When A Child’s Friend Moves Away

As springtime approaches we are reminded that the end of the school year is near. Historically, the summer months are the busiest months for families to move to new homes. The hope to not interrupt the school year precipitates that decision. Families move at any time of the year, but more so over the summer months. These moves inevitably cause the loss of friends for your child and for the child who is leaving. The impact of this loss varies with each child.

In the ways that all children are different they will react to this loss in different ways with varying degrees of intensity. The age of the child involved will come into play. Family dynamics can help or prolong the sense of loss. Whatever the case, it is important to acknowledge that families move and the loss of a friend, while a common occurrence, can hurt. Your child needs time and a caring response to whatever the emotional impact this loss initiates.

For Young Children

Depending on just how young these children are, they may or may not have a true understanding of loss. Most likely at a very young age they have come to grips with the concept of things being here and then being gone. Like peek-a-boo – my friend is here and we play and have fun, but then she goes away and I am left with my family. The young child most likely isn’t going to question whether that friend will come back or not. For the moment they are happy to have a friend to play with. Unless a young child spends a very large amount of time with a specific friend, I would be doubtful that they will react strongly to the news that a friend is moving away. It might make them sad, but I think a grieving sense of loss is not inevitable. As cold-hearted as it may sound, a quick substitution of friends or activities may be all that is needed to smooth the transition as one particular friend is no longer around to play with. As in every case of losing a friend the parent must know their child and be able to judge the level of discomfort and move forward from there.

For Elementary School Age Children

At this age children have developed a sense of like and dislike. They can recognize the common traits among their peers that makes them want to be friends with that person. They form friendships based on the kids in their class, the kids in their neighborhood, or the kids on their sports team or other activity. They will openly ask to play with a friend. And as the parent you most likely will accommodate them by setting up playdates and making the time available for them to be with that friend. Their friendship is based on having common interests. For as long as that interest binds them together they remain friends. That said, it is not uncommon for children to have a new best friend based on the school year. The new school year introduces a new class of students and the process of making friends starts all over again. This doesn’t mean that your child will necessarily fall out of friendship with an old friend. More likely they will add to their group of friends or perhaps show a preference to a different child as time passes. However these friendships develop they are normal and a benefit to your child. Learning social skills are part of growing up.

What do you do when your child’s friend is moving away? At this age it’s important to recognize the loss. Your child is experiencing a loss that they may not understand or be able to process. Especially true if this is the first time a friend has moved away. It is important to acknowledge their loss – their discomfort. Encourage them to talk about it. Ask them how they feel? Ask them about the move. Do they know where their friend is moving to? You may be surprised to find out that it is not all that far from where you live now. If this is the case remind your child that while they may not see each other everyday as before, either in school or the neighborhood, they are not so far apart that they can no longer be friends. Let you child know that it is possible to play on the same teams, participate in the same activities, and best of all go to play with each other. The only difference now is that you have to drive to see them. It’s not the same as before, but it is still possible to remain friends.

If it is far away research the location. Look at a map and show your child where they are going. Talk about that place. Tell your child a story about when a friend of yours moved away. How did you handle it? Were you able to visit your friend from time to time? If not visiting in person, were you able to keep in contact through email, phone, social media? Acknowledge that this sense of loss could be deeper than if they are merely moving to a new neighborhood nearby. You child fears that they will never see them again. The memories of their time together are important to them and they want to preserve that good feeling. You can’t substitute a new friend in this case to ease the pain. You can encourage your child to broaden their group of friends. Perhaps a new child their age will move into the house once occupied by their friend. Don’t force it, but see if you can help your child develop a new friendship with that child. As always you have to know your child. Be alert to their signals, verbal and otherwise. You should be aware of just how badly your child is feeling this loss and know if your attempts to alleviate their stress are working or not.

For Tweens to Teens

By now your child has friendships developed through school, sports, activities, and proximity to your home. They may or may not have been friends for years. What started out as being bound by common interests now develops into being bound by a common label. I’ve noticed that it’s at this time that children seem to start to label themselves. I’m a jock. I’m the smart kid. I’m the musician. I’m the geek. I’m the pretty one. I’m the fashionista. You get the idea. Right or wrong, they seem to want to lock in a label of identity. Friendships at this age are all the more important to your child as it reinforces who they think they are as a person.

It becomes harder as a parent to manage their friends as they become more and more social and mobile. While I wouldn’t encourage you to pick their friends, I do hope you monitor who they are friendly with. An old saying, “show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are” applies. Let’s make sure our children are making good choices. Whatever you do, please don’t let your personal prejudices stand between your child and a potential friend. Along with that, don’t make it obvious that you are truly pleased that a particular friend is moving away. Just because you may not have cared for the kid doesn’t mean that your child will feel the loss of that friend any less. Be available and supportive.

At this age you are going to hear from you child. If you have developed an open line of communication with your child they may seek you out to talk about this. Turn the tables around so that it is your family moving away from friends and the volume can turn up significantly. Splitting up friendships at this age is liable to start a conversation that easily escalates into a confrontation. Feeling the need for independence mixed with the inability to separate from the family unit can fuel a verbal attack against you and your decision to move. Be ready for it.

A life lesson is not that far off at this age. With the approaching graduation from high school you can point out that in a matter of time everyone will be going their own way. It will be up to each party in a particular friendship to evaluate if that friendship is worth keeping. And if the answer is yes, the kids have to figure out what they are willing to do to remain friends. I would guess that with the ease of communication through social media the thought of a friend moving away may not bring the amount of angst it did in the past. Although your child may not be in the same location as their friend they most certainly have the tools available to them to keep in touch.

Dealing with the loss of a friend is painful for everybody – at any age. As the parent it’s our job to recognize that our children are suffering a loss. Even if we don’t understand it we have to be there to support them. Someone your child plays with only occasionally may have bonded with your child in a way that you do not understand. The thought of that child not being in their life anymore can make them fearful and sad. Everyone experiences loss in life. Comfort your child and let them know they are not alone, they are not the only person to lose a friend, and the pain and sorrow will pass. If they express an interest in keeping that friendship from a distance, offer assistance in doing so. Allow phone calls and make the effort to drive a short distance if possible. Look for sports or activities they can share after the move. Give them the skills to cope with loss. And most of all, love them and make sure they know that you will always be there for them.

If you’d like to read more about this topic I’ve pulled a few links for you to check out:

Have you had to deal with the loss of a your child’s friend? How did you handle it? If you have any tips or thoughts on the topic, please share… You can contact LilyToad at:

By Gret Boyd

 

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