My distraught daughter jumped in the car at the end of school the other day and dramatically barked “Don’t ask Mum….just drive!”
Somewhat affronted, I did as I was told. I’ve become accustomed to pre-teen mood swings in the last few months and knew we’d sort it out by the end of the ride home. At a safe distance from school she went from tears to wracking sobs in seconds, squeezing out “Ana’s ignoring me…and we’ve only got 2...only 2 weeks left”… Ah ha, the entire problem described in one broken sentence. Ana’s family is leaving at the end of term to move to Dubai. I pulled over, stopped the car and just gave her a massive hug – my irritation with her instantly gone. We are all capable of behaving strangely when goodbyes are looming on the horizon. Cutting off from the people that we care about and don’t want to lose is a common way of trying to protect our self from the pain. It’s hard enough for adults to understand and truly mystifying for kids.
At this time of year most children at International school will either have a good friend leave or be the one doing the leaving, so it’s worth explaining to your child that sometimes, some people do odd things. They do them as a way of coping because really they’re feeling sad or angry or scared about losing people they care about.
The two areas most likely to be missed by busy parents when preparing their child to either relocate or deal with a close friend leaving are:-
Odd Behaviours and ‘Exaggerated’ Feelings – from their own children or from their children’s friends. Common ones are:-
Refusing to speak or play together.
Sudden intense crying (as I described above).
Provoking a fight in order to fall out.
Refusing to join in with something that they have previously enjoyed.
Not having any spare time to meet up.
Claims of ‘she/he was never important to me anyway’.
Significant change in their use of social media.
Hiding away in their room and not interacting.
Changes in eating patterns and food choices.
Sadness, anger and fear are at the root of all of these.
So what can you do to help? Listen, listen, listen … talk/explain - in that ratio. And what if they don’t want to talk, go for a walk together, just the two of you. It is probably the simplest, most underrated way of getting in tune, exploring feelings and working out what to do, that exists. You walk side-by-side - it’s naturally non-confrontational with a common goal, and you have no distractions.
My daughter and I continued our drive home, and talked through how she felt: Angry – how dare Ana’s family take her so far away, Sad – she loves Ana and she’ll miss her and Scared –she won’t have a best friend at school anymore, will she be ok? And then we wondered how Ana might be feeling… Angry – she doesn’t want to have to start again, somewhere else, Sad – she’ll miss her friends and Scared– will the next place be ok? To which my daughter then added, “and Excited – new place, new people, new opportunities, new food...” And of course, that’s why it’s often harder being one of the ‘stayers’, as there’s nothing exciting to distract you from the loss you’re feeling.
At home she disappeared into her room for a while, emerging to present me with an interesting card she’d made for Ana. It was a drawing of a world with a girl holding the hand of girl-shape that was missing, and the girl-shape floating in space with a string linking to the girl on earth. “It’s me and Ana”, she said “but we’re still connected”.
We didn’t need to go for a walk in the end because sitting side-by-side in the car was a good substitute (although it did nothing for my 10,000 steps goal!).