How to help your children say goodbye

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Expat and school farewells

It’s that time of year when people start moving away. Many families choose this time of year to relocate as it ties in well with the school holidays and tends to make the transition from school to school a little easier for the kids. This ‘season’ isn’t only for those moving to another country though. Moving from primary school to secondary education, or leaving school for university – these are important transitions too, and ones which can be difficult for your children. My own daughter is finishing at her Prep school this week, so everyone in her academic year is moving to pastures new. Emotions are running high!

All this upheaval means we deviate from the routine our children have become accustomed to. Whether it’s a teenager finishing school and bidding farewell to their friends or any child moving abroad with family, learning to manage and process relocation is a necessary part of growing up. For international families who relocate regularly, learning to say goodbye is something their children will need to face from a very early age.

The first step is to recognise that children of different age groups will require different kinds of support. The best thing to do is treat this as a continual and gradual process – assisting your child in different ways at different stages of their development.

Talk – and listen!

At every stage, communication is key and lets your child know that they can turn to you for advice when saying goodbye or adjusting to a big move. From the start, children should know that change is inevitable. However, by treating these transitions as a form of progression (rather than a daunting but unavoidable transformation) will make your child feel less intimidated by similar changes in the future.

Primary age kids

For parents with children under 11 years of age, it’s important to start by covering the very basics. Children should be assured that it is perfectly normal to be scared or emotional when saying goodbye. Every child will have different feelings about this transition, so try not to make assumptions based on your own feelings. The best way to get a child to open up is to ask open questions such as “How do you feel about saying goodbye?” This way, you aren’t putting words in your child’s mouth, but rather giving them the chance to vocalise how they truly feel.

Here are some other great ideas for asking clever questions so you find out more about how your child views their school and friends – “How was school today?.

Early teens

The next three years are often more complicated. Your kids are now more teen than child – I’m sure you’ve noticed! They start to become much more emotionally invested in their friends (and less so in their parents). Emotions and rising hormones can make this a particularly stressful period – for all the family.

By this stage, most children are likely to be slightly more comfortable with change and development which means that moving away can be viewed as exciting as well as intimidating. Parents can help their young teens juggle these contrasting emotions by encouraging children to discuss both their positive and negative feelings. Which part of saying goodbye makes them sad? What are they looking forward to in this new stage?

It’s always a good move at this age to encourage them to look ahead, rather than dwell on the past, so make sure you have a good supply of information about your new home/school to hand.

Older teenagers

While teens over the age of 14 will be more familiar with saying goodbye, this does not mean that they no longer need help dealing with the process. Unlike in earlier years, older teens are more likely to keep their emotions bottled up and not deal with these feelings effectively. Too much intervention could make your teenager feel pressured and withdraw further. Trying to get them to speak to you in the first place may be tricky! Try some of the questions listed in this article – 25 Ways to Ask Your Teens “How Was School Today?” WITHOUT asking them “How Was School Today?”

Encourage your child to face their emotions in the way they think is best. Make suggestions without being overbearing and celebrate the end of this stage with their friends. Leaving parties are always a good move, whatever your child’s age!

The expat grieving process

The leaving of friendships and familiarity is a recognised form of grief, also known as ‘expat grief’ or ‘relocation grief’. Children often grieve in silence or try to ignore the loss associated with change because they don’t have the necessary understanding of their own feelings.

Generally, the accepted stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Similar stages can sometimes be seen in expat children, so keep your eye on them to help them through this time.

Ensuring your child says a healthy goodbye helps your family to look forward and achieve real closure. Goodbyes are important, and are vital for healthy progression.

Encourage your child to communicate, and make sure you listen out for the unspoken. Be honest – don’t make promises you can’t keep. Let them know that your family unit will remain strong and supportive despite the changes taking place. Focus on the positive aspects but don’t be afraid to address the negative too.

Above all, be supportive, and reassure your child that they can cope with what’s ahead, no matter how old they are.

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