Children of high conflict divorce: exploring the experiences of primary school teachers

Stella Laletas, Michelle Khasin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Ongoing parental conflict after divorce is particularly difficult on school aged children. Consistent research has demonstrated that high conflict divorce can induce adjustment problems and increase risk of child psychopathology. For these children, school represents a safe space to thrive and develop the cognitive, social and emotional skills that can serve as a buffer and reduce the risk of adjustment difficulties and mental health problems. Trained in child development, teachers have the knowledge base and play a critical role in identifying behavioral warning signs of children ‘at risk’. The aim of this study is to explore the experiences of teachers working with children exposed to high parental conflict before, during and after divorce/separation. Using semi-structured interviews, five primary school teachers shared their every-day experiences of teaching and caring for primary school aged students struggling to cope with the emotional distress related to high levels of parent stress and parent conflict associated with family breakdown and the process of high conflict divorce. The data was analyzed using an Interpretative Phenomenology Analysis framework by Jonathan Smith. The findings revealed that ‘caring’ for and about studentswas a key feature of being sensitively responsive to these children. However, as highlighted by these teachers, this work is emotionally exhausting and professionally challenging, placing teachers at risk of burnout. The findings contribute to the knowledgebase of how-to best support teachers who teach vulnerable school populations. Implications for teacher training and support at different levels within the school system are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106072
Number of pages12
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Volume127
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

Keywords

  • Child development
  • Children
  • High conflict divorce
  • Inter-parental conflict
  • Primary school teachers
  • Vulnerable students

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