Helping Kids Fit In to a New School and Make Friends

by | Aug 23, 2013 | Friendship and Social Competence, Parenting, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions


Parenting tips to help kids  fit into a new classroom, school, neighborhood or social scene

Adjusting to any new social scene can isn’t always easy. But having all new classmates, transitioning to a new school or most of all moving to a whole new community can be tough. And oh how kids can pour on the guilt to remind us they’re not happy campers:

“You’re ruining my life!”

“Why are you sending me to that dumb new school?”

“Why can’t we move back to our old neighborhood?”

“Do you have any idea how unhappy you made me?”

Let’s face it, as much as we’d love to, we can’t instantly wipe away their pain because their best friends are left behind or they can’t fit in quickly 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 your kid through this tough time.

Here is the best news: Friendship is made of a host of skills and all the skills are teachable. You can help your child have a happier, more successful school year. Here are ways to do so:


11 Tips To Help Kids Make Pals and Fit Into A New Scene

 Here are tips to help your child make new friends and feel more comfortable fitting into that social scene from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. I also shared these tips on ways to help ease those back-to school jitters and help kids transition to a new school on NBC TODAY’s Show.

1. Acknowledge Feelings

If your child doesn’t share her feelings, you can help her recognize how she feels: You must be feeling lonely and miss your old group.” “I can you’re worried.” It’s tough to join a new team when you don’t any of the kids. Let her know such feelings are normal. Let him know it may take time to meet new kids and make new friends. Point out that many kids have been friends with one another for quite a while and may not be too receptive to a new person joining in.

2. Keep Communication Open

 Even if your kid won’t talk to you—keep talking. “Is there anything I can do to make you feel more comfortable?” “Do the kids wear or have anything different from the kids back home? Do you need anything?” “Would you like me to talk to your teacher?”

3. Get Acquainted With 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! My girlfriend introduced her children to neighborhood kids by having a pot luck and inviting the adults (with their kids) to her home. Another friend rented a huge trampoline and attracted kids galore. Be creative!

4. Take Your Child on A Tour of the New Surroundings

Take your child to visit his new school and neighborhood. Schedule times to meet the principals and his teachers if possible. Get a school handbook. Take a virtual tour of the new school so your child can get an idea of what it’s really like. Print off a copy of the school map so your child feels more secure and can find his way around those buildings.

If possible watch a team practice, talk to the coach or to former members to find out what it’s like to be on this team. Drive by the school to see when kids are most likely to be there then stop in. Many use the school play yards in off hours to ride bikes or skateboard.

5. Find Outlets 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. Pick up a copy of the community paper and check out the programs and events in town.

Your goal is to help your kids find ways to meet new kids. Making the friends is her job—helping her find a potential buddy is your role.

6. 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.

Children who share the same interests are more likely to want to be together. It’s called the “Rule of Similarity” in social development and you can use that rule to help your child find and make friends.

7. Help Your Kid Blend In

Clothes, hair-cuts, shoes styles, and accessories really do matter in helping kids gain peer approval and each community has their own unique culture.

One way to find out “what’s in” is to ask parents for the name of a popular kid clothing store. Then go there and talk to the salesperson appearing the most “with it.” Ask: “What are the kids (your child’s age) buying this year?” You don’t have to break the bank (that’s not the intention), but is there one thing you can buy your kid so he blends into the social scene and feels more comfortable?

8. Provide An Index Card

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 new kid’s name, phone number, or e-mail address on the card. Or teach him how to add contacts into his cell phone. The art of learning names is key to friendship making. Writing down those phone numbers helps that friendship form.

9. Teach Friendship-Making Skills

Does your child need a tune-up in friendship making? If so, choose a few skills that would help your child make new friends.

Top friendship-making skills are: Making introductions, Starting conversations, Explaining who you are and what you like, Listening, Inviting someone over, and Saying goodbye.

Learning new skills takes practice so role-play one new skill at a time as often as it takes for your child to be comfortable using it on his own. For instance, you might begin by you introducing yourself to your child so he can see what it looks like. Then in the next few days 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).

Get other family members involved and turn it into a game.

Research shows that kids learn new skills best by first watching, then trying. So give him plenty of opportunities to see this skill in action, and then encourage him to try it himself.

Hint: How to Start A Conversation and Make Friends, by Don Garbor is a great book for an older kid. My book, Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me, lists the top 25 friendship skills and how to teach them.

10. Connect with the Teacher

The statistic you should be aware of is this: 23% of children who moved frequently repeated a grade compared with 12 percent of children who never or infrequently moved.

The lesson here is this: once school starts stay in close contact with your child’s teacher—even if he tells you “Everything’s fine, Mom.” Ask how he’s transitioning. Is he fitting in and making new friends? Is he keeping up with the content? If not, develop a plan to help him succeed and keep monitoring progress.

11. Check Into Your Child’s Emotional Health

Most kids will have pangs when it comes to changing schools or neighborhoods. But is your child experiencing more than typical “changing pangs?”

A quick test: One way to find out of your child is making buddies is to ask him or her to draw a map of the cafeteria or playground — depending upon age and the school environment. Then ask him to show you where he sits or plays … and then where the other kids sit or play as well.

Does your friend have a buddy? Any pal? One child sitting with him? Kids don’t need  a lot of friends but they do need one or two loyal buddies to hang around.

If you don’t see a change, talk to the teacher or contact the school counselor. There are friendship groups often available that help kids learn social skills.

Also, are you seeing behavior such as: loss of appetite, problems sleeping, nightmares, outbursts of anger, tears, reluctance to leave the house or you, or difficult concentrating? Are those behaviors increasing, lasting too long or are affecting other areas of your child’s life? If so, please do seek outside help.

All the best for a fabulous, safe and successful school year.

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

For more parenting advice follow me on twitter at Michele Borba or on my daily blog, Dr. Michele Borba’s Reality Check. My upcoming TODAY show segments or media appearances are listed on my homepage, Michele Borba. For specific parenting advice refer to my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries or my other 22 publications