I am sharing with you my response to a recent email I received regarding helping our kids making friends at a new school:
Thanks so much for the blog post. Just having a little time to pause and acknowledge the upcoming transition is huge. And I love your ideas about visiting the school and doing as much as possible ahead of time to familiarize the kids and ourselves with the new routine. I thought I'd share what my girls have been expressing as their main concern and that is: making friends at their new school. I am wondering if you have any tips about ways parents can talk to their kids about this scary idea of being "on their own" for the first time?
Making friends can be big concern for most kids. I mean, really. It’s a concern for many of us adults? Am I right?
There are several things that come to mind, but one thing that really stands out to me is begin with asking your children, what kind of friend do they want to be? What do they look for in a friend? What do they like to do with their friends? What kind of friend are they, themselves?
What's their friend superpower?
Hear and learn from your kids, what is uniquely them? Doing so allows them to gain ownership of who they are, i.e. friendly, trustworthy, loving etc.. which is a huge confidence builder for them to start with.
A few other things that come to mind to help you, help your kids:
1) Check in with your own anxiety or worry.
It's totally normal and understandable for us parents to worry about our kids and them making friends. Will they make friends? Will the other kids be nice to them? Are they going to feel alone or lonely at school? Who will they sit with? Who will they play with?
These are just some of the thoughts I remember having anytime my kids started a new school, or even a new grade for that matter. Depending on what’s happening, a new school, first time to school, or moving into a new classroom with new kids and teachers, it can be a big transition for all of you and one that can be eased into with patience, gentleness and guidance.
Begin with yourself and what you might be worried about. Our kids are very attuned to us and can pick up on our anxieties quite easily. By checking our own anxieties, figuring out what they are, acknowledging them and dealing with those on our own, is important, as to not unintentionally pass them along to our kids.
*Need tips on how to do this? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send you some tips to help you navigate your own worries and anxieties.
2) I'm curious about the word "scary" Is this your description or your child’s?
If it's yours, go back to #1.
If it's theirs, I would start by asking them what feels scary? What do they think is scary? What are they worried will happen? First be curious, then hear and listen for what they say. You can do this with any word your child may be using to describe what they are feeling.
You can then use what they say to move forward using these steps:
3) Validate how they feel. Acknowledge their emotion(s).
You can do this by reflecting back what they said to you when you asked them to tell you more about what’s scary.
“You’re saying (insert situation) feels scary to you” or “It sounds like you think (insert situation) will be scary”
Often times parents, with very good intentions, will say “It'll be fine” or “It's going to be ok,” or something along those lines, in response to their children’s worries. While the intention is to help our kids feel better, when our children are expressing a negative emotion they are having, these statements can actually feel dismissive. It’s important to acknowledge their emotion, allowing them to feel heard and understood, which can allow you to move into the next step in a really open and creative way.
4) Role Play. Go over the ideas/images your child has come up with that are making them feel scared, and come up with active solutions to overcome them.
Personal story: In order to empower my own children, I would play “worse case scenario/best case scenario”, based on what they were worried about. Truth be told, I actually still do this and they are all now 16 and older. It has always been a powerful and impactful way to help them see their way through any potential situation. I'd ask, “What's the worst thing that could happen?” Usually their “worst” would not even be close to what my “worst” in my head would be, which is why I would always ask THEM. And from there, we would role play by asking follow up questions.
How likely do you think that is to happen?
Why do you think that would happen?
What could you do if that were to happen?
Who could you go to if that were to happen?
Having your children actively come up with ideas, envision possibilities and solutions on their own, before offering any suggestions, is a powerful way to empower them and give them confidence they CAN do it.
So back to making friends, and some additional ideas to role play with:
- How to start a conversation. What's usually the best way to do so? By asking questions!
What kinds of questions does your child think they could ask? What does your child like to do? Perhaps when they see another child doing something that is interesting to them too, what could they ask them? Come up with some question starters ahead of time.
- How to introduce themselves. This is a hard one, even for adults!
Discuss who they can look for that they could go up and introduce themselves to? What about someone who is walking to lunch/recess/PE by themselves? Or someone who is coloring or playing on their own? Or maybe it’s someone doing an activity or a new game you’d like to learn how to do. See if they can come up with some scenarios on their own that they would feel comfortable with. Using these scenarios, you both can go back to the conversation starters above and come up with more potential questions.
- Role play how to excuse themselves. If, for some reason, the conversation starter doesn’t work or the other child isn’t interested, you can discuss how not to take it personally. Visiting possibilities like, that person might be having a bad day, or maybe they’re really concentrating on what they are doing and don’t want to be disturbed, and that’s ok. It really has nothing to do with them. Having our children look at things from this perspective is one way to teach about mindset and seeing things from a different point of view.
Let’s all admit, it can be uncomfortable and feel awkward to be in a situation where someone is not be responding to you and your invitation to converse in a welcoming way. Coming up with some ways for our kids to be able to excuse themselves and walk away, still feeing confident and empowered, is a great strategy to have and practice. I know I have used some of these strategies myself!
“Ok. I'm going to get a drink of water “
Tell them to look for something on the playground they can go use and excuse themselves with, “Ok, I’m going to go to the swings.”
“There's a book I'd like to go look at in the library” and then they can go to the library.
Role playing these types of things gives them a real ”out” and an actual plan to use, if needed. This knowledge of having an out can be so empowering for our children, giving them more confidence to perhaps try to engage with another in the first place.
Have tips you use and would like to share? Comment below! Would love to hear what works for you.
Here’s to making new friends and of course, keeping the old.