Banana Splits is a divorce support program for kids. Parents and school staff can do the training and introduce it to their elementary schools. It’s a safe place for kids who’s parents are going through divorce, can go and share and know that they are not alone. It’s free, no cost, just the love of your children to make it happen. Listen as Dr. Valerie Raymond (an ambassador of the program) and Samantha Waldman (child of divorce who introduced the program to her elementary schools) discuss this awesome resource for kids and divorce.
– DR. VALERIE RAYMOND AND SAMANTHA WALDMAN
Welcome to another episode of the exExperts Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. We’re Jessica and T.H.
Jessica: Welcome back to another episode of the ExExperts podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. You know why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. I’m Jessica.
TH: And I’m TH. I’m very excited today to invite Dr. Valerie Raymond and my daughter Samantha Waldman to our podcast today. We are going to talk about a program called Banana Splits. I came across this program back in 2008 when I was separating from my now ex-husband. With a need to find resources, I felt I had a need to find resources for my children in the school. There were resources for bullying and all these other programs, but with the number of divorced families in our community, I was disappointed that there weren’t any support programs in the school for the kids, which is where they spend most of their time during the week. I went online, and I found Dr. Valerie Raymond, who has taken on the charge of Banana Splits and paying it forward. Dr. Raymond, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you came across this program and what it really is as far as support in the school?
Valerie: Okay, sure. I was a school psychologist in a New York City independent school in the elementary grades. In one particular year in the early 90s, we had three students who were affected by divorce or parental death, two of them involving alcohol. It was an excellent teacher that year, and the two of us did what you do in school. You work individually with the families, with the students, and we both felt this is such a pity that they don’t know each other’s story. We could not breach that confidentiality to let them know. By happenstance that same year, the New York Times ran an article about a school on Long Island that had a Banana Splits program. It was a fabulous article and very graphic in terms of what children were saying. My colleague and I said we have to get trained in this, and off we went. We brought it back to this elementary school, and we began with students in second, third and fourth grades just because they happen to eat lunch at the same time. These are the professional decisions that you make in schools, you know, where’s the room, where’s the time. We first invited the parents to talk to them about it, to get their permission to do it, and then we began the program. Within a couple of years, more students had joined, kids told their friends about it, and parents at the first grade level were asking for it, and the administration in fifth grade, which began the middle school where I was, were asking for it. It’s a program that sells itself entirely. You just have to offer it and kids come.
Jessica: Tell us a little bit about what they’re getting when they come into it. So for parents out there who are listening to this who want to know if their school has Banana Splits, and if they did go, what is your kid going to get out of it?
Valerie: What your kid gets out of it? It’s a number of things. First of all, to know that you’re not alone. I mean, that’s enormous to walk into a room full of kids and realize that all these people have some version of your experience. Second of all, is that you form bonds within a school district that will last for years going forward, because Banana Splits typically is offered every year, if possible, if there’s enough staff. This will carry on third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, and on. Kids get new perspective on their own situation by listening to other people’s stories. They gain self esteem by being able to offer support to another student. One more thing, they get sometimes real practical help from each other. Typically, if a student wants to talk about something, the leader gives them a little space to talk and then asks who else has something like this? Somebody almost always will have something to say. Then the next question is, well what could she do in this situation? So there’s a chance for kids to listen to their own peers giving suggestions.
Jessica: So Samantha, how old were you when you started?
Samantha: I believe I was in second grade. Right, mom?
Jessica: Okay. And you probably were young enough at the time that maybe you didn’t know what you were getting out of it?
Jessica: What was your experience like being part of this group? This new group.
Samantha: Going into it, it was harder for me because none of my friend’s parents were divorced. So during recess, I was not outside with my friends. I think that it definitely made me feel like I wasn’t alone, but also at the time, I didn’t necessarily want to talk about my feelings. I felt like what I took from it I think, is that I realized that having someone else in the same situation and confiding in people was important and not necessarily like a professional or a therapist or a guidance counselor. So I tried to confide in my friends, which ended up as more people got divorced, I started to have more friends who I could talk to about it. So I realized the importance of having a friend support system, also as like a guidance counselor.
TH: I think that those two things are really important. I think like Dr. Raymond saying, if you build it, they will come, but it has to be a safe place to transport into. I wanted it to be during lunch, so what I did was I got the information from Dr. Raymond, I met with the guidance counselor at our elementary school because both of my daughters were there at the same time a year apart. I took them through and she went to training through Dr. Raymond in order to understand how to properly implement the program in the school.
Jessica: So I just want to jump in here for a second because honestly, like anybody listening, if it turns out that your kid’s school doesn’t have a program like this, listen to what TH is saying. She actually got it implemented at her school and that’s a great thing to know. You can empower yourself and your kids to be able to bring this kind of a resource, which at the end of the day is super impactful for the kids. I also think it’s fascinating TH, your story with just about how you got it going.
TH: Well, I’m a little bit of an internet troll, so I was just trawling the internet for information. Back then there wasn’t even that much information.
Jessica: But you activated it at the school, and that’s like an amazing step.
TH: Right. If you’re a parent that’s involved in the school, that certainly helps. They know you, they trust you, and you’re not just calling to be a pain in the ass. I had something legitimate, and my pitch for it was very authentic. I was happy to do whatever they needed from my end to make it happen. With Samantha’s year, even though it didn’t take for her at that time –
Samantha: Well, also, we were more of like the first year of it.
TH: You were. You were at the very beginning.
Samantha: So as my siblings started going, as they got older, there were more of their friends in it and even more development of the program.
TH: So it’s a safer space, because she had the comfort of friends or a sibling and they would all be going together. It’s not like that’s the kid, that’s the divorce kid going on his own or her own. They were a group and they were secure with each other.
Jessica: Dr. Raymond, what were you going to say?
Valerie: I just want to add a couple of things. First of all, Banana Splits is completely voluntary. I think Samantha’s kind of touched on this. If parents try to get their kids into it, we would discourage that. It’s not something that should be pushed. When the kid’s ready, well, you waited and she was ready, but if the kid doesn’t want to go, and the mom says, how can I get her to go? We say why don’t you wait until she wants to go? There’s not a lot to be gained by pushing it. Second of all, nobody ever has to speak ever. I had a first grade girl in a group who never missed a meeting. Every other week, for an entire year, never missed and never said a single word, but we figured she’s getting something out of it. Kids vote with their feet. They don’t like it, they don’t come. In the spring, we were having a conversation I think about anger. I raised the question does anybody ever just feel mad about the situation that you find yourself in? This little girl said, the first word she ever said, I feel like that all the time. After eight months so…
TH: You hit it right on the nose.
Valerie: So parents should know that there is no pressure to speak and that always confidentiality rules are gone over. In our experience, kids are about as good at that as adults are which is to say good, but not failsafe. We do stress that you only come in and tell your own story. You don’t come in and tell your friend’s story or your cousin’s story, and when you leave, you only talk about your own story. You can talk to the other kids in the group about what went on, but you don’t go out and talk about, you know what Samantha said in group today?
Jessica: Samantha, were you ever worried about that?
Samantha: Honestly, I don’t remember speaking that much in the group, but no, I wasn’t really worried. I think there was like four or five, and there would always be like one student who like didn’t want to come that day and that was fine, and it was very comfortable.
TH: The thing with Samantha was the timing wasn’t right, and being the parent and person that I am, I like to fix everything. Like right away. [Don’t we all] Patience was not my virtue. I’ve become much more patient. But Samantha was struggling and I was thinking, oh my god, we’ll I’ve created this, now you’ve got to go. You have to go. So to your point Dr. Raymond, that is a lesson for all parents, whatever your kid’s struggle is, they will come to it in their own time. Then as Samantha became more comfortable over the years, Samantha, why don’t you tell us what you ended up doing?
Samantha: So I then went to bring it into three other elementary schools, but I added –.
TH: What grade were you in when you did that?
Samantha: I was in 11th? No, yeah, 11th grade.
TH: You were already in high school.
Jessica: Yeah. Amazing.
Samantha: But I wanted to add a different component to it. Because, I wanted to add someone that wasn’t necessarily a teacher or guidance counselor, just someone like me, who went through it and lived it and could add something, a different kind of advice, than necessarily like, how are you feeling? I went into it thinking that I would just be able to help them and they wouldn’t be able to really help me, but ultimately, they brought a different perspective to divorce for me as well. It was a two sided thing, and I think that it really helped me.
Jessica: I love that story so much. I feel like it’s so heartwarming, and again, just goes to the messaging of sometimes you think that your kid isn’t getting something out of something. Sometimes you think it’s not resonating with your kids. Sometimes you think you’re pushing them into something, or they’re going and like you said, Dr. Raymond, that little girl who didn’t say anything the whole time. Samantha has even said she didn’t feel like necessarily she realized she was getting anything out of it. Then all those years later, she went on to take the initiative to then [fantastic]. Yeah, really, it’s an incredible pay it forward story. Dr. Raymond, anyone out there who’s listening who isn’t lucky enough to currently have a Banana Splits program at their kid’s school, wherever they live in the country, what are two or three things that you would recommend that they do to be able to set up that initiative at their own schools?
Valerie: Well, I think TH touched on a good deal of that. It’s a good idea if you go with another parent to show that there’s a constituency. If you can, that’s always a good thing. On my website, which I believe is going to be posted before we stop today, there are some FAQ pages, some for parents and some for school personnel, which are very succinct. They deal with the issues that schools are often worried about like money, does it take away from academic time, or we have no room in our curriculum for another program. It addresses all of that, so parents could take those FAQs in with them. And not give up.
Jessica: The most important thing really, advocate for the kids.
TH: Samantha, who did you meet with at the school level for other people who are interested, other students who are interested, in paying it forward if the parents aren’t involved in it anymore? Who did you meet with to sell it?
Samantha: Oh, I met with the superintendent and then all the principals of all the elementary schools. The end goal was really to get a group of high school students to be able to go during lunchtime to the elementary schools. Even if they weren’t leading the group, like if the guidance counselor was leading it, they were just there to be a presence there so if they had any questions, maybe our stories could relate with them. That was more of the goal of my addition to the group.
Valerie: Samantha, were you successful in that? Did you get a bunch of high school kids that were willing to make that commitment to go and attend those groups?
Samantha: I got interest, and then I graduated, and the high school part of it kind of slew off a little, but there’s still the group in elementary schools. I kind of leaned on my sister.
TH: It’s now Ally’s responsibility. By the way, they’re both in college now, sophomores and – But that would be great for you Samantha or any student [to go back] to be a peer, an older kid, little kids look up to older kids. You kind of get my situation; you’re like a superhero for them.
Valerie: Yes, absolutely true. The cross age kind of situation is just fantastic. We also used to have faculty and staff mentors. If someone was interested in doing this, it could be a cafeteria worker, it could be a teacher, or it could be anybody that the kids were familiar with, who wanted to come in and share their stories. We would interview them first to make sure that what they wanted to say was appropriate and that they were comfortable with it. Then they would come in and they would tell their story, and all the kids would tell their story right back to the faculty or the staff member. That was another way of extending the experience.
TH: And create a safe space. I mean, it’s safe, so when you get eye contact with that faculty member in school, they’ve got your back.
Jessica: I’m curious with Samantha, given that Ally’s only a year younger, and I guess you weren’t there when Jason was in it, but did you feel like you ever found, and this would be just relevant for anybody who has kids that are close together in age and might be in the same group, did you ever hear anything that Ally said that surprised you? Or did you ever feel like you were confiding something that maybe Ally didn’t know? Did that somehow within the family bring you guys closer in terms of dealing with your experience together?
Samantha: Honestly, no. We kind of dealt with divorce differently. I feel like I almost confided more in my friends or I got my stress out almost telling my story to my friends and like helping them. I think that my siblings really did it on their own, which is obviously different for everyone, but that was our way.
Jessica: Yeah, well, that’s going to be a whole other podcast in and of itself of different ways that kids are dealing with it. But I just think that this whole organization and everything that it does sounds so incredible. Dr. Raymond, thank you for not just being here and sharing it with the ExExperts community but really just doing what you do. It’s such an important thing for parents of kids of all ages everywhere, to know that these kinds of things are out there when you’re feeling you’re in a situation where you’re just helpless. I love everything about it, and I love that TH really, again, took it upon herself to find everything for the kids. Thank you so much for being here today. Really appreciate it.
Valerie: I would just mention also on the website are books for children of different ages and books for parents. There are links to other organizations so parents might want to go on the website and poke around.
Jessica: That website address is www.bananasplitsresourcecenter.org, which we’ll have posted on the ExExperts website as well. If you anyone out there has any questions, you can email at email@example.com. Samantha, what were you going say?
Samantha: I just wanted to thank you also Dr. Raymond. Even though I didn’t speak as much in the group, I was definitely listening. It definitely helped me on my path to moving forward with my parent’s divorce, so thank you.
Valerie: I’m so glad.
Jessica: Aww, I love that! So for anyone else out there listening, if this is going to be helpful for anyone else in your life, if you have any friends or family or colleagues who are dealing with divorce and who have kids, please share this because we just want this message to get out to as many people as possible. You can also click to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or wherever it is that you listen to your podcast. Please follow us on social media, we’re @ExExperts on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube. Thanks for listening.
TH: Thank you.
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