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When Friends Have to Say Goodbye

Talking About Losing Friends

Even though she loves macaroni and cheese, your nine-year-old daughter is just pushing it around her plate. When you ask her if she's feeling okay, she suddenly bursts into tears. "It's not fair that Alison is moving," she sobs. "I'll never have another best friend."

Finding the Words
The end of the school year can bring big changes for children and families, and some of those changes involve loss. Friends might be moving away or changing schools. For some children, having a close school buddy assigned to a different classroom can be upsetting.

All of us will lose people we love at some point in our lives, through death or other less dramatic separations. Helping children successfully manage the separations that inevitably occur at the end of a school year is a good way to help them develop lifelong strategies for coping with loss.

The Words You'll Need
You're really going to miss Alison, aren't you?

The Reason: Let your child know that you hear what she is saying. Feeling unheard compounds a child's sense of isolation.

The Words: It's really sad that she's leaving.

The Reason: Help children learn the words to identify what they are feeling so that they can develop a vocabulary to talk about their emotions.

The Words: I remember when my friend moved away, I felt mad and sad. Even though it wasn't her fault, and she couldn't help it, I still felt angry.

The Reason: Sometimes it's helpful to share your own experiences coping with a particular problem. Acknowledging your own feelings of anger about a loss is a good way of letting children know that it's okay and even normal for them to have angry feelings about someone moving away.

The Words: You've had a lot of fun with Alison, haven't you? You've known each other since you were babies. No wonder you're upset.

The Reason: It's important to validate how important her departing friend is to your child, as well as her feelings about the separation.

The Words: Would you like to do something special with Alison before she goes?

The Reason: Planning a good-bye party or event is a good way to help children take active control over some aspect of their impending separation. Your daughter can't stop her friend from leaving, but she can choose how to spend time with her before she goes.

Find out how she would like to mark her friend's departure. Perhaps she would like to spend a day with just the two of them, or give a party for her.

The Words: I like to email my friends who live far away. We also write real letters and talk on the telephone sometimes. It's not the same as being face to face, but it's a way to stay in touch.

The Reason: Help your daughter think of ways that she can stay in touch with her friend even when she's far away. If it's possible to arrange a visit, you can plan that with her, too.

The Words: No one will ever exactly take Alison's place, but you'll keep on making good friends as you grow up-in fact, it's hard to believe now, but it's likely that you will have other best friends as well.

The Reason: Even as you acknowledge the unique place her departing friend holds in your daughter's life, let her know that you have faith in her ability to continue to make good friends.

The Words: Any time you want to talk about this, let me know. Talking about it won't keep Alison from leaving, but it might help you feel less lonely.

The Reason: Saying good-bye is a process - your daughter might need several conversations over the course of her friend's departure, and after she leaves as well. Make sure she knows that you're available.

Beyond the Rap

  • Encourage your daughter to make something for her departing friend -- working on a photo album, or a collection of written memories, will help her process the loss and is a wonderful good-bye gift.

  • Allow time and space for grieving. It's hard to watch our children be sad. On the other hand, allowing ourselves to feel painful feelings is essential to healing. Remember that healing takes time.

  • When faced with your own losses, remember that you are a model for your children. How you cope with loss will influence how they cope with it.
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