“We have a new student in our class!”
You’ve probably heard these words before if you have a school-age child. A new child has arrived in the classroom and the kids are excited. Teachers may have told them something about the student or, in some cases, a new face may arrive without any notice at all.
But while your child and her classmates may be excited, being the new kid can be anything but exciting. In fact, being the new kid can be downright scary. I know. Our family of five moves every two to three years, as we’re a military family. My oldest son has attended nine different schools.
While our family may not be the norm in our number of moves, my kids’ experiences are probably pretty similar to those of other kids who must move because of a parent’s job, a divorce, or other life event.
Sometimes my children are welcomed by their peers, while other kids’ words or actions make my kids feel like outcasts. From sports teams to clubs to classrooms, some groups may not offer room for someone viewed as a new competitor.
The benefits of learning how to make someone feel welcome in a new environment extend well beyond just the goodness that comes with being kind.
When your children welcome a newcomer to your community or their school or team, they are learning a life skill that will expose them to a wide variety of people and a bigger view of the world. These are things that will serve them well as adults in their jobs and their communities.
What skills can you teach your kids when it comes to welcoming new friends?
Set the example.
How do you welcome a new neighbor? Include your child in welcoming a neighbor by going over and introducing yourself as a family.
When a family in our new neighborhood rings the doorbell and asks for my kids to come out to play, it is welcome music to their ears. This simple action says, “Come join us!” and makes them feel a part of their new community.
The actions and words of parents go a long way toward influencing how children react to someone new in their classroom or on their team.
What words do you use to describe a new coworker? Talk about your new coworkers in positive terms and discuss the contributions they can make to solving a problem you’ve been working on or a project you need to complete. When your child talks about a new classmate or teammate, talk about what good things can come from a different point of view.
Practice welcoming words.
Teach your child the art of welcoming someone with positive words. Think of words that make your child feel comfortable. For us, good words to use are: I’m so happy to see you. I can’t wait for us to get to know each other better. Or, I want to show you around the school. Can you sit with me at lunch?
Sharing something about yourself can also be very welcoming. For instance, saying: I am a Girl Scout. If you think you might want to join, I can take you to the first meeting.
Also teach what may not be acceptable to say to a new student, such as, That’s so weird, when reacting to things the child does, or, Why do you look that way? when the new student wears something that is unfamiliar.
Try to avoid using words of pity. Don’t talk about how “sorry we should feel for him because he moves so much.” In our case, our kids have lived in many places, met lots of people, and had great adventures as military kids. They don’t consider their situation one that needs to be pitied but one our family likes to celebrate.
Work on welcoming the new kid together.
If there is a new student in your child’s class, think of ways you can be a part of helping the family settle in. If you see the new parents at the school or in the community, ask about where they have moved from and tell them good things about the place they now live. Offer them some recommendations on things in the area that they can enjoy.
Often, one of the trickiest parts of parenting in a new community is connecting with information from the schools and organizations and finding out about events. Make sure the new family knows when things are going on, like sports or music tryouts, and the locations. If there is a good source of information (a local Facebook page or Web site), point them in the right direction.
Be an example of inclusiveness with your words and actions for your child to follow. Soon your child will be showing the new student where to find things in school and asking him or her to join the local sports team.
As a military family, we’ve made eight moves and my children have gone to 19 different schools between the three of them. The children who have been a part of welcoming our kids into their communities are my children’s forever friends, no matter where we live. Letters, e-mail, and texts may have replaced backyard play, but all the kids are better for the friendships made along the way.
Janine Boldrin is the creative director at Chameleon Kids, publishers of Military Kids’ Life, an award-winning print magazine for children of U.S. service members. For more information, visit www.chameleonkids.com.