Tuesday, August 2, 2016

How to help your children to cope with goodbyes

Mom2MomBlog: How to Help Your Children Cope with Difficult Goodbyes
At some point in every person's life, there will come a time when you have to say goodbye.

Whether it be a friend, a teacher, a school, a home, family member, or a pet, it's part of our ever changing lives, and there really is no way around it--even if I sometimes I desperately wish that wasn't true.

My own children, at ages 5 and 3, have already had to say goodbye to people that they dearly love. Their paternal grandparents live out of state, and each time they visit, we look so forward to their arrival! But, then I begin to worry...how will my kids handle the goodbyes?

Will they be heartbroken?
Will they cry?
How do I help them to cope with these feelings?

I realize that it's important to let my children experience these natural feelings of sadness and heartbreak, and I do my best to support my kids as they go through such emotions. However, as a parent, I just want to protect them from any sadness or other emotional discomfort. 

As much as I wish I could, I simply can't protect my children from goodbyes. They've learned over time that grandma and grandpa always come back, and they get to see them over Skype on the weekends. As a result, over time having the grandparents leave has become less about saying goodbye and more about saying, "See you later!"

However, that's not always the case. Life happens. People move. Pets die. Tragedy strikes.

In fact, this morning my son asked me about goodbyes which is timely because it is something that is weighing heavily on my mind.

One of my work at home jobs is as an au pair agency counselor for my community. I get to work with young women from all over the world and the families who are hosting the young ladies for the year. Because of my job, my kids have been exposed to some amazing cultural experiences and wonderful people, and they've formed some lifelong connections.

The problem? The au pairs are only here for a year.

A year feels like forever AND like the blink of an eye.

Sometimes, someone walks into your life and you have an instant connection, one as deep as family, and you trust completely and just feel totally at ease. That' show my family feels about one of the au pairs I've worked with this past year, but her situation was not typical.

The au pair had to stay with us a bit while I worked to find her a new host family. In the process, she got to know my kids. I got to know her. We all love her like family, and now she is set to leave two weeks from today.

Can you see where this is going?

This morning, I reminded my kids that we would meet the au pair at the local park. My son, Hank, looked at me and said, "Mom, make sure that we see her as much as possible because what if we don't see her again?"

My heart broke.

Of course, we will see her as much as possible before she leaves, but what if we don't get to see her again after that? I started thinking about how I am going to help my kids to say goodbye, how we will keep in touch, how we can keep her alive in our family without her actually being here with us.

I started a list of things I can do to help my children with this goodbye and to keep the connection with this amazing young lady alive for my children, but to be completely honest, it's not just my kids who will be sad.

As I sit here typing out this post, I'm becoming all teary eyed and sad myself.

Goodbyes are hard for adults as well, sometimes even more so because we understand that it's not so easy to fly a family across the world to visit someone.

Here are a few things that I am doing to help my kids (and myself) to cope when saying goodbye to this very dear friend--I hope these tips will help your family as well:

1. Normalize my feelings
I'm going to let my children see me cry and be sad, and we're going to talk about. I'm going to model the behavior that I want them to feel ok with. I will show them that while I can be sad to say goodbye to a dear friend, I am also happy about the things I have in my life--including this young woman.

Normalizing my feelings with my children and pointing out all that we have to be happy for is also an opportunity to refocus--have your children list the things they are thankful for and appreciative of.

2. Normalize my kids' feelings
I am going to let my children cry, be sad, and feel how they feel. I will allow them to grieve in their own, unique ways. Luckily, they are still young enough that I can sometimes distract them a bit when things get to intense, but they are both inquisitive kids by nature. I know questions are coming, the most worrisome of which is, "What if we never see her again?"

3. We'll keep the memories alive
My children enjoy drawing and making things. We will spend time together drawing pictures, making cards, and sending letters to show our friend how much we love and miss her. And, maybe some of those drawings and other special items will also make their way to our own fridge and my children's bedroom walls.

4. Technology makes the far away seem right next door
Thank goodness for technology! We already plan to use Skype to keep in touch with our friend and to spend some time face-to-face. Skype has already done wonders for my children in keeping in touch with their out of state grandparents--and it's done wonders for me to keep in touch with Malea, my Mom2MomEd counterpart, since we actually live in different states!

My kids get to have breakfast almost every Sunday morning with their long distance grandparents. Skype has been a great bonding tool for my kids and for their grandparents.

I'm so grateful that we don't have to miss out on quite as much because of technology.

5. Goodbyes aren't always bad
Sometimes people come into our lives for a reason and leave a HUGE footprint on our hearts. For that, we should be thankful, and while we will miss the physical person, we get to keep the memories of them forever--the same is true of pets and places, right?

Of course, some goodbyes are easier said than done, and I may or may not end up eating my feelings--a habit I hope to not pass on to my kids.

I am also reminded myself of how lucky my family is--not only because we've had amazing people come into our lives, but because my kids have never known heartache or loss of a magnitude that comes with death.

Losing the physical presence of our friend will be sad for us, but it is far less traumatic that what my children my kids' ages have had to endure...for that I will always be thankful!

As promised above, we are spending as much time as possible with our au pair friend over the next two weeks, and we will make sure to enjoy every single minute of it! I'm sure this won't be a forever goodbye either--just between us, I've caught my husband planning a trip to visit in a couple of years when it's time to celebrate our anniversary!

This isn't a forever goodbye--it's a "See you later!" goodbye. Until later comes around, my kids and I may or may not be single handedly responsible for clogging up the mail system with all of our letters!

So instead of goodbye, we will send our friend on her way with a "See you later", or as they like to say in Jamaica, "Likkle More!"

If you speak languages other than English, how do you say not goodbye, but "See you later"?

How do you help your own children with difficult goodbyes and separations?
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