The Other Side of Goodbye: When Friends Move Away

By Terri Barnes

In military communities, students who are not moving feel the effects of the Season of Leaving when friends move away. Whether they are leaving or not, students may have to say goodbye to good friends and even best friends.  Children whose friends move away experience the same grief and need the same care and attention they would need if they were moving.

When friends move away, the familiar landscape of life shifts, even for kids who remain in the same place. The student left behind is surrounded by reminders of the friends who have moved—the soccer field, the neighborhood park, houses where friends used to live. Even a child’s own toys can become reminders of how much they miss spending time with a special friend.

No matter who is doing the leaving, being separated from friends is difficult. It’s important to recognize the pain for both those who are moving and the ones left behind. The emotional reactions of kids on both sides are very similar and need similar care and attention.

Make Time for Goodbye

Saying goodbye is very important, both for students who move away and those remaining. There are many ways to say goodbye, and kids need the opportunity to say it. A good goodbye acknowledges the importance and value of the friendship and validates the sorrow of being separated. When friends are moving, make time to say goodbye, whether at a party or in quiet moments together.

Plan ways for friends to stay in touch through technology, writing letters, or making plans for a visit if possible. A valuable friendship is worth the effort of staying in touch. Making this effort demonstrates the power of friendship to overcome time and distance.

Make Room for Feelings

Encourage children to discuss how they feel about a friend’s departure and let them know their feelings are real and recognized. Don’t dismiss their sorrow or try to remind them of disagreements or other negatives about the missing friend. Reassure them that friendship is valuable and important, and having friends to love is worth the pain of saying goodbye.

Let children have their own timeline for their feelings. Deal with waves of sadness as they come. Children may be overwhelmed by grief right away, or they may not seem so sad at first. The loss may hit them later when they see something or go somewhere that reminds them of their missing friend. They likely will experience a series of emotional ups and downs and will need comfort and reassurance as the need arises.

Make Friends for Life

After a friend has moved away, encourage children to connect with friends nearby and make plans together. Kids may be hesitant to seek out these connections out of loyalty to the friend who left. Let them know having other friends doesn’t change the love they have for the one who moved. They can enjoy friends who are nearby and stay in touch with those who are far away.

Children may also resist new relationships to avoid painful goodbyes in the future. Parents and teachers can’t push kids into making new friends, but they can offer reassurance that friendships are an important part of life. Saying goodbye is hard, but not having friends at all is much harder.

Many friendships in military life transcend time and distance, even—or especially—friendships formed in childhood. Sometimes military moves reunite friends from past assignments, and sometimes military families maintain strong relationships with good communication and occasional visits.

Helping children understand the value of friendships both old and new builds strength and security as they grow into adults. When children discover the sustaining power of friendship in spite of time and distance, they will treasure longtime friends and be more open to new ones.

Terri Barnes, senior editor at Elva Resa Publishing, has moved at least twenty times in her life as a military child, military spouse, and mother of three military children. She is the author of  Spouse Calls: Messages from a Military Life and editor of  Seasons of My Military Student: Practical Ideas for Parents and Teachers.


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