Helping Kids Cope When a Friend Moves Away

My daughter started preschool this year. She loves school, and made her very first best friend. The girls are inseparable at school, we’ve had many play dates together, and my daughter talks about her friend “M” allthe time. Then last week, while the girls were playing together, M’s mother dropped a bombshell: they’re moving back home to Texas.

I looked over at the girls playing and laughing together, and my heart started to hurt. How, I thought, am going to break the news to my daughter? And, more importantly: How am I going to help her through the loss of her very first best friend?

Helping your child cope when a friend moves away may not be an easy feat. All children are different and will react to this news in very different ways. Age is a consideration and will affect how well and how quickly your child is able to process this information. Whatever the case, it’s important to explain  to your child that families move, that this can sometimes be a common occurrence, and that when a friend moves away, it hurts.

Young Children (2-3 and Under)

Recognize your child is experiencing a loss, and allow your child time to process her feelings. For young children (two-three and under), coming to terms with a friend leaving most likely will not take long at all. One minute their friend is there playing, and they’re happy, and the next minute their friend is gone, and they’re back with Mommy and Daddy.  Good news!

Pre-School & Elementary Age

Children this age will most likely take the news a bit harder. Children this age begin to recognize likes and dislikes, and most often make friends with others who have similar traits.  They will start asking on their own to “play” with their friends, and their friendships will be based on common interests. Recognizing the “loss of a friend” is extremely important in this age group. Some children may or may not know how to process their thoughts and feelings about their friend moving away. Encourage your child to talk about it, and ask specific questions: Do you know why Johnny is moving away? Do you know where Johnny is moving to? How do you feel about Johnny moving away?

What You Can Do to Help

If your child’s friend isn’t moving far, reassure your child that he will still get to see and play with Johnny sometime, but that he may not get to play with him in school everyday like before, and that you will have to drive or travel to see him. If your child’s friend is moving far away, show your child where his friend ismoving on a map and even “research” his new location. Reassure your child that even though Johnny’s moving far away, that doesn’t mean they will never get to see or talk with each other again. Thanks to technology like Skype and FaceTime, your child may still periodically be able to see and talk with his friend.

Share your experiences with your child, and how you may have handled a similar situation when you were young. Don’t immediately try to find a “substitute friend” for your child.  Encourage your child to broaden his/her circle of friends, but recognize that a new friend most likely will not ease the pain… at first.  Most importantly, you know your child best, and how well or not well she ishandling this difficult situation. Pay attention to how your child is acting, to her mood and her willingness to talk with you about her friend moving.

Tween & Teen Years

Friendships during these years become a bit less about common interests and more about common labels. Your child has most likely developed friendships through school, sports, dance, activities, etc.  Right or wrong, this is a time when children want to lock in an identity and may start to label themselves (jock, geek, skater, popular…you get the idea). Friendships that develop at this age are extremely important to children, because they help reinforce their identity and who they think they are as persons.

This time period can also be difficult for parents, because it becomes harder to control who your child may want to be friends with. Obviously you want your child to make good choices when it comes to choosing their friends. However, if the friend moving away is one you’re happy to see your child part ways with, try to keep it to yourself.  Just because you don’t care for this particular friend, that doesn’t mean the pain/loss your child may experience will be any less. Let your teen/tween know that you are there for them, and be as supportive as you can.

Help your teen determine if his friendship with the friend who is moving away is worth keeping. If the answer is yes, there are plenty of ways for them to stay in touch. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as video chatting software like Skype and FaceTime, make it that much easier to try and remain friends on some level. Another important point to consider (and look ahead to) is what usually happens after high school graduation, and that at some point everyone starts to go their own way.

Hopefully you’ve been trying (hard as it is sometimes) to keep the lines of communication open with your teenager. Letting your teen know that you’re always there  and available to talk about her feelings, and actually having her come to you whenever there’s a problem or difficult situation, is a win-win for everyone. Having open lines of communication will also help deter your teenager from turning to other things (alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.) to feel better about their problems.

Final Thoughts

Coping with the loss of a friend is painful at any age. As parents, it’s our job to recognize how our child is dealing with the loss. Even if we cannot fully understand it, we need to be supportive. Comfort your child and let her know she’s not alone in how she feels. Explain to her that everyone has or at some point will suffer the loss of a friend. Give her time to feel her pain and reassure her the pain and sadness she is feeling will lessen over time. Again, pay attention to how your child is acting, to his mood swings, and to his willingness to talk with you about how he’s feeling.  If you feel your attempts to help your child through this difficult time are unsuccessful, then seek outside help.

As always, one of our providers will be more than happy to help point you and your child in the right direction. Good luck!

Katie LaMendola is a former Kids Plus Provider.