Saying goodbye is inherent to the international lifestyle. But even if a family decides to stay in one place for a while, as long as one is part of an international community the goodbyes continue. Children in international schools run a higher risk of seeing their best friends leave. When that happens, the goodbye might be as challenging for them as when they would be the ones leaving – except now the child might not have so much to look forwards to.
How can you help your child cope when their best friend is leaving?
- Help your child prepare for the goodbye
Give your child time and space to explore and experience the feelings associated with their best friend moving. Talk about how this might affect them now and later (next school year), as well as about how the friends will stay in touch. Also consider and plan how your child would like to say goodbye, perhaps by giving a gift, making something for their friend or throwing a farewell party?
- Support your child’s friendship
When children (or adults) learn that they will be separated from people they care about , it hurts, and children who are hurting sometimes respond by lashing out to their friend. Two best friends might pick a fight in order to try to relieve their own hurting. Sadly this is not helpful at all and there might not be a chance to make up when it is time for your child’s friend to say goodbye.You can help your child by talking about the hurt, the emotions they feel when thinking of their friend leaving and giving them space to feel this and explore this in a safe environment. Both friends can also be engaged in an exploration of their emotions together. Furthermore, you can help your child understand that if they feel hurt the reason is because they love their friend so much and will miss them (and picking fights won’t help really). You can also help your child understand that when their friend says something nasty, it might be because they will miss your child too much.
- Say goodbye
Set a clear date and time when the goodbye will be said. Make sure your child understands that this is the last time they will see their friend before their move. Talk with the moving family to find out which time would suit them best as they will probably be busy packing.
- Help your child feel and express their emotions
After the move, continue to take time for your child to explore his or her emotions regarding the move. This is a great moment to stimulate the emotional intelligence of your child; help your child find the right words for their emotions and find proper ways to express them. Shortly after the move you can initiate these talks every day. Later, initiate the talks when you know your child needs it or take time when your child is the initiator.
- Moving forwards
After an event like the departure of a best friend, there is time for grieving and time for moving forwards. Every child grieves the departure of a best friend differently, but after a week or two your child should experience more positive feelings than negative ones during the day. If your child has been very close to their best friend and not so close with the other children, it can be difficult for him/her to participate in social activities and join with other children. You can help your child by exploring their fears and setting small challenges: why don’t you ask to join in with A and B at recess today?