6 tips for when your child’s friend moves away

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 4-year-old daughter, Viva, who is thus far standing her ground as a city kid.

If there’s one thing Chicago families with young children are good at, it’s moving away. (Well, taking forever to pull out of a parking space, and moving away.) They move for a variety of reasons: their upwardly mobile parents may have changed jobs to another city, their growing young families may need more space or perhaps they’ve just made an exodus to the suburbs so they can be nearer to Applebee’s and wear more tucked in polo shirts.

What does it mean for the city parents left behind when everyone else has been caught up into the suburban rapture? It means explaining to our children the empty time-out chairs and empty sensory tables when all of their preschool friends have gone.

I’ve combed the echo chamber of the parenting web for articles and advice about the subject from a variety of child psychologists, behaviorists and meddling hams with keyboards (like me).  There is definitely a party-line on how to talk to your kids about their friends leaving. Here are what the experts say:

Delay telling them about the move (especially very young children)

Toddlers and preschoolers won’t understand what has happened until their friend misses several playdates and the newspapers start to pile up outside the dollhouse – and by then they’ll probably have a new friend to miss when the new friend also inevitably moves away. Basically, delaying will save you a few nights of hearing your kid cry into their pillow. After the final encounter with the kid about to move, look over your shoulder in the car and say to your child, “Did you and Alexa have some good laughs? Great, because la commedia e finita,” then drive off into the uncertain future.

Oh, there’s another, related, commonly-held bit of advice:

Don’t delay telling them about the move

Give your child plenty of time to process and ritualize their feelings. Let your child make a tiny construction paper coffin with the word “friendship” written on the lid with glitter glue. Bury it in the backyard next to your last cat. Let your child think about all the things they won’t miss about their friend. “Madison, the way you chew horrifies me. Tinsley, your monogrammed duvet cover from Pottery Barn is an obnoxious example of conspicuous consumption and narcissism. Enjoy your new home in Connecticut.”

Stay positive

Life is too short to mourn lost friendships. There’s plenty of time to make more. After all, friends don’t really leave, they just become people who annoy you with their off-the-wall politics and self-pity on Facebook. A funnier, better looking new friend is just a tea party away.

Explain what happens in a move

… and how much worse it will be for their friend. “Holden will be living out of a box for the next three months, honey. And her new refrigerator will probably die a week after the closing. Plus, she doesn’t have any friends at her new home. Imagine her horror as she walks up to a snack table full of hostile strangers. Compared to her, you’ve got it great.”

Help them keep in touch

Moving away isn’t dying, because you’ll still exchange Christmas cards. So it’s like someone dying, but still costing you $1.50 every December. Try a few Skype calls with the expat friend – after the connection drops a few times, your child will realize it’s easier to make a new friend than teleconference.

Invite friends to a play date

Tell your child this is their chance to be a friendship power broker amongst her remaining friends – someone gets to move up the friend ranking chart!  “Good news, Camden, Skylar is a persona non grata in our clubhouse – you’re my new bestie!”

So, you see, having a friend move away doesn’t have to be a catastrophic event, it’s just one more part of growing older and becoming dead inside. Enjoy!

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