As adults, we sometimes overlook how difficult it must be for a child to acclimate to serious changes in their life such as starting at a new school. There are many challenges they’ll face, including finding their way around, and making new friends. For many children, the first few weeks at a new school can be a time of extrememe anxiety. 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 children in this situation by helping them to develop the confidence and the skills necessary to meet new peers and start conversations with them. At the same time, parents of children who are already familiar with a school and who have already established a peer group can encourage their children to include new students in a way that is welcoming and friendly.
To help children who are starting at a new school, or who have difficulties in making new friends, parents can help by:
- Brainstorming a list of important qualities to look for in a friend
- Developing a list of conversation starter topics that the child is comfortable with and that are interesting to other children
- Learning about the neighborhood and the school together by doing some online research. This will help the child to feel more comfortable about the school itself as well as other local areas.
- Going to the school and spending some time on the playground, ideally with other children around, so that your child can get to know a few recognizable faces
It is also important to encourage your child to stay connected to his or her existing friends. This is particularly important for children who need to develop some self-confidence when it comes to making new friends. They can write letters, send emails, or make phone calls to their old fiends so that they can keep that connection as they develop new friendships.
For parents of children who already have an established group of friends, helping them to understand the challenges for the “new kids” can help them to come up with ways to make newcomers feel welcome. Remind them that they had a first day too once and to think about how it might feel to be new in school. Let them know that they might even make some new friends!
The same activities, including brainstorming what a new person to the school would need to know, can help parents and children develop some concrete ways to help new children adjust to the school. Encouraging your children to introduce themselves, start conversations and be helpful are both skills and personality traits that can help children to develop and maintain positive relationships throughout their lives.