What Do You Do When Your Child’s Friend Moves Away?
By Jacqueline V. Scott
Katie loved having her best friend live across the street from her. The close proximity made it easy for them to breeze into each other’s houses after school and throughout the weekend. Frequently, they would have dinner together or a spontaneous sleepover.
“We basically met up every day,” Katie, age 8, says about her friend, Emma. “I walked to her house and she walked to mine. Maybe, if she just came home from school, we did homework together and played together.”
It was the perfect set-up for the two Catonsville friends. But last spring, things changed when Emma’s family found a larger home on the other side of town.
Moving can create quite an emotional reaction in kids who are used to seeing their friend on a daily basis. Such was the case for Katie and Emma.
“There were a lot of tears,” says Karen Viets, Katie’s mom.
Having a best friend move away—whether across town or out of state—is a loss for a child, according to Bridget Hartnagel, professional school counselor at Stoneleigh Elementary School in Baltimore County.
“Something is being taken away from their life,” Hartnagel explains. “So they will be going through a type of grieving process.”
Even though Emma wasn’t moving that far away—the distance was only about five miles—both girls knew that the move would impact their daily interactions.
“I felt upset that we wouldn’t see each other every day because we were best friends,” says Katie.
But she adds her mom did help her through the transition.
As soon as they knew about the move, Viets drove Katie over to see where Emma’s new house would be.
“We wanted to show her that it wasn’t going to be that far away,” Viets recalls. The families also talked about the move a lot and how it was going to impact the girls.
“We talked a little before and after,” says Katie. “It did make us feel better.”
According to Hartnagel, it’s important that parents acknowledge what their child is going through. A child shouldn’t simply be told that he or she “will get over it” with time. Rather, parents should let their child know that they realize that it is difficult. Hartnagel suggests that parents say things such as, “I bet you are really going to miss him or her.”
The counselor adds that parents should let their children choose how they will continue their friendship after the move.
Katie says it helped that she and Emma were able to plan on when and how much they would see each other after the move. “Our moms talked to us and told us that we would see each other more than one day a week,î she says.
Now, the two girls get together at each other’s house at least once on the weekends and will frequently eat dinner at the other’s house during the week. They also belong to the same swim club and the same Girl Scout troop.
For those kids whose friends move out of town, the transition may be a little bumpier. But these days, kids do have a lot of choices on how they will keep in touch with a long-distance friend. They can write each other letters, schedule times to call each other on the phone, exchange emails, instant message or even send each other videotapes of what they are doing.
What is important, notes Hartnagel, is that parents continue to foster the relationship.
“Let them make the choices, but don’t force anything on them,” she says. “Follow their lead and give them several options. Just because the child moves away, doesn’t mean that the friendship has to be over. What I tell kids is that they will just have to try a little harder at [keeping it going].”
Hartnagel acknowledges that, most of the time, a move will be a more significant change for kids in second grade on up. Kindergartners and first graders will feel sad about their friend leaving and they may have some questions about the move, but they will tend to move on more quickly.
The Older They Are
Older kids, however, start to develop a core group of friends, and Hartnagel says, “As personalities develop and kids see what they like in other people, they will be drawn to those kids who have the same interests as them.”
They are also more independent, with more freedom to pursue their friendships—unlike younger children, who frequently have to rely on their parents to set up play dates for them.
“As children get older, it becomes much harder when a friend moves away,” says Hartnagel, “simply because they’ve developed a closer bond with each other.”
High school students can have a particularly difficult time with this kind of transition.
Hartnagel adds that, on occasion, upon hearing the news that one of them will be moving away, friends will come to her looking for guidance.
“They will say, ‘We don’t know how to deal with this. What do we do?’” she says.”That’s when Hartnagel suggests that those friends come up with a plan of how they will continue their friendship.
According to Hartnagel, the friends should detail how they will spend time together before the move. That may mean just hanging out with each other a lot or doing a joint project such as making scrapbooks that include pictures, events or funny memories that the friends have shared. Scrapbooking can be therapeutic for kids, because they are mentally preparing themselves for the transition, she adds.
Even after the move, kids can make scrapbooks of themselves to send to their friend so that they can still share in each other’s lives.
On a more personal level, kids may want to keep a journal in which they write their friend letters that detail how they are feeling. “They don’t have to send those letters,” says Hartnagel. “But it is a good way for them to get their feelings out.”
Because parents make the decision to move, kids frequently feel as though they have a lack of control over their lives, which can be very frustrating for them.
“Kids hate the fact that they don’t have control over the move,” she says. “Parents can give them back some control by helping them keep in touch with their friends.”
Hartnagel adds that these activities will also help the child who doing the moving. That child will be going through a significant transition, and it will help to have a friend to help him or her get through that transition.
These days Katie and Emma are still the best of friends. They no longer breeze in and out of each other’s houses. But that is fine with Katie.
“She is still my best friend.”Katie says. “The only thing different is that we don’t see each other as much as we used to. But our friendship is still the same as before she moved.” BC