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Helping Your Child Fit into the New Social Scene
By Dr. Michele Borba, Ed.D.
Excerpt from Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me: The Top 25 Friendship Problems and How to Solve Them (Jossey Bass Publishers, 2005)
Any new social scene can be really tough. Having all new classmates, joining a brand-new group of kids on a soccer team, transferring to a new school, going away to camp alone and most of all moving isn't easy. 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 old school?" "Why can't we move back to our old neighborhood? Do you have any idea how unhappy you made me?" 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.
Like a Rolling Stone
The U.S. Census Bureau cites that one-fifth of all Americans move every year. In fact, over a five- year period, almost half of Americans move at least once. Your kids may be giving you a heavy dose of guilt about "you making him move," but keep the perspective that hundreds of other families are facing the same pains as yours. The real statistic you should be aware of is this: Twenty-three percent of children who moved frequently repeated a grade compared with 12 percent of children who never or infrequently moved. The lesson here is this: stay in close contact with your child's teacher-even if he tells you "Everything's fine, Mom."
WHAT SHOULD I SAY?
- 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.
- Be reassuring. "It may take time to meet new kids and make new friends. Many of these kids have been friends with one another for quite a while, and may not be too receptive to a new person joining in." "Remember way back when you didn't know anybody-even Kevin, and then you became great friends. It will take time, but you'll make new friends just like you did at our other home."
- 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?"
- Identify strengths. One way kids learn to cope in a new situation is by relying on their strengths. So remind your child of his talents. "It will be hard at first because we don't know anyone, but I know you'll make friends. Once the kids get to know you, they'll like you. You're fun to be around." "You made friends back home whenever you played soccer. The kids saw how good you were and wanted to be on the team with you."
- Support old friendships. "I bought a pre-paid phone cards for you to use anytime you want to call your friends back home." "Would you like to invite your friend to come and stay for the weekend? I can talk to his mom about the possibility if you'd like."
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
- 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 kids' 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!).
- Tour the new surroundings. Take your child to visit his new school and neighborhood ideally before the move. Schedule times to meet the principals and his teachers. Ask the camp to send photos, phone numbers of e-mail addresses of other kids who have attended before to get an idea of what it's really like. 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.
- 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.
- 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 the new Friendship Skill Builder "Making New Friends" 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 him plenty of opportunities to see this skill in action.
© 2005 by Michele Borba.
Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an internationally renown educator, motivational speaker, who has presented keynotes and workshops to over one million parents and teachers on four continents, and is the recipient of the National Educator Award. Dr. Borba serves on honorary board to Parents magazine and has appeared as a guest expert on Today, The Early Show, The View, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, and NPR. She is the award-winning author of 20 books including Parents Do Make a Difference, No More Misbehavin': 38 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them, Building Moral Intelligence, Don't Give Me That Attitude! and Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me (all Jossey-Bass). For more information about her work see www.micheleborba.com.
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