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Protecting children and their grades from impact of divorce

Dr Karla Hylton

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Divorce, which manifests in the physical separation of parents, represents a major crisis for all children, regardless of their age. Delaying it until the kids are 'old enough' is a common excuse adults repeat, but research has shown that adolescents and young adults do not suffer any less than younger children do.

Divorce is life-shattering for all parties because it represents the death of an entity and the dissolution of a home. Grief is therefore to be expected. Generally, the crisis that develops is a function of identity. Children growing up with both parents identify themselves as part of a united family. Two parents living together is all they have known. With separation and divorce, this reality is turned topsy-turvy.

Many children are unaware that there were marital problems and may be taken by surprise when the word divorce surfaces. Others may have lived with gross discomfort over the years and may have witnessed discord between mom and dad. This set may actually welcome divorce.

Either way, it is a monumental disruption in daily life and it can have profound effects on a child's social, emotional and academic well-being — especially if there is a custody battle and the children start choosing sides. This can also be particularly heartbreaking for the disfavoured parent, but the trauma can be cauterised.


Maintaining a healthy relationship with your child during divorce


1) Be careful what you tell your child. Despite your feelings towards your spouse, it is unacceptable to share too many details with young or even adult children.

2) Do not speak negatively about the other parent. Remember that both of you will remain parents of your children. Divorce does not change this and children need to see this. It is unfair to the children for one parent to sabotage their relationship with the other parent. Children do NOT need to hear that one parent is 'good' and the other is 'bad'.

3) Do not seek support from your children. Resist the temptation to divulge all your thoughts and feelings to your children as you go through this difficult period. Your children are not privy to all the nuances and dynamics of your marriage, nor should they be.

4) Reassure your children. Assure your children that both parents, even though they are living separately, will remain parents. As such, they are allowed to seek support and guidance from either parent. Children need to know that even if mom and dad do not love each other anymore, the love for their children is unwavering.


Academic performance

Numerous studies have shown that children had poorer achievement test scores in the immediate aftermath of a divorce. They often experience physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and abdominal pain, and are susceptible to depression, withdrawal, low self-esteem and/or behavioural changes. These changes are likely to contribute to diminished academic performance in the following ways:


1) Lowered goals and aspirations

2) Lower test grades

3) Decline in comprehension skills

4) Skipping school or classes

5) Less likely to pursue tertiary education

6) Substance abuse

7) Lack of concentration

8) Poor study habits


To guard against this, it is critical for parents to maintain a normal routine and to not involve the children in conflict. Parents also need to provide a united front when it comes to school work. Encourage your children and assist with homework where possible.

It is advisable to inform your child's teacher about an impending divorce. Some parents may be reluctant to do this because they may feel like failures or may be embarrassed. You do not need to divulge the details of the problems at home, but bringing the teacher into the loop will prepare him/her to identify potential issues with your child and position both of you to address them sooner, rather than later.

It may become necessary for your child to get help from a professional who will offer greater opportunities for him/her to express his/her feelings and to work through the issues.

Experts claim that if your children remain your main focus during a divorce, the impact on academic performance is diminished. They argue that even if there is a drop in grades, these will improve over time with consistent love and understanding.

Ultimately, the relationship that you reconstruct with your ex-spouse will determine how your children pull through this major life crisis.


Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools . She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, or