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New kids on the block

How do I help my older kids make friends at school?

Should I step back and let them learn how to negotiate the social waters of their new school, or do I pile advice on them (Smile! Ask their name! Ask what the kid likes to do! Ask where they live! Ask if they want to eat lunch together! Ask if they want to play at recess!)

Yesterday, when Aidan and Ryley came home from school, they separately confided in me. Each said they play alone at recess. Ryley said he eats alone in the cafeteria as well. I know it was only the third day and they are the new kids. I suppose I was naive, picturing my kids making friends fast and readily.

Especially heart-breaking was when Ryley said he asked some boys if he could play with them. They walked away “and didn’t talk to me…” The mama grizzly in me wants to hunt down the parents and tell them their kids are mean little snotty brats. But I can’t do that. I wouldn’t. I told Ryley I was sorry his feelings got hurt, and it is tough being new at school. I told him when kids in his class get to know him better he would find friends to play with. Secretly, I wonder if this is true…

Ryley wears glasses, has a little bit of a speech delay (even after two years of speech therapy), and is naive about a lot of the things kids find popular today—he’s never seen Ninja Turtles or the Power Rangers. If they asked him to play Ninja Turtles, he would have to fake it. And kids hate fakes. Have we set him up for social failure?

He is bright, sweet, and very funny. He is clever with word play and puns and has the makings of a class clown. He had friends last year in Kindergarten. And we took him away from his friends.

So I am left to draw on my experience as the new kid at school. My family moved from Denver to Grand Junction, Colorado, when I was in first grade. School had already started. I recall not talking to anyone the first several days. I remember being very jealous of the girls in Brownie uniforms who giggled together on the playground. I wanted to be one of them.

Eventually, I made friends. I don’t remember my mom peppering me with advice. It just happened. Why can’t I relax and know it will happen for my kids? Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Oprah where she talks about bullying and “mean girls” and kids whose spirits are broken by the crueltly of other children.

It’s day four. I walked the kids to school and tried not to make too many suggestions. I kissed them goodbye at the gym door, where they gather each morning. And here I sit, wondering about playground politics, how I’ve helped my kids, how I’ve held them back. They are learning it isn’t easy being the new kid at school. Perhaps someday they will draw on the feelings and memories of this time in their lives and reach out the way I wish some child would reach out to my kiddos.

Beauty from ashes.

11 comments to New kids on the block

  • bro-de-mopsy

    They are certainly in our prayers. Hope they make friends soon!

  • Tracy (tjly)

    If your children are anything like you, I’m sure their warm spirits and hilarious sense of humor will soon be drawing friends to them like bees to honey. They are so young yet, the other kids can’t have had too long to form such tight circles that there is no room for anyone new.

  • Shayne

    Oh, my heart is breaking for Ryley and Aidan. I know that they will make friends soon and you’ll look back and wonder why you were so worried. But I would be worried too. I guess it’s just part of motherhood. We naturally don’t want them to be hurt. Here’s hoping that they have a better day today.

  • Stacey

    Oh man, this breaks my heart! I recently watched “Mean Girls” and it scares me for when my own start school.
    I’m sure they will find friends very soon, but I know it’s tough in the meantime.

  • hamster

    My heart aches for them and you. I am surprised that kids so young — first grade? — are already cliquish. I know they will make friends, but I also know that playing alone on a playground for even a few days is hard to do.

  • Awww..why do kids have to be so mean? I’m sure before long they will have all kinds of friends. In the meantime they are lucky to have such a caring and supportive Mom. Sending hugs to all of you!

  • sister-of-mopsy

    Awhhhhhh, they will be just fine! They are great kids that have loving and humorous personalities which naturally draws people to them. Remember that children at that age are like little Neanderthals, they are very defensive and protective of their ‘turf’ otherwise knows as ‘toys’ and ‘play ground space’ and it takes a few days for them to realize that little Aiden and Ryley aren’t a threat but actually good playmates that will be surly be welcomed into the tribe.

  • Kim

    Poor kid’s! This must be so hard for all of you! Being new and feeling left out just sucks. All it takes is time and they will be just fine, then you will be too. I hope time flies.

  • Lots of good advice and I’m sure everyone is right. The strategy I wish I’d known as a kid is to look for the other person who is playing alone–chances are there is no good reason other than shyness or newness. I’ve been surprised at how quickly Isaac’s loyalties at school change–a new best friend every month or two. He’ll be the new kid this year as well.

  • Vashti

    Your last sentence really gave a great reason for why your children are going through this experience. They will be a better friend to others because of this. I was the new kid in 3rd grade and it was hard but it all turned out okay. Prayers for a beautiful school year.

  • I remember switching schools in high school and eating lunch by myself for two weeks. I never told my mom, so didn’t get much advice. But I know, from my own teaching experience, that kids eventually make friends in their classes and then recess and lunch become easier. I would say if they continue to be lonely at school, a talk with the teacher might be helpful. Teachers can do wonders for helping create friendships.

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