Being a tween is hard. Hormones raging, bodies changing, school is more demanding, parents don’t understand anything, and OMG, the opposite sex is starting to notice you and vice versa. Thank goodness for best friends.
Then, one day, your child’s BFF (for uncool parents, this means Best Friend Forever) gives her the absolutely WORST NEWS EVER! She’s moving away. The reason doesn’t matter… it’s the end of the world as your tween and her BFF know it. They’re devastated. They spend every waking moment together, and talk (and cry) on the phone each night.
Yes, it’s dramatic. It’s a tween’s life, and it really does feel like the end of the world to your child. I remember. I moved from my hometown at 12. It was 1980: long distance phone calls cost serious pocket change, there was no Skype, texting, email or Facebook. I hated my mom for adding this drama to my already troubled life. My dad had just died, so my mom wanted to move to Toronto to be closer to her family. But my friends were my family. Did she have any clue how it felt for me?
Parents can help their children with this transition. It takes patience and understanding, and the freedom to allow them to express what they’re feeling. Lisa Stein, a Thornhill, Ont.-based child psychotherapist says, “For some children, this will be their first experience with loss, and as such it can be difficult to process. Ideally, you want to help your child process the loss and remain resilient so that they will have some skills in this regard later in life. A parent can support a child by providing reflective listening cues such as ‘I can see this is really sad for you’ and allowing a child to talk about it.”
There are many ways to have a BFF stay in your child’s life. My son came up with the unique idea of writing a story with his friend. Either before they leave, or once they go, encourage the children to write a story beginning together. Over the months, they can send their story back and forth, adding to it and and developing it into something awesome that both kids will cherish forever. It’s a great way to stay in each other’s thoughts. They can also email or phone each other to discuss their ideas for each section of the story. With relatively inexpensive technology today, it is much easier to stay in touch.
Jessica Perlmutar, mother of four boys between five months and 12 years, moved her family 15 minutes, but it meant a change in schools. Her 10-year-old had a horrible time with the move. “The transition saw him acting out in class and isolating himself at recess – despite making new friends. This is a kid whom everyone likes immediately. He also internalized things to the point of having severe stomach aches. He finally expressed how much he missed his old school and friends.”
It’s common at this age for boys to internalize their feelings and for girls to exhibit emotional sadness and have mood swings. Kerry Gunter, whose best friend moved away at 14, said she “felt frustrated with the world” and they spent hours talking about their feelings.
The main advice Lisa gives to parents is not to diminish their child’s feelings. “The biggest mistake a parent can make is to tell their child to ‘get over it’. At this stage of development, such a change can feel like a catastrophe. I have seen this cause rifts between a child and parent for lack of understanding. It’s also important to make sure that your child isn’t isolating him/herself because of the loss of their BFF.”
Staying connected to old friends
Here are some tips for making the transition smoother:
- Help your child create a memory book of photos, notes, drawings, mementos, etc. Have them present it to the friend before they leave.
- Make use of technology. Set up email and Skype accounts so the friends can share photos, or talk and message regularly. (Some ground rules and parental controls may need to be set.) If they have a cell phone, consider unlimited texting packages. Kids text. A lot. They will feel more connected if they can text their BFF like they’re still just around the corner.
- If your child likes writing, suggest he or she write a poem, rap or song, about how they feel about their BFF. If they’re more into art, a drawing or painting might be a good creative outlet.
- Arrange play dates and other activities with other children, to help strengthen those newer friendships as well.
- Be tender, understanding, and offer support. Remind your child you’re also leaving your friends behind and you understand how hard it is. Encourage staying in touch, and try to plan trips to visit if viable. It will mean the world to both the child who stays and the one who moves away.
- Remind your child how much harder it will be for the child who is relocating and encourage them to be supportive of their friend. Awakening their sense of empathy will help them feel stronger.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2015.