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Loss due to Parental Separation or Divorce - Part 2: How to help

Some effective approaches taken by education staff to support children and young people affected by parental separation of divorce:

Relationships

  • Focus on developing a sense of belonging.
  • Be proactive in ensuring the child is included in friendship groups.
  • Encourage the child to make relationships with other adults in school as well as you so that they are more able to cope when they need to change class. Prepare them for transitions/holidays with more advance notice.

Provide consistency

  • Regularly affirm what they are good at.
  • Maintain high expectations of the child as they will pick up on any expectations that they will have problems.
  • Be consistent with setting/school rules and how you deal with behaviour that is inappropriate. Encourage them to make good decisions for themselves.

Curriculum

  • Provide opportunities for the child to make their own decisions throughout the day.
  • Use the health and wellbeing curriculum in your setting/school to engage the child in activities that promote resilience and coping.
  • Provide physical outlets and engage in extra-curricular activities if possible.

Adapt language

  • Adapt your language in activities and when communicating, to reflect the changing situation at home for the child/ren (there may be a different adult at home) e.g. refer to ‘the person who will help you with your homework.’

Provide additional support

  • Offer time at the beginning of the day with a member of the support team to check in and help them settle.
  • Provide space and time for the child/ren, ask if they are ok, let them talk and reassure them.
  • Help the child to develop an accurate understanding of what has happened so that they don’t think they are the cause of the break up and the problems between their parents.
  • Help the child/ren to process this loss and other losses (such as their home) through creative experiences, such as role play.
  • Use a scale of 0-10 with them to help them judge how they feel at different times and put things into perspective.

Develop:

  • an understanding of how the children feel about their parents/carers separating – watch out for any underlying changes

Recognise:

  • that the child’s learning may well be affected
  • that not all children will mourn the separation – it may be better now that their parents are not arguing/stressed – and respect their feelings around this

The loss and grief they are experiencing might trigger mental health issues and so you will need to involve other agencies if you observe that the child is:

  • displaying a lack of interest in daily activities and appears depressed
  • withdrawing
  • is displaying a fear of being on their own, isn’t sleeping, has a reduced appetite
  • is regressing significantly in their learning
  • continues to regress emotionally and socially

This is particularly important if:

  1. Social services are concerned about the way the parent the child is living with, is looking after them, or the parent has an ongoing psychiatric disorder
  2. The child has experienced previous losses

Some effective approaches taken by education staff with parents/carers:

  • Find out how parents are doing, what things are like at home/when they interact – is it tense/stressful?
  • Ask what they have noticed about their child/ren.
  • Help them to focus on their child’s best interests.
  • Make yourself available as equitably as possible for the parents, separately, or together.
  • Maintain good communication with both parents/carers about how the child is doing emotionally, socially and academically at the setting/school.
  • Ask them to bring an attachment toy for their young child so that they are helped to understand who is coming to get them.
  • Work with colleagues to access material support if the separation has adversely affected parents financially.

Resources:

https://www.mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk/risks-and-protective-factors/school-based-risk-factors/relationships-and-belonging/)

References:

Minded e-learning course on loss and grief www.minded.org.uk/

https://www.transformingsociety.co.uk/2020/09/29/children-of-separated-parents-the-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/

https://www.teachearlyyears.com/a-unique-child/view/coping-with-divorce

https://study.com/blog/how-to-support-a-student-whose-parents-are-divorcing.html

https://nyulangone.org/news/divorce-co-parenting-covid-19-challenges-opportunities

The Teacher's Role in Facilitating a Child's Adjustment to Divorce - Patsy Skeen and Patrick C. McKenry https://www.jstor.org/stable/42642810?seq=8#metadata_info_tab_contents

https://www.parents.com/parenting/divorce/coping/age-by-age-guide-to-what-children-understand-about-divorce/

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