There are so many things to consider when you have to tell your kids you’re going to get divorced (we have a whole guide about it here). You want to present as much of a respectful, united front as possible; you want to make sure they know they’ll still be loved and supported by both parents, and that this isn’t because of anything they have done. But one thing you may not think to say is also something they may need to hear: This isn’t a secret.
Even though you may be feeling some of your own guilt or shame over the impending divorce, Dr. Joanna Stern, a senior clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, says it’s important to communicate to kids that this is not something that is shameful for them and that they can seek support wherever they need it. Younger kids, in particular, may grapple with the gravity of what’s happening — but if it’s something they’ve never heard anyone else talk about, they might assume it should be kept secret, preventing them from reaching out for the support they need.
“It’s important to let our kids know that … they’re going to feel the way they’re going to feel about [the divorce], and if they want to talk to us, great; we want to talk to them, too,” she says. “But if they want to talk to their friends about it, especially as school-age kids, preteens, or teenagers, then they should talk to their friends about it.”
You can stress that you will support them talking with whomever will make this process easier for them, whether that’s a trusted teacher, a school counselor, or an extended family member. They may also want to keep it private for now, which is ok, too.
Stern points out, though, that if a child who typically relies heavily on friends for support doesn’t want to tell anyone for an extended period of time, that could be an indication they’re in denial that the divorce will really happen. In that case, you’ll want to be sure to check in with them about how they’re feeling.