Teach your kids to look for the new kids, not past them
Published: June 30, 2022
By: Katy M. Clark
I adjusted my off-the-shoulder sweatshirt covered in splatter paint. Inspired by the movie Flashdance, my sweatshirt did little to distract from the fact that I was a 5-foot, 8-inch tall 12-year-old standing alone outside a middle school classroom. It was the first day of school and I knew no one. My family had just relocated to the area from several states away.
As I waited for the door to my classroom to open, I saw two girls whispering nearby. “Smile,” I thought to myself as my lips curled over my teeth, covered in braces. “Make new friends,” I could hear my mother’s voice inside my head coaching me.
They approached, with the kind of confidence reserved for kids who grow up in the same place their whole lives.
“Are you the new teacher?” one of them asked.
“No,” I replied. Then I froze. I knew I was taller than the average 12-year-old, but had I just been mistaken for an adult? “I’m a new student here,” I told them.
And then they walked away.
Many children will experience being the new kid in school. School districts and government agencies officially refer to it as student mobility, defined as any time a student changes school for reasons other than grade promotion. Student mobility can be voluntary, such as changing schools to participate in a magnet program, or involuntary, as was my case, due to a change in my father’s job.
But on that uncomfortable first day, I was not thinking about what kind of statistic I was. All I knew was that I was alone, nervous, and scared. The experience of being the new kid has encouraged me to teach my own children to look for the new students in their schools and be kind to them. In a culture that is desperate for kindness, reaching out to the new kids is a tangible way to demonstrate it.
Below are 10 concrete ways I’m teaching my kids to help the new kid in school. May you find these helpful to share with your own kids as the school year begins:
- Recognize that there will be new kids at school, kids who do not know anyone. Look for them, don’t look past them.
- Say hi. Ask where the new kid is from. Does she have any pets or siblings?
- Sit with the new kid at lunch on their first day.
- Invite the new kid to hang out after school.
- Did I mention just talk to the new kid? It’s okay if you’re not best friends. Maybe you won’t have anything in common. But if you never even talk to the new kid, then you won’t find out if you have anything in common or not.
- Tell the new kid about clubs, sports, or other activities at school. When I was invited to join the basketball team, I gained a whole team of friends.
- Help the new kid find things like the gym and the cafeteria.
- Sit with her on the bus or stand with him at the pick-up loop. Even if it’s just for a day or two.
- Compliment the new kid. Maybe she has a cool backpack. Maybe she’s wearing a shirt with a sports team that is also your favorite sports team. On my painful first day, remember those girls that walked away from me? Later that day one of them told me she liked my watch band. It was a small comment, but it meant so much to me.
- Be welcoming and inclusive in group work in class. Remember, the new kid knows no one and things may have run differently at his old school.
Parents, teach your kids to look for the new students and take any of these concrete steps to be kind and helpful. As a result, the new kid won’t feel so alone and will be one step closer to finding her way in a new school.
And if you see any new moms or dads standing alone at the pick-up loop after school? Then it’s your turn to say hello. Ask where they are from. If you never even talk to the new parents, then you won’t find out if you have anything in common or not.
Katy M. Clark is a writer who embraces her imperfections as a mom on her blog, ExperiencedBadMom.com.