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Family breakdown

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By Dr Hannah Mortimereducational psychologist.

Did you know that about one child in eight is likely to experience family divorce before the age of ten? Here’s some practical advice, as you are likely to be met with this type of situation sometime in your teaching career

Family breakdown

What you need to know

  • At least one in four families in the UK have one parent absent, and in 90% of these families, it is the father. Approximately a third of families are affected by breakdown or new family partners.
  • For some children, a family breakdown may be a fact of life. For others, feelings will still be raw and sensitive, and you will need to plan how best to support that child through the next few months.
  • Children adjust best to the change if they continue to feel loved and valued by both parents, even though they live apart. Children whose parents discuss with them what is going on tend to cope better. They need information to be delivered in a way that they can understand.

How you can help

  • Try to understand what family breakdown means from the child’s point of view. A family breakdown can take them utterly by surprise and can cause misery and bewilderment. Coming at a time when the parents will be absorbed in their own conflicts and emotions, this can leave the child feeling isolated, and even in some way responsible for the split.
  • Make sure that school is an important ‘constant’ at a time when home life might be confusing and unsettled. Keep to your familiar routines and make allowances if the child wants to work with very familiar or less demanding activities for a while.
  • Some children may be feeling very miserable or cross. Others may behave as if nothing is wrong, but may show a reaction later, or may show you through their behaviour that they are unsettled. Make allowances for difficult behaviour and stay calm and reassuring as you handle it firmly and consistently, but carefully too.

Further information

  • Concentrate on making the child feel secure and comforted during the school day.
  • If a child is very upset, arrange for a quiet time to carry out a personalised art or creative writing activity to enable them to work through some of the feelings.