As adults, we sometimes overlook how difficult it can 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 very stressful time. It is very common for children to go through stages where they may not feel comfortable meeting new people. While this is natural, there are ways that parents can help their children to learn effective and appropriate ways to interact with their peers. 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.
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 researching online. This will help the child to feel more comfortable being at the school as well as other local areas.
- Encourage your child to get involved in school activities. Research if there are any after school programs or events your child can attend that may be centered around their hobbies. This will allow them to partake in something they enjoy doing with other children who have the same interests.
- Teach your children empathy and good manners by showing them how to be a good friend. Children want to play with other children who are fun and thoughtful, not bossy and demanding. Be a role model and make it part of your routine to make birthday or thank you cards for friends and family, or have your children help you bake or cook food for a sick neighbor.
It is also important to remember that just because your child is at a new school and making new friends, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t stay connected with their existing friends. They can write letters, send emails, or make phone calls to their old friends so that they can keep that connection as they develop new ones.
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. You can help your child to reach out to new people in their age group by:
- Talk about how to have a conversation. This might include role playing where one parent pretends to be the other child. Encourage your child to follow the conversation, ask questions about what you say, and be encouraging and supportive of the communication.
- Brainstorm a list of interesting “conversation starters” to help your child have something to talk about when he or she meets new people. Give the child an opportunity to practice how these conversations might go and help them to anticipate and respond to questions.
- Try inviting a friend to a trip to the park or a picnic in the backyard. Providing your child with a comfortable environment to start a conversation can make it much less stressful.
- If your child takes part in extra-curricular activities and a new child has joined, encourage them to reach out to them and make them feel welcomed.
In what ways do you encourage your children to make new friends?