It seems to be the season for goodbyes. We spoke to expat mamas from Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong to find out how to help our children say goodbye to their friends and their home, and look forward to moving to a new country.
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. It’s even more difficult when you are the one leaving – after all, #HomeKong has a way of drawing you in and staying in your heart, so the move can be even more difficult for little ones.
Sure, most adult relationships will survive the distance (thank goodness for social media!), but it’s not always so easy for children. So how do you help your child cope with having to say goodbye to a good friend? Here are some ways to make it easier.
It’s never a pleasant conversation, but you can’t avoid it, either. 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. Children are far more resilient than we realise and can adapt to new situations and change better than most adults can. Expect to hear a few whines – “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?”
Be patient and answer the same questions a hundred times, if need be. Your patience will pay off and the kids will bounce back sooner if you do.
Here are some quick tips to help make goodbyes easier for kids:
- Talk to your child like a real person, not a baby, when they tell you that their (best) friend is leaving soon or that you are.
- Explain the reasons why someone may have to leave school or if you have to. Sometimes it comes down to money and distance; often it’s because of the jobs and contracts.
- If their friends are just changing schools (and not countries), 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 (or you) 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. If your kids are above a certain age, help them create their own email ids (these can be monitored until kids are teens). 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.
- Tell your 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.
- To get your kids excited about a new country, do some research together and tell them what to expect in it. It could be seeing grandparents after a long time (thanks COVID!), learning a new language or visiting one of the wonders of the world.
- If your kids are older – say, in middle school – sometimes the move can be exciting for them. Address the anxieties and the excitement and let your child know that both of those emotions are normal and acceptable.
- With high school children, farewells are often more personal and difficult to address and many teenagers prefer to suffer in silence. Even if they are older, it’s important that parents continue to talk to their kids and give them confidence about what lies ahead.
- Plan ahead and mark things off your Hong Kong bucket list. Ask the kids to make their list of must-do HK experiences. It’s a great way to get some closure. Don’t forget to take plenty of family photos!
- Finally, encourage them to start the new year or new school year on a positive note and to make new friends.
Read more: 50 Things To Do With Kids In Hong Kong
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. 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!
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July 2016 and has been updated with inputs from Priyanka in Singapore, Jane Talbot in Dubai and Anita Balagopalan in Hong Kong.