With summer upon us, it seems to be the season for goodbyes. As a lifelong expat, Sassy Mama Priyanka is filled with expert parent advice on how to help your children say goodbye to their friends.
One of the best things about Hong Kong is that it’s such a cultural melting pot. Who wouldn’t love living in a society teeming with people from almost every part of the globe and every walk of life? But that makes for a double-edged sword, too, because one of the worst things about living here is having to deal with transient friends, who are expats here for a few years and then ship out to other places.
Sure, most relationships will survive the distance – thank goodness for social media! – but things aren’t so easy when you have to explain to your little ones that their best friends are moving away forever. Summer holidays are in full swing and while that’s fab for many reasons, the end of the (international) school year is always tinged with having to say goodbye to old friends, some who may be leaving the country, and others who may simply be changing schools.
So how do you help your child cope with having to say goodbye to a good friend?
It’s never a pleasant conversation, but you can’t avoid it, either. I find that it’s always easier to be honest and to let your child know what to expect, rather than have it hit him harder later down the road. When I went to school (centuries ago now, it seems), the entire class moved up together to the new class, so you knew largely what to expect. My kids go to Overseas Family School in Singapore, and each class is split into two and mixed with a half of a different class, making up a new class for a new school year. So you’re going to move up with half your class instead of the entire old class.
As a parent, I think this is a brilliant way to teach children to be resilient and to adapt to new situations and change, whilst subtly forcing them out of their comfort zones to make new friends. However, kids usually have a different opinion. “I don’t want to be in that class if so and so isn’t going to be in it”, “Can I change my class so that I can be together with him?”, “Can we move to another country because so and so and I want to continue being in the same class together?” … Sound familiar, mama?
I don’t know if it’s just my family, but my two 9-year-olds have a knack for making best friends with kids who almost always tend to change schools after the year is over, or even better still, move to a different country. Last year, one of my son’s best friends returned home to Japan, whilst the other one’s best friend went back to Argentina. Bonded through LEGO, water fights, the Wii and football, and helped by Facebook and Skype, they were joined at the hip! Luckily, their friendships are still strong a year down the road. It’s lovely to see the smiles on their faces when they receive the odd postcard from their friends. And while the initial separation will hurt, treasuring the memories and friendship is an invaluable life lesson that I think every parent should help instil and nurture in their child.
Life is full of changes, people come and go, and that will always be a constant. Instead of letting it get to your child, help them understand it from as early on as possible.
Here’s my advice on how to help kids say goodbye:
- Talk to your child like a real person, not a baby, when they tell you that their (best) friend is leaving soon.
- Explain why someone may have to leave school, even if they don’t want to. Sometimes it comes down to money and distance; often it’s because of the jobs and contracts their parents have.
- If their friends are just changing schools, then don’t sweat it. Organise playdates as often as possible and life will be good again!
- Help them understand that just because their friends are moving overseas, it does not have to mean goodbye. They can still stay in touch with things like Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, emails and of course, good ol’ fashioned pen and paper.
- I try telling my kids that friends leaving a place just means that they have more friends spread out around the world, and hopefully someday, they will have at least one friend in every country that they visit.
- Get them to exchange contact details, and at the very least, exchange birthday cards every year. Pen a few lines about what has been happening with them since the last time that they spoke and it’ll be a treat to receive a letter from them, too.
- Finally, encourage them to start the new school year on a positive note and to make new friends. People change over time, and as young adults, children grow up changing slowly, too. One of my sons started off not liking a particular girl at all in his class this year, but now that Grade 3 is drawing to an end, they have become really good friends, despite his initial surprise.
Famous last words – ‘The only constant in life is change’. The sooner your kids understand that, the better they will be for dealing with everything that life throws at them down the road. Kids are more resilient than we give them credit for, and they are very adaptable at this age – certainly better than some adults I know! So level with them, help them understand what is happening and get them back on the horse. They never know just who might be waiting for them around the corner!