Check their binder reminder or school agenda with them. Show them you support their learning.
It is important for parents to keep one goal in mind: when your child wins, everyone wins. Create a winning situation by putting aside your animosity with the other parent to help your child be able to focus on their learning instead of your divorce.
Dr. Stark's Web site is not intended to take the place of a court-ordered advice or the advice of another professional. Although you may use the input found here to your best advantage, we recommend that you do so in conjunction with the work that you are doing with your individual therapist. Remember: this Web site is not therapy; it's knowledge and support.
Psychologist License PSY7828, California213 E City Place Drive
Santa Ana, CA 92705