When Friends Move Away
What Do You Do
When Your Child’s Friend Moves Away?
By Jacqueline V. Scott
having her best friend live across the street from her. The close proximity
made it easy for them to breeze into each other’s houses after school and
throughout the weekend. Frequently, they would have dinner together or a
“We basically met up every day,” Katie, age 8, says about her friend, Emma. “I
walked to her house and she walked to mine. Maybe, if she just came home from
school, we did homework together and played together.”
It was the perfect set-up for the two Catonsville friends. But last spring,
things changed when Emma’s family found a larger home on the other side of
Moving can create quite an emotional reaction in kids who are used to seeing
their friend on a daily basis. Such was the case for Katie and Emma.
“There were a lot of tears,” says Karen Viets, Katie’s mom.
Having a best friend move away—whether across town or out of state—is a loss
for a child, according to Bridget Hartnagel, professional school counselor at
Stoneleigh Elementary School in Baltimore County.
“Something is being taken away from their life,” Hartnagel explains. “So they
will be going through a type of grieving process.”
Emma wasn’t moving that far away—the distance was only about five miles—both
girls knew that the move would impact their daily interactions.
“I felt upset that we wouldn’t see each other every day because we were best
friends,” says Katie.
But she adds her mom did help her through the transition.
As soon as they knew about the move, Viets drove Katie over to see where Emma’s
new house would be.
“We wanted to show her that it wasn’t going to be that far away,” Viets
recalls. The families also talked about the move a lot and how it was going to
impact the girls.
“We talked a little before and after,” says Katie. “It did make us feel
According to Hartnagel, it’s important that parents acknowledge what their
child is going through. A child shouldn’t simply be told that he or she “will
get over it” with time. Rather, parents should let their child know that they
realize that it is difficult. Hartnagel suggests that parents say things such
as, “I bet you are really going to miss him or her.”
The counselor adds that parents should let their children choose how they will
continue their friendship after the move.
Katie says it helped that she and Emma were able to plan on when and how much
they would see each other after the move. “Our moms talked to us and told us
that we would see each other more than one day a week,î she says.
Now, the two girls get together at each other’s house at least once on the
weekends and will frequently eat dinner at the other’s house during the week.
They also belong to the same swim club and the same Girl Scout troop.
For those kids whose friends move out of town, the transition may be a little
bumpier. But these days, kids do have a lot of choices on how they will keep in
touch with a long-distance friend. They can write each other letters, schedule
times to call each other on the phone, exchange emails, instant message or even
send each other videotapes of what they are doing.
What is important, notes Hartnagel, is that parents continue to foster the
“Let them make the choices, but don’t force anything on them,” she says.
“Follow their lead and give them several options. Just because the child moves
away, doesn’t mean that the friendship has to be over. What I tell kids is that
they will just have to try a little harder at [keeping it going].”
Hartnagel acknowledges that, most of the time, a move will be a more
significant change for kids in second grade on up. Kindergartners and first
graders will feel sad about their friend leaving and they may have some
questions about the move, but they will tend to move on more quickly.
The Older They Are
Older kids, however, start to develop a core group of friends, and Hartnagel
says, “As personalities develop and kids see what they like in other people,
they will be drawn to those kids who have the same interests as them.”
They are also more independent, with more freedom to pursue their
friendships—unlike younger children, who frequently have to rely on their
parents to set up play dates for them.
“As children get older, it becomes much harder when a friend moves away,” says
Hartnagel, “simply because they’ve developed a closer bond with each other.”
High school students can have a particularly difficult time with this kind of
Hartnagel adds that, on occasion, upon hearing the news that one of them will
be moving away, friends will come to her looking for guidance.
“They will say, ‘We don’t know how to deal with this. What do we do?’” she
says.”That’s when Hartnagel suggests that those friends come up with a plan of
how they will continue their friendship.
According to Hartnagel, the friends should detail how they will spend time
together before the move. That may mean just hanging out with each other a lot
or doing a joint project such as making scrapbooks that include pictures,
events or funny memories that the friends have shared. Scrapbooking can be
therapeutic for kids, because they are mentally preparing themselves for the
transition, she adds.
Even after the move, kids can make scrapbooks of themselves to send to their friend
so that they can still share in each other’s lives.
On a more personal level, kids may want to keep a journal in which they write
their friend letters that detail how they are feeling. “They don’t have to send
those letters,” says Hartnagel. “But it is a good way for them to get their
Because parents make the decision to move, kids frequently feel as though they
have a lack of control over their lives, which can be very frustrating for
“Kids hate the fact that they don’t have control over the move,” she says. “Parents
can give them back some control by helping them keep in touch with their
Hartnagel adds that these activities will also help the child who doing the
moving. That child will be going through a significant transition, and it will
help to have a friend to help him or her get through that transition.
These days Katie and Emma are still the best of friends. They no longer breeze
in and out of each other’s houses. But that is fine with Katie.
“She is still my best friend.”Katie says. “The only thing different is that we
don’t see each other as much as we used to. But our friendship is still the
same as before she moved.” BC