Your Child’s Good Friend is Moving Away This Summer:
10 Things You Can Do to Help Your Child
By Melissa J. Johnson, PhD
Psychologist, CEO and Founder of the Institute for Girls’ Development
“Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them but you know they’re always there.”
I remember when my best friend Lydia moved from California to North Carolina the summer after 5th grade. I was devastated. I hosted a good-bye party for her. In honor of Lydia’s free spirit, I played “Born Free” on the piano as a gift. I couldn’t stop crying at the end of the party. We figured out how to stay in touch as pen pals. Yes, actual letter writing. That was a thing back then, before the internet. I still remember Lydia with great affection, despite losing touch after high school. Perhaps you too recall the move of a good friend. How can we help our children cope with the grief and sadness of friends moving away?
Getting the news: Sometimes kids have lots of time to get their heads around the fact that their good friend will be moving. Sometimes the move occurs quickly, without much preparation time. You know your child. You know what he or she needs to prepare for transitions.
Whether the time to prepare is short or long, be sure to talk with your child about their thoughts and feelings. Its not uncommon for children to feel sad and/or worried. They likely will feel a sense of anticipatory loss and grief. They may be worried about who they will play with once their special friend is gone. They may wonder how they can stay in touch across the miles with their friend who is moving.
Validate your child’s feelings. Help your child name their feelings if they are having difficulty with their big or confusing feelings. The feelings may include sadness, disappointment, worry, grief, and more. It can also help to acknowledge your own feelings. Perhaps this childhood friend is also someone you care about. Perhaps these are family friends. Be a role model by sharing the words that express your feelings – both your sadness and your good wishes for the moving child and family.
Learn about the new community of the friend. Look at a map. Look up the location on the internet. Learn about the community. Help your child picture his/her friend in their new community by engaging in this fun research.
Plan an activity or a party for before the friend moves. No matter the age of your child, they can be involved in the planning in some way. They’ll have some cool ideas about what they’d like to do. Planning an activity or party can be an empowering activity that helps kids adjust to the upcoming transition.
Create mementos. Listen to your child’s ideas for a simple but special gift for their friend. Help them find ways to create that gift. Perhaps it’s a video of special times they’ve shared – or a picture album. Perhaps it’s a special art creation that expresses good wishes and reflects great times shared.
Plan ways to stay in touch. There are so many ways to stay connected these days. Facetime, Skype, texting, email, social media and more. And, don’t forget, snail mail works too! Postcards from summer vacation spots are fun. Be sure to talk with the moving child’s parents to find out what ways might work best for them as well.
Share stories. Stories help us all as we navigate the human experiences of change, transition, loss and new beginnings. Check out books about friends moving away. The Reading Rockets website recommends a number of children’s books on this theme. http://www.readingrockets.org/booklists/moving-moving-moving-away
Share your own friendship stories. Perhaps your child has an older sibling or other family member who can share their story as well.
Identify other friends. Don’t rush this. But do plant seeds. Offer opportunities to engage in some favorite activities with other friends and new friends. Support your child’s effort to build new friendships and deal with the inevitable ups and downs of that experience.
Identify some special goals and activities for the summer and the new school year. Help your child begin to collect new memories and new pleasurable experiences. Celebrate and savor these.
Life is full of change. We can help our children build resilience by helping them say a good good-bye to dear friends, deal with the big feelings of loss, stay in touch when possible, and make new friends along the way.