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Saying Good-Bye to Friends - How to make your child understand?

Sometimes it seems as if life is full of good-byes. This can be especially difficult for children who may not understand changing life circumstances that result in a friend having to move out of town or leave for another reason. Therefore, it’s important for parents to offer healthy support and guidance as a means of helping their children learn coping strategies for life’s inevitable endings and beginnings.

Be Careful of Unrealistic Promises

Of course, it’s natural for parents to try to comfort their children when they have to say good-bye to a friend by making promises. You might want to reassure your child by promising that nothing much will change, staying in touch is easy, or that they can visit their friend as often as they like. However, though these reassurances might comfort children in the moment, such promises are often unrealistic and result in future confusion and heartache when they aren’t kept.

A better approach is to be as honest and empathetic with your child as possible in terms of the future of their friendship. It’s important to be positive and encourage ways they can stay in touch with their friend, whether through regular mail, email, phone calls, or perhaps a safe and age-appropriate form of social media. Yet it’s essential to be honest about the difficulty in sustaining such contact over time and that your child’s efforts may not be reciprocated. If setting up a visit with their departing friend is likely, you can acknowledge that possibility. However, don’t offer any scenarios that you can’t guarantee.

As parents, it takes a lot of courage to share truths with our children that seem harsh—especially in moments of sadness such as saying good-bye to a friend. In doing so, however, with honesty and empathy, parents set a foundation of trust in their relationship with their child; and this trust is sure to last much longer than unrealistic or unfulfilled promises.

A Sense of Endings and Beginnings

Saying good-bye to a friend brings with it a sense of an ending. Even if the friendship is maintained, it is changed. However, such changes often bring about new beginnings which enhance personal growth and learning.

Here are some ideas to comfort your child and help them better understand a sense of endings and beginnings as part of life:

Use Yourself as an Example

Parents may not realize how influential their own stories and experiences can be when shared with their children. Telling your child about a situation you faced in saying good-bye to a departing friend can help them realize that their response to such change is healthy and universal. If you happened to experience a move yourself as a child, you can also share how it felt to say good-bye to your friends and start somewhere new. Your child will take comfort in knowing that you understand how they feel because you have been through the same type of ending and beginning.

Create a Keepsake

Friendships are important in every stage of life, though some may last longer than others. Allowing your child to create a keepsake for themselves and/or their departing friend is a great way to commemorate the friendship. You can have your child draw some pictures to illustrate what they like about their friend and choose one to give as a “good-bye” gift. If you have actual pictures of your child with their friend, you can create a picture collage as well, or frame a couple for both children to keep. You can even help your child write a note to express their feelings, allowing them a sense of closure and readying them for a new friendship phase.

Take a Look Back

Your child may understandably feel deep loss at saying good-bye to their friend, and they may have a difficult time imagining the beginning of new and different friendships. To help them through this transition, you can allow them to “look back” at changes they have already experienced and processed. For example, you can remind them of a favorite toy, book, outfit, or game that they happened to outgrow. Be sure to emphasize that though their interests and preferences change across time, the memories are still there. In addition, you can show your child that endings are natural to allow people to grow and embrace new beginnings.

Stand in Another’s Shoes

This activity can be helpful not only in understanding how life changes through saying good-bye, but it’s also a concrete lesson in developing empathy. Have your child choose two pairs of shoes, one to represent themselves and one to represent their friend who is leaving. As they stand in their “own” shoes, encourage them to gently and briefly (one minute or less) imagine how it will feel to miss seeing their friend at school, play group, etc. Be sure to empathize with how they feel.

Then, as they stand in the “friend’s” shoes, encourage them to imagine what their friend may experience in a new location or situation: getting used to a new town, house, and/or school, making all new friends, etc. Help your child understand that, though the change of being left behind by a friend is difficult, their friend is facing even more changes. Be sure to tell your child how important it is to consider their friend’s feelings, and how proud you are that they care so much about the friendship.

One of the best ways to help your child gain a better understanding of life changes is through encouraging imaginative play and learning about the world around them. At Cognisprings, we support parents looking for educational toys that inspire children to explore who they are, their environment, and the importance of diversity among people and experiences. That’s why we provide books, puzzles, games, and toys that are thoughtfully designed for critical thinking, creativity, and curiosity. In addition, Cognisprings prioritizes fun and educational activities that are screen-free, promote healthy cognitive development, and encourage personal growth. Family togetherness, such as playing games or reading, not only creates lasting memories, but it’s a wonderful way to enhance your child’s understanding and acceptance of change.