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Although the ending of a marriage is between two adults, its impact doesn’t end there. KSMU’s Chasity Mayes reports on how children are affected and the way school teachers play a significant role in providing normalcy during hard times.
REPORTER: I’m standing outside Greenwood Laboratory School in central Springfield where I’m about to walk inside and talk to a teacher about how children react to divorce and the ways educators play a role in keeping spirits high when life at home isn’t what it used to be.
“Teachers play a big role in that, that we can provide stability.”
That’s Jill Martin, a Kindergarten teacher at Greenwood. She’s just one of many teachers in the area who feel that school provides an escape for kids who feel stressed at home.
“They know what to expect when they get to school and if we know ahead of time and we can be partners with the parents we can help the children get through anything,” says Martin.
Martin also says that it’s invaluable to children for both parents to be involved in school functions like parent teacher conferences because it can show kids that you care. She also said if she knows a child whose parents are going through a divorce she gives that child more attention because often, behavioral problems associated with divorce stem from a child feeling unloved and not cared about.
The University of Missouri Extension program has released a set of recommendations on how teachers can handle this situation. It says that approximately one of every two divorces in Missouri involves children and that those children are at a greater risk for problems like aggression, depression, lower self-esteem, and poorer school performance.
Leigh Woodworth is a behavioral health consultant at Jordan Valley Community Health Center. She says teachers are very important in the lives of children who come from divorced homes.
“Teachers are critical. Kids spend most of their days with their primary teacher. And so I think teachers being aware of the situation, teachers being sensitive but then not to the point to where it’s kind of like the elephant in the room, you know. The more you talk about something the more you normalize it then the less anxious the kids will be,” Woodworth says.
Woodworth also suggests that both parents work hard to stay as involved as possible during this phase in a child’s life. She says communication is a must. Keeping communication lines open between the child, parents, and teachers allow the child to feel informed about the situation.
Often it is a lack of understanding that causes children to feel anxious. Keeping the conversation appropriate for the child is also important. Woodworth says discussing things like infidelity with a child isn’t considered an appropriate conversation with young children. She says keeping things as normal as possible while continuing to stay positive is key.
The article says that most children adjust to divorce successfully. However, it’s typical for children to experience distress for one to two years following a divorce.
The teacher’s guide released by the MU extension office also gives practical tips for teachers. Some of those are:
1. Don’t use terms like “broken home” or “real parent.”2. Don’t assume that all members of a family have the same last name. 3. Invite non-residential parents to school activities, programs, and field trips.4. Adapt Mother’s Day or Father’s cards or gifts so that all children feel included.
For a link to the article you can visit our website at ksmu.org.
For KSMU News, I’m Chasity Mayes.