I once lost my best friend to a move. She and her family relocated to another country, and after a year of letter-writing, we simply lost touch. I remember how difficult it was to adjust to her absence, even though I had other friends and a pretty solid social circle. So, if your child is experiencing this kind of loss, there are ways to help him or her get through this emotional change.
For Very Young Children: Ages 1 to 7
- Delay telling them about the move. Very young children will have a difficult time understanding the eventual loss of their friend so it is better to wait until just before the move to explain about the change. Giving them the news well in advance may only frustrate them and leave them anticipating the loss for too long.
- Stay positive. Make sure you let your child know that this is an exciting opportunity for their friend. Show them on a map where their friend is moving to or print off pictures of the new city or town. Keep your child focused on the excitement of this upcoming change.
- Buy a book that explains what happens during a move. There are some great children's books that will take a child through the emotional aspect of a move, including the usual fear of meeting new friends. Remember, just like a child who is moving to a new city or town, the child left behind will also be concerned about meeting new friends. Books are a great way to interact with your child in order to begin talking about the emotions they may be experiencing. Check out some of my book recommendations..
- Invite friends to a play date. Before the move, get your child involved in other activities where they meet new friends. Invite over a neighbor or sign up your child for community crafts. Meeting new friends before the move with ease the transition.
For Children Ages 7 to 13
- Talk with their friend's parents to discuss the separation and how you can help the children stay in touch. Options might include visiting or talking once a week. Make sure you collect the new address and contact information.
- Help them research. Find out where their friend is moving to, then help your child research the new city, state or country. Check out travel guides from the library and trace the friend's journey in an atlas. They could even write up travel information for their friend as a going away gift. Any inclusion in the process will help your child feel more connected.
- Talk to your child about communication options. Perhaps allow one phone call a week or time to spend chatting online or talking via Skype. Suggest exchanging letters or postcards. If your child is older, they might start a blog about life at home while their friend blogs about their new experiences in the new place.
- For older children, suggest that the friends exchange a treasured object like a stuffed animal or a favorite book or create something that represents the friendship. Keeping a memento of the friendship is a great way for a child to feel connected. Our new neighbors moved from across the country and when I asked the six-year old girl what she did to stay in touch with her friends, she said they all exchanged friendship bracelets.
- Help your child create a memory scrapbook. A scrapbook is a great way to collect all their favorite moments with their friend. They can include stories, photos, mementos, maps, postcards - anything that helps spark those special moments. The scrapbook could also be given as a going away gift, too.
- Before and after the move, help your child connect with other friends. Schedule play dates or sleepovers or host an afternoon party so your child can feel connected to others and allow them the opportunity to strengthen bonds with others.
- Encourage your child to join a new club, participate in a new sport or take up a new hobby. Expanding a child's social life enables them to make new friends and helps them feel more connected to their community or school and will help ease the loss their experiencing. Again,feeling connected is important whenever this kind of change occurs.
- Encourage your child to talk about what they're experiencing. It's hard to be the one left behind. You child might be experiencing feelings of abandonment, sadness and loss. For young children, you might try recreating the scenario through stuffed toys in order to encourage their sharing of their experience.
- Let children know that you're always there to listen or for a hug. This might seem to be commonsense and something that you normally do, but reassuring your child that what they're feeling is normal is so important at this time.
- Buy them a book that deals with the subject. If a child is having difficulty speaking about their emotions, sometimes they find comfort in reading about someone else's experience; it lets them know that they're not alone and helps them work through the feelings. Ask them about the book, their thoughts and reactions. This can be a great way of talking about their experience indirectly. Go here for a list of great moving books for preteens.
- Allow your child to be sad. As difficult as it is to see your child sad, it's important that children learn that sadness is okay and that expressing it is encouraged. Of course, ice cream never hurts, either!