At a glance
Divorced or separated parents of kids who learn and think differently can have a harder time communicating.
It’s important to find tools to help you and your ex navigate your child’s learning struggles.
Clear communication with an ex, and a set schedule of responsibilities and appointments, will help your child thrive.
It’s not always easy for the most well-meaning and intact sets of parents to get on the same page when raising a child who learns and thinks differently. But when parents are divorced or separated, there can be even more obstacles involved in managing a child’s day-to-day treatment plan.
Here are some concrete, go-to tips that can help you and your ex as you navigate your child’s learning struggles. And, the best part? You can start practicing them right now.
1. Be equally informed.
It’s important for you and your ex to understand and accept the challenges your child faces. One way to do that is to make sure you both see the results of any evaluations your child has. Ask the school to prepare and send copies to each of you separately. Share information and insights you get from doctors, professionals, tutors, and other parents.
2. Agree on the course of treatment.
It’s also crucial that you and your ex get on the same page when it comes to the classroom , therapies, and/or medications your child’s team recommends. If one partner isn’t on board, it can cause unneeded stress and arguments down the line.
For example, let’s say you think bringing your child to four times a week is too much and that your child’s sessions should be reduced. On the other hand, your ex feels very strongly that all the PT appointments are needed. It’s time to make a pact. Agree that you’ll both defer to and follow the recommendations of your child’s doctors, specialists, and teachers.
3. Map out financial responsibilities.
Are you and your ex both comfortable with the in-school services your child receives? If your child needs to receive extra treatments, who will pay for them? Whose insurance will cover more services? Research what different specialists and treatments will cost. Talk honestly about what you’re each willing and able to spend.
4. Commit to communicate.
You don’t need to be chatty with your ex. But it’s important to keep the lines of communication open about your child’s needs. Decide how you two can keep in touch and have difficult conversations without fighting. Do face-to-face talks or phone calls get too heated? Agree to send Monday emails instead. You can cover the week’s schedule, any questions or concerns, and upcoming appointments or tasks in this way.
5. React calmly, especially in front of your child.
If your ex sends you a text that causes your temper to flare, put down the phone. Don’t respond immediately.
Instead, ask yourself: “Does what I want to say back help me get what’s best for our child? Would I want my child to see me act this way?” Only respond to your ex once you’re calm and composed.
6. Agree on a schedule.
Kids who learn and think differently thrive on routine. Together, create a schedule of when your child will be with you or your ex. Specify who will drive your child to appointments and social activities as well as who will chaperone school events.
Having a fixed schedule can help a reluctant parent get more involved. And sticking to it may keep you both from feeling resentful.
7. Set clear limits and create consistent rules.
Divorce or separation can cause some parents to feel guilty. When that happens, it’s natural to want to give kids extra things or go easy on the rules. But kids who learn and think differently need limits and boundaries. And they need to see you and your ex maintaining them.
The same goes with creating house rules. That doesn’t mean that the rules at your house and your ex’s house have to be exactly the same. But they shouldn’t conflict either. The most important thing is that what’s expected of your child at each of your houses is consistent over time.
8. Be a team when it comes to school issues.
If both of you attend your child’s or meetings, it sends a valuable message to your child and the teachers: “When it comes to our child’s learning needs, we’re on the same page and we both want to be here for our child.”
If one of you has questions or concerns about the services your child is receiving, try talking to each other before approaching the school. It’s possible one of you already knows the answer. And between the two of you, decide whom the school should contact first for classroom issues.
9. Be honest with a new partner.
Any newcomer to your family needs to understand your child’s issues early on. You may even want to share the overview information and some articles from Understood.
If and when you do decide to talk to your child about a new partner, make it clear that the relationship won’t get in the way of their learning and attention needs.
10. Promise not to “use” your child strategically.
When a divorce or separation turns bitter, kids tend to suffer. But badmouthing your ex or playing “good cop, bad cop” can be damaging to your child’s relationship with both of you. Try to keep these behaviors in check.
Don’t be afraid to hire an impartial mediator, counselor, or other third person if you feel like you and your ex can’t keep from using your child as a pawn.
11. Document ongoing problem behaviors.
Does your ex break the rules you’ve both agreed to for your child over and over? Is your ex missing appointments or late for the prescheduled pickups and drop-offs?
Write down what you’re seeing and when. It can be helpful in the event you have to go to court to settle your differences.
Remember to keep calm and carry on reasonably with an ex. Whether you’re talking finances or house rules, the emphasis should be on how it affects your child, not you.
Set up a few solid systems and keep them consistent (weekly schedule, appointment calendar, list of rules and chores at each parent’s home).
Always be sure that you and your ex let your child know that you’re both equally committed to their care and well-being.
About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Donna Volpitta, EdD is the founder of Pathways to Empower. Her work draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and education.