Starting a New School Year Following a Summer of Change
Kids’ backpacks don’t only contain their lunches and homework. If their lives aren’t stable, their cares and emotions are stuffed right in there with the books and pencils. Worries about their family and what’s going on while they are at school are a constant distraction. Anxieties about fitting in take priority over doing well. However much they may want to pay attention in class, their attention is elsewhere.
Randy, entering third grade, is typical. His parents have been bickering for years. He knew his mother was unhappy. He knew his father worked a lot and often came home late. To him, this was just business as usual, his “normal” family life. He was therefore totally unprepared when his mother quietly and sadly told him that his dad was moving out to be with his girlfriend.
Although she reassured him that both parents love him and expressed confidence that they would all adjust, he’s not so sure. He’s worried about his mom. He’s mad at his dad. He’s angry that he’s going to have to move to an apartment with his mom and only see his dad on weekends. He is trying to be very, very good so he won’t add to his mother’s distress.
It would not be surprising if he is distracted and unable to focus on lessons at school.
After much discussion with the family, Alice’s dad accepted a big promotion in his company, a promotion that requires a move from a small town to a much larger and more urban community. Alice, age 12, and her brother Jake, age 16, were in on the conversations and understand that the disruption in family life is for the benefit of everyone. They are proud of their dad and even somewhat excited about the move.
But while Dad is focused on the challenges of the job ahead, Mom and both kids also are grieving the loss of community, home and all that is familiar. As they sort belongings and pack boxes, the move seems less and less like a good idea — even though it is now inevitable. Jake is not at all happy to be leaving his high school where he has a solid group of friends and some standing as a track star and good student. He wants to be mature about it but he’s anxious.
Alice is nervous about entering middle school in a place where she knows no one. Their mother is concerned. What should she do to alert the new schools that her kids might need some extra support at first? How can she do that without making the kids feel that she doesn’t have confidence in them?
Randy, Alice, and Jake are all great kids. Nonetheless, they are now vulnerable. While they adjust to their new realities, it’s likely that they will flounder in some way. In the wake of parental divorce, a move, or any other significant change, kids are likely to feel less in control of themselves, to miss more school, to have trouble with social relationships, and to struggle with making good grades. That’s only to be expected during the transition.