Reduced educational performance typically becomes one of the сhildren’s first stress-responses to divorce, and single moms and dads start blaming themselves for not coping with their newly acquired roles. As a result, they desperately search for suggestions for parents to support student achievement, often shifting the focus away from the real source of the problem.
Indeed, statistics show that there is some relationship between parental divorce and the ability of the child to do well in school. However, it is much more complex.
Research by UCLA sociology professor Jennie Brand found that parental divorce affects a child’s learning only when combined with other inputs. And one of the most important factors is the initial socio-economic status of the family.
The study used data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics program, analyzing about five thousand families. Based on these demographic and socioeconomic factors, they divided all parents into three groups. The first was parents who are likely to divorce, the second was parents who are unlikely to divorce, and the third group was parents with average risks.
In families from the second group, the study found that children were 6% less likely to graduate from school and 15% less likely to complete their college education if the parents did separate.
In contrast, in the group where the father and mother “should have divorced with a high degree of probability,” their separation did not adversely affect the children’s school and college performance. Professor Jennie Brand believes that the study should encourage parents to rethink the concept of preserving marriage for the sake of children in high-conflict families.
As a parent, you shouldn’t let these or any other statistics feed your fears and apprehensions. Each family is unique, and making your child successful depends on you and your particular circumstances, not on statistics.
Although divorce is always a stressful and unpleasant event, it doesn’t have to be a tragedy affecting your child’s entire life. So do not despair! By keeping a positive attitude, you will see how to improve a child’s performance in school and help them deal with the overall emotional impact of divorce.
Here are five pieces of educational advice for parents going through a divorce or who have already divorced.
1. Play as a Team
Divorce is often a surprise for children, leading to prolonged stress caused by the changes in their routine. Therefore, children worry and want their mom and dad to be back together, like before. Some kids get sick, some misbehave, and some children’s academic performance deteriorates. These issues often attract both parents’ attention, so they begin to communicate, thinking about what to do.
But this is not about the child deliberately manipulating. It can happen unconsciously, especially in primary and secondary age children. They do not always understand the full scope of the situation, so they hope that the parents will reconcile.
If the parents’ decision to divorce is firm and final, their main common goal should be to build teamwork whenever possible. Make sure that the child understands the situation. Talk to the child together, explaining everything without any accusations against each other.
It is essential to outline how the child’s life and routine will change. Uncertainty and variability in the everyday schedule are bad for a kid’s psychological development, so it is not surprising if there is simply no “resource” left for learning.
Besides, even if there is only one primary caregiver and the child spends significantly less time with the second parent, priorities regarding education must be the same and consistent.
It would be best to talk to your spouse about how you would contribute to your child’s education, as each parent’s involvement in this process matters. Both mom and dad should get involved in their child’s life, be interested in the child’s academic performance and everything that happens at school and outside of school.
Where to begin?
- Act interested in what is happening in the child’s life throughout the school year, not just on the eve of tests and exams. Bad grades and low motivation for certain subjects often arise from a lack of understanding of some relatively fundamental but straightforward topics. The longer the problem is ignored, the more frustrated the student becomes.
- Do not scold or punish your child for their poor grades, do not compare them with other children, but do not ignore problems either.
- Keep calm, and approach the situation with concern, not anger.
- Get to the root of the problem, look for the causes of the bad grades.
- Talk to the teacher. The teacher can best help parents understand the school’s academic requirements, expectations in class, and whether more help is needed.
- Be ready to help your child at home. You often do not need to be a specialist to help your child understand a specific task. Sometimes it is enough to show attention and calmly discuss the topics or themes of the lesson together.
An essential condition for helping a child achieve academic success at any age is a trusting relationship between parents and a child, emotional support, and absence of conflicts over clashing parenting or discipline styles.
2. Significant Others in Children’s Lives
The upbringing potential in a one-parent family is somewhat limited as the control and supervision of children become more complex. Also, when one of the parents is absent from a child’s life, this deprives the child of various options for family relationships.
All these are difficulties that may occur but not necessarily will. You can help your child feel safe and comfortable and show them other (besides marital) models of the adult-adult relationship.
If possible, you can delegate partial responsibility for the child’s education and upbringing to other relatives of any gender. If there is no such opportunity, a child can supplement this part of socialization in other ways, for example, by spending time in the company of the parent’s friends and observing how the parent communicates respectfully with other adults, including those who take care of the child – teachers, nannies, kids club supervisors, etc.
Why is this so important? Children from a single-parent family, and especially children of overprotective moms or dads, are more likely to show lower school performance, neurotic disorders, and lack of independence.
Also, a negative attitude towards the second parent, low self-esteem, and inadequate exactingness towards the custodial parent may develop. A child seeks the support of a “significant adult,” and this role in their life can be filled even by the most popular peer, who seems more dominant and independent.
How can parents help students succeed? First, make sure there is a meaningful and positive unrelated adult who inspires the child. This may be the head of a child club, school counselor, coach, or someone with authority in what interests the child. It can even be the child’s favorite teacher if a child can communicate with them on any topic without judgment.
Having an authority figure outside the family does not in any way detract from your connection with your child. It gives them a feeling of additional support in the “external” world, in society.
3. Failure is an Option, but Fear is Not
Most parents want their children to study well because they believe that knowledge is the key to success in the future. This belief is true, but many single parents suffer from hyper-responsibility and anxiety, and such an approach to education may discourage a child from learning.
Some parents exaggerate the importance of grades, making children afraid to make mistakes rather than giving them the chance to overcome failures. As a result, a child feels ashamed for not knowing something and does not want to try to learn.
Young children often refuse to try something they have never tried before or have not yet learned to do correctly. They are just afraid to take risks. After all, their self-esteem is overestimated due to their age, and children are fearful of failure.
However, school-age children and teens need to be able to admit that ignorance is normal. The child should be ready to make mistakes, feel stupid, and as a result, receive an assessment and feedback on their work. And the parents should encourage them along the way.
How can parents support their child’s education and inspire new achievements? There are several ways:
- Tell your child that there is no shame in not knowing something. And the most successful people never stop learning, without fear of looking stupid.
- Always consider any mistakes as an attempt: “Well, it was worth a shot! Even if something didn’t work out, now you know more than before. So nothing is in vain!”
- Show that you understand your child’s fears and hesitations. Give an example from your own life or career about how you conquered your fear of trying something new.
- Always support and admire the child’s success, active motivation, and desire to gain new skills and learn more.
- And, finally, remember: “Only those who do nothing never make mistakes.”
4. Importance of Social Connectedness In Teenagers
When trying to help their child achieve academic success, many parents forget that forcing them to study is not the most efficient solution.
More often, the cause of the decline of academic performance is not the inability of the student to understand something but the lack of motivation or just rebellion. In this case, the parent’s demands, quarrels, and warnings are useless. Instead, to avoid academic pressure and understand your child’s problems, you need to see what is meaningful to them and what captivates and motivates them most.
Teenagers are focused on exploring the external world, and this world from which they are waiting for approval is outside the family, such as their peers with whom they want to be friends, the popular high schoolers, some teachers or coaches who inspire them, etc. Mom and dad are not the whole world. They are representatives of a safe and supportive family environment, and the teenager wants some guidance on how to adapt to this big world, survive in it, and ideally win.
Thus, your child probably would like to know how to become popular in school, or at least not an outcast, how to overcome shyness with girls or boys, how to show their talents, how to be no worse than others, or how to behave in a given situation so that it brings success.
All these things may seem silly for an adult person, but think back to your teenage years! After all, the best way to educate a child and become a more authoritative parent is to show respect to your teen son or daughter and maintain a friendship with them.
If you want to be friends with your child, help them adapt to their social environment. Of course, if this environment is destructive or dangerous, you can change your place of residence or school. However, if the social climate is ordinary (and most likely it is), learn more about it, ask your child, and be attentive to these conditions, laws, and customs.
The child should see that you understand and respect them and are ready to support them without challenging their values. Then, family involvement in the child’s education will be more productive. That is, it will be easier for your son or daughter to build up their confidence, fully develop their talents, and succeed at their favorite activity instead of wasting energy on resistance and rebellion.
5. Good Marks Are Not The Ultimate Recipe For Success
No doubt, academic achievement is significant. It boosts self-confidence and provides more opportunities for choosing a future profession. But keep in mind that academic success is only part of your child’s development.
In his book, Keys to Single Parenting, psychologist Carl E. Pickhardt emphasizes that the role of other areas of growth in raising a happy child should not be underestimated. Social, emotional, moral, spiritual, physical, creative aspects of personality are no less important for your child’s success. They are human beings, and not just performers, which is often forgotten by people who tend to think “inside” the box and be intolerant of any imperfection.
However, the world is changing faster than social stereotypes, and it may be useful to recall the words of Harry S. Truman: “The ‘C’ students run the world.” After all, it takes a lot more than good grades to become famous.
According to research co-authored by Nobel laureate James Heckman, one of the most critical success factors is personality. At the same time, the IQ itself accounts for only 1% to 2% of the difference in income.
Although there is a relationship between school achievement and career success, grades do not always reflect soft skills, crucial for career and personal happiness. Thus, one last vital education tip for parents is to focus on developing traits such as leadership, willingness to take risks, networking and decision-making skills, time management, etc.
If a child is passionate about something they’re really good at and shows the above traits, you have nothing to worry about, even if their marks in some classes leave a lot to be desired. Let personal development through positive self-motivation and not a rat race towards high grades become your parenting paradigm. And most likely, under this approach, high marks will become just a pleasant side effect.
To sum it all up, single parents are no less likely to raise happy and successful children than anybody else.
According to the statistics, almost a quarter of US children under 18 live with one parent. However, modern research results do not support the notion that increases in single parenthood have severe consequences for children’s school achievement.
After all, the only thing that matters is the power of your love and support. Whether you are divorced or married, you are your child’s closest person. You are enough. So don’t let negative stereotypes discourage you. Believe in your child, believe in yourself, and it will help you cope with all the challenges you face.
by: Natalie Maximets
Natalie Maximets is a certified life transformation coach at OnlineDivorce.com. She has expertise in mindfulness and sustainability. She is a published author focused on the most progressive solutions in the field of psychology. Natalie helps people go through fundamental life challenges, such as divorce, and build an entirely new life by reframing their personal narrative.