As adults, we sometimes forget how difficult it is for a child to go to a new school. They have to go by themselves to a new school, a new classroom, and to have to try to form a whole new group of friends.
For many children there is a lot of anxiety and stress around the first few days and weeks at a new school. This discomfort can be a lot more pronounced if the child is naturally more introverted and shy or has difficulty in starting conversations.
Parents can help their children as the “new kid” by working with the child on how to strike up a conversation, what to look for in a friend, and how to meet new peers and adults in the school. At the same time, parents of kids familiar with the school and with an already established peer group can also talk to their kids about how to include new students in a way that is welcoming and inviting.
To help with children going to a new school, or when they are in a school where they know only a few people, parents can help by:
• Brainstorming a list of important qualities to look for in a friend
• Develop a list of conversation starter topics that the child is comfortable with and that are interesting to other kids
• Learn about the neighborhood and the school together by doing some online research. This will help the child feel more comfortable about the school itself as well as local areas.
• Go to the school and spend some time on the playground, ideally with other kids around, so your child gets to know a few recognizable faces
It is also important to encourage your kids to stay connected to their existing friends. They can write letters, send emails, or make phone calls to keep that connection and to help them feel in a group.
For parents of kids returning to the same school, helping them to understand the challenges for the “new kids” can help them to come up with ways to make newcomers feel welcome.
The same activities, including brainstorming what a new person to the school would need to know, can help parents and kids develop some concrete ways to help new children adjust to the school. Encouraging kids to introduce themselves, start conversations and be helpful is a gift a parent can give that will help their child have positive interactions with others for life.