Goodbyes can be painful, especially for children. I’m reminded of this today because my daughter’s good friend is moving away over the summer, and both girls are heartbroken. They have known for months that the friend would be moving, her parent taking a new job in a far away city. But having information did not help them understand what they could do to make the transition easier.
Kids move to new cities. They transfer schools. Or they may even just move to a neighborhood in the same school district, but lose the opportunity to see one another often at the neighborhood playground.
Without experience, kids may not know how to cope with such change.
Supporting children while they manage these little goodbyes early on helps them develop a toolbox for managing the much bigger goodbyes that come later: loss and grief that are such normal occurrences in all our lives.
1. Plan ahead
Planning for a coming goodbye can help kids strategize. When will the friend be leaving? Where is s/he going to live? How will they keep in touch? What activities or plans would they like to make together while they have the time together?
2. Talk about it
Parents should encourage kids to talk about their sadness or fear. Kids are likely to experience some intense emotions, and will benefit from discussing them with an adult they trust. Sorting through emotions about a friend’s move build emotional skill and resilience for coping with change and loss.
3. Spend extra time together
Arranging opportunities to spend time together before a move or a change of school can help kids cope with the loss in smaller chunks. Rather than a flood of grief, kids can break it into smaller bits. Also, spending extra time with a friend who is going away helps build a sustainable bond that can survive the time and distance to come.
4. Exchange a special gift
Kids often instinctively ask to make something for a friend when they’ll be parting ways, but if not, parents might suggest doing so. Making a special gift or writing a letter as a memento can give kids something to hold in their hands and use as a transitional object when they part company.
5. Stay connected
In the current era of technology, it’s easy to stay connected with anyone. Cell phones, texting, email, FaceTime, Instagram, and a myriad of other options allow kids to continue to interact with special friends in real time. And it’s always fun to send and receive an old-fashioned letter or postcard by mail, in lieu of technology. Either way, teaching kids to stay in contact with far away friends will benefit them now, and in transitions later.