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Whether you recently lost a parent, a friend or a close relative, your kids are probably working through their fair share of grief, too. While they may have already experienced loss during the divorce, losing someone to a disease or tragic accident is another kind of loss — the most permanent kind. In this situation, it will take the support of both parents to help them deal with and heal from this experience.
Here are a few ways you can work with your ex to co-parent effectively and teach your kids to deal with even the most heartbreaking losses.
1. Stay In Touch with Your Ex
The mere thought of talking to your ex might bring up anxiety, anger and a slew of other unpleasant emotions. However, staying in touch with the other co-parent is key to helping your children deal with loss.
Maybe your kids are having trouble concentrating at school or they had a good cry before going to bed. These details are good to know because they allow you to monitor how your children are progressing through the stages of grief. This information will also help you determine how your kids’ feelings are affecting them so you both can work together to help them succeed in school and at home.
2. Be a Good Listener
Of course, you’ll also want to practice good listening skills when your ex is relaying this information. Otherwise, the conversation could take a turn for the worse. In this case, it’s best to listen with curiosity and keep questions relevant and concise. Avoid getting too caught up in any emotionally charged remarks or responses, get the information and get off the phone.
Good listening skills can help you communicate with your children better, too, especially as they navigate grief and the healing process. Make eye contact, listen without interrupting and validate their emotions by expressing empathy. Doing so will encourage them to be more vulnerable and communicate more, which can help you to better understand their mental state and how well they are actually dealing with the loss.
3. Label Emotions
Practicing awareness is another great way to help your kids tune into and untangle their emotions. Because grief can disguise itself as anger, denial and even apathy, it often helps to label these complex emotions. Once they’ve been given a name, those emotions have less power, even if for only a short while. In the meantime, your kids will gain control over how they respond to and manage strong feelings like sadness.
The best way to practice emotion labeling is in the moment when your kids are experiencing negative emotions. Therefore, in order to help them practice consistent awareness, it may help to have your co-parent on board. Explain the practice and how it might be helpful to use it when the kids are staying over. If your ex has made a point to prioritize the kiddos, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t agree to implement emotion labeling at home.
4. Share Your Feelings
Sometimes, the best way to teach your children how to deal with loss is to let them see you deal with your feelings. Allow them to see you cry, get angry and experience grief through its various stages.
Sharing and expressing your feelings is especially important if you’re raising young boys. Society conditions them to bottle up those emotions, but your vulnerability will challenge the status quo and encourage them to express themselves freely, too. As they do, they’ll heal from the loss and become stronger people in the process.
5. Talk About Funerals
As you get in touch with the funeral home and begin making arrangements, your kids will likely have questions. Remember to answer them honestly and concisely and explain why the family has chosen certain rituals, speeches and songs for the funeral. Telling them what will happen ahead of time will help them prepare for what they’ll see and experience so they can process their emotions better.
You might also give them a small, active role during the funeral. Maybe they can read a poem, pick a few songs or gather photos to put on a poster board. Allowing your kids to play a part will help them master the unfamiliar and emotional situation so they can find some closure.
6. Stick to a Routine
Even in the midst of planning a funeral, it’s important that you and your kids try to stick to a routine. Whether they’re visiting for an evening or spending the weekend at your place, it’s important to keep things predictable.
Doing so will create a safe environment in which they can comfortably decompress and freely express any pent-up emotions. Of course, it’s ok to let some routines slide if it means spending more time talking about loved ones. However, maintaining something close to your normal schedule will help them heal more quickly so everyone can move on and grow through the experience.
As you teach your children how to deal with loss, remember that healing takes time. Their tears won’t go away overnight and neither will yours. So be patient with one another and use this time to grow closer as a family, even if that family doesn’t look the same as it once did.