The pencils are sharpened and the backpack is new, but the truth is book are the farthest thing from some kids’ thoughts. Their biggest concern: how to fit in and make friends. Here are a few tips I shared this week on CTV Canada’s AM Back-to-School series.
Knowing that our kids are lonely, feel left out, and desperately miss their old group is tough. As much as we’d love to, we can’t instantly wipe away our their pain because their best friends are left behind and they can’t fit in with the new crowd. But we can ease their discomfort by making the transition a bit smoother. We can help them find ways to make new friends. And we even can teach them new friendship making skills that actually may be ones they can use in other social arenas. So think positively, and stay focused on what you can do to boost your child’s friendship quotient and get him through this tough time. Here are a few parenting solutions to help your child get started fitting into any new social scene and help get this school year off to a more positive start.
Become acquainted with other parents. Be a room parent, offer to carpool, sign up to coach, be the team mom, meet other camper parents, and attend PTA meetings and other school functions. Getting to know parents of your child’s potential friends is often a great way to invite the families over, giving your child the opportunity to have a new playmate. Also, introduce yourself to the neighbors: sometimes our kid’s best friends can be literally next door. Find out who amongst your work colleagues has children: it’s a way to learn not only about available kid activities, but also to arrange play dates for younger children (or find a babysitter!).
Find outlets for your kid that attract peers. Look for opportunities for your child to meet kids anywhere or elsewhere—for example, scouting, park and recreation programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, 4-H, Teen Clubs, church groups, sports teams, library programs, after-school programs, or other youth groups. Pediatricians’ offices and libraries often are a good place for picking up schedules of upcoming kid events. Your goal is to help your kids find ways to meet new kids. Making the friends is her job—helping her find potential friendship possibilities is your role.
Seek activities that match your child’s interests. If your child enjoys tennis, make sure she’s on the courts. If he likes music, sign him up for classes. If he loves to swim, enroll him in the YMCA. If there’s a particular sport or hobby that seems to be hot in town with the kids your child’s age: soccer, skateboarding, roller blading, dirt biking, jazz, band, chess. The trick is to match the activity with your child’s strengths and interests. Then provide lessons and help him practice so his confidence grows and hopefully he can use the new skill to meet new kids. Meeting kids with the same interests raises the chances of going from acquaintance to friend. That’s because kids who share the same interests are more likely to want to be together.
Help your kid blend in. Clothes, hair-cuts, shoes styles, and accessories really do matter in helping kids gain peer approval and communities do have their own culture. So visit your kid’s school (if possible even before the move) and study the appearance of the more popular kids. Does your kid dress like them? If not, help him find the styles so he blends in. Any tip is to find a store nearby the new school where kids shop. Ask a manager or clerk what the “in-colors or styles” of backpacks, shoes, clothes or accessories are for other kids your child’s age.
Provide a telephone book. Provide your child with a small book (or at least a note card) to keep in his pocket or backpack. If he does meet someone new, suggest that he write the kid’s name, phone number, and even e-mail address on the card.
Teach new social skills. Learning any new skill takes practice. So role-play with your child how to greet someone or ask to play a game as often as it takes for him to be comfortable using it on his own. Begin by you introducing yourself to your child so he can see what it looks like. Try to find opportunities for your child to see you using the skill in the real world: deliberately introduce yourself to as many new people as you can (in the grocery line, at school, at the park). Kids really learn new skills best by first watching, then trying. So give your child plenty of opportunities to see this skill in action.