If you and your spouse have separated or divorced since your child was last in school, they may be experiencing more than the usual anxiety that every fall brings. Depending on their age, they may not know how to answer questions that other kids, and maybe even teachers and other adults, have about their family. They may even feel some embarrassment.
As a parent, you can’t prevent others from asking intrusive questions. However, you can help your child be prepared to deal with them.
Talk to them about setting boundaries
Children don’t have a good sense of what’s appropriate to ask and what isn’t. They may not pick up on cues that they’re making someone uncomfortable.
This is a good time to teach your child that they have the right to set emotional boundaries. It’s perfectly fine to tell their classmates or teachers that they don’t want to talk about something. Just because they let someone know that their parents are getting a divorce, that doesn’t mean they have to answer follow-up questions. They can leave it at that.
Prepare them for various reactions
Children aren’t always very good with empathy. They may repeat things they’ve heard their parents say – either about divorce in general or you and your ex specifically. They may share troubling stories of what happened when their own parents divorced.
Help your child understand that how someone reacts has nothing to do with your family. Encourage them to tell you what others have said so that you can discuss it and reassure them if they’re troubled.
Talk with key adults at your child’s school
Let your child’s teacher, coaches, counselor and other people at the school who interact with them regularly know about your separation or divorce. They don’t need details, but they should know how to contact both of you and to watch for troubling behavior in your child. This can also prevent faux pas and uncomfortable questions.
Think of this as an opportunity for your child to build some resiliency and — as we noted — set boundaries. This can serve them well as they get older and have to deal with other uncomfortable situations. The important thing is that they know they have their parents’ support even as you go through your divorce.