The First Holidays After Divorce: Tips for Teachers



The holidays are an exciting time, but they can also be a stressful time for students. For some, there may be anxiety about the break from school. School may be a happier environment with consistent meals, support, and care than what is experienced at home. For students that are experiencing a change in their family system, such as due to separation or divorce, the holidays can trigger anxiety in a student who may already be facing deep grief over the changes and loss of their once intact family. As one who has personally walked through divorce, and am now married with bonus kids, I recognize that this time of year can cause great apprehension.


Divorce impacts children, teenagers, and even adult children. Just because a student doesn't talk much about the separation or divorce, it doesn't mean they are not hurting. As teachers, we may see a student start to act out, become especially clingy, or even become more aloof before the holiday break.


A student may experience anxiety or fear about the upcoming holidays where traditions may be lost. Time spent away from one parent can make grief more intense, and the thought of juggling time between multiple homes (sometimes at a distance) is an added stress. When a family goes from a two household income to one, that often results in budget changes, and a student may be aware that their usual holiday activities did not make the budget. As teachers, we also need to be mindful that even what seems like subtle differences, such as a different pick-up routine, can cause some apprehension.


Teachers, I urge you to carefully consider the needs of the students in your classroom when it comes to the excitement around holidays. Going around a circle and asking everyone to share their holiday plans can be harmful to the well-being of our students. Initiating a winter break countdown can also trigger anxiety for students who are dreading the time away from school. When making holiday gifts for parents, be sure to provide enough supplies so that students can make each parent or loved one a gift. Making one calendar for parents to share, for example, puts a student in the position to decide which parent should be given the present. A student may feel guilty and worry about how they will make up for the lack of parent gift. Please teachers, I know that it takes additional time to create twice as many fingerprint art pieces, and more money and resources, but do it because it's what's best for our students.


When a student shares with you their fear or lack of excitement about winter break, don't just brush it off and say, "I'm sure you'll have fun." Instead, recognize that there may be times when sadness or worry is felt because the holidays are different. For students caught in the middle of high-conflict divorce, or are suffering from Parental Alienation, the divorce may have occurred years ago, but the student may still sense the tension on a regular basis, with the holiday season only amplifying it. Recognize that holidays can be stressful, cause anger or worry. A student may lose a tradition or experience changes, but it might be the chapter to some new traditions too. And some joy may still be found despite the challenges.


Teachers, we have an opportunity to provide support and encouragement, and show that we care. How will you meet the needs of your students this holiday season?