I have had three students this year on my caseload experience a divorce. Their parents have contacted me and our district's LSSP (licensed specialist in school psychology) for support. During these challenging times, you will often see an increase of behaviors (withdrawal, difficulty regulating emotions, misconduct, etc...) in the classroom or even during therapy sessions. I am usually sought out to assist with students with language delays or to assist a student on the Autism Spectrum with this difficult transition in their lives. Parents may struggle explaining the divorce to their child, I came up with 5 ways an SLP could help.
PLEASE NOTE: I only offer these supports if a parent asks for it. I collaborate with the student's teacher, school counselor, and LSSP in these cases. If you are seeing increased behaviors from a child going through a divorce, please contact their parents and ask them if they want support for the student at school. These are sensitive situations and the student may already be receiving counseling outside of school.
Before I was an SLP, I was a social worker for three years. I have experience working with different family structures providing parenting training, life skills training, and connections to community resources.
Here are 5 ways you can support a student on your caseload going through a divorce:
1. Make a visual story
(also can be referred as a visual social story). I was asked to create a story for a student this year. I used simple images and easy to follow text. You can get a free copy of the story I created by clicking the links below. I included stories for boys/girls and also two family style choices (family choices were limited to clip art availability). Please note: This is a simple story, it does not cover all of the complex issues that a student may experience. This story may not be appropriate for all situations. This is why it is important to get parent permission first. This story is only appropriate for students who have visitation with both of their parents. DO NOT use this story unless you have expressed permission. Social stories work best when it is specific to a student's situation, you may use my examples as a guide to making your own.
Family Style One for a boy
Family Style One for a girl
Family Style Two for a boy
Family Style Two for a girl
My speech room is a positive environment and sometimes my students will open up and talk to me about their lives. It is important that students have a safe place to talk about their feelings. If a students opens up to me in therapy about a sensitive topic, I contact the teacher, parent, and the school counselor to see if extra support is needed, especially in the case of divorce. I created "My Feelings" boards to help students identify their feelings. This is a great resource to share with the student's counselor and families. Get your free copy below:
My Feelings FREEBIE
I have a seasonal set of these boards in my TPT shop, CLICK HERE to see it. I also have another FREE version available on TPT in a cat theme. CLICK HERE to view it and download.
3. Teach the vocabulary associated with divorce.
For students with language delays, they may need someone to teach them the new vocabulary they may hear when going through a divorce. Please get parent permission before you introduce the vocabulary (and to decide which words to teach). Parents may want to teach these words to their children themselves, but you could offer the cards to assist them if appropriate. I have also found these useful for students on the Autism Spectrum.
Common vocabulary associated with a divorce that a student may hear:
divorce, separation, custody, visitation
CLICK HERE to get flashcards for these words. I created these with simple text that is easy for a young child to understand.
4. Create a visual visitation schedule for your student's families.
My son is on the Autism Spectrum and has visitation with his father. When he was younger he had a lot of stress and anxiety wondering when he was going to his dad's house. I created a visual calendar for him for "mommy days" and "daddy days" and this decreased his anxiety dramatically. I bought a magnetic monthly calendar (white board) and used magnet tape on the back of the house symbols that had Ms and Ds on them. I have also created calendars like this for my students to use at home with velcro. I made a printable template that you can use for your students. If parents report the student is struggling with visitation, this is an amazing resource you can make for them (speaking from experience with my own family!).
CLICK here to get your FREE visual visitation calendar
5. Read books about divorce and different family structures.
I use books in therapy frequently and found several that could be used for students going through a divorce. Reading these types of books can help create awareness that they are not the only ones who have gone through it. It can also create opportunities for open communication about their feelings. I do recommend you collaborate with teachers, counselors, and parents before reading a book like this to a student. I don't always read these books with students but I often recommended them.
Here is a list of books that I have used or recommended to parents (for younger students). Disclaimer: Affiliate links
I hope you found this post helpful! Please remember that the above suggestions are not intended to replace professional counseling advice. Please collaborate with the staff at your school on how your team will support a student going through a divorce. You MUST contact the student's parents before implementing any of the above suggestions.
A personal note: I went through this with my son when he was very young and I also have two step sons. All of the above resources have helped my children cope with the blended families. My son with ASD needed the visual support the most. I hope as a professional you can help families when needed in this way. I believe it would have been extremely difficulty for my son without it!
All of the images used in this blog post are by Smarty Symbols. They are an online symbol/picture library with over 19,000 images. I use them to create visuals, resources, and communication boards for my students. Click HERE to check them out through my affiliate link.