By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist
My fourth grader attends a Montessori school, in which the children are placed in a multi-age classroom with the same teachers for three-year periods. Because the class sizes are small, there are only four fourth-grade girls and two fourth-grade boys in her class. Two of the girls are moving away this summer, one being my daughter's dearest friend since age two 2. To compound matters further, another of her friends who would be entering the classroom in the fall may be moving away as well. I'm very concerned about this, as she is a sensitive and introverted child who does not make friends easily. How do I ease the pain she may experience by losing multiple friends in one summer?
During the elementary years, the amount of time children spend in peer interaction increases dramatically. Friendships serve many important purposes: companionship, stimulation, social comparison, affection, and support. High levels of peer competence (positive social skills, having friends, etc.) has been associated with positive relationships and job effectiveness later in life. Because your daughter has several friends, it sounds as though she has good peer competence, which will serve her well in the future.
Saying goodbye to friends is hard, but there are some ways to ease the transition and create positive memories. Consider letting your daughter have a small "going away" party with her friends. You could let her be involved in planning snacks, decorations, and activities; have each girl create pages for a memory scrapbook with photos, decorations, and notes from their years together. They can design stationary or cards to take home and use to correspond back-and-forth after the moves. Take photos with a digital camera that can be e-mailed or printed out before the end of the party. Encourage your daughter and her friends to stay in touch via parent-monitored use of e-mail or telephone after the moves happen.
Then, help your daughter develop some new friendships prior to the start of the new school year. Speak to the school principal or director to find out if any new classmates have been enrolled for the coming year; perhaps you can arrange a get-together so the children can be introduced. Ask if your daughter can be assigned as a "buddy" for an incoming student. Also, consider enrolling your daughter in a summer social activity, such as a day camp or group lessons of some sort. Arrange a play date with a child she befriends during the activity, to cultivate friendships for her outside of school.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.
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