We worry so much about the kids when moving. I worried about how my three kids would adjust to leaving friends behind and to living in our new home. I worried about whether they would make friends at their new school. Instead of lingering on the sad parts of moving, I focused on giving my kids the tools they needed to meet new people. We spent many evenings doing role play scenarios.
How Kids Can Make a Good First Impression: Be Like Dory
Schools don’t teach skills like how to make a good first impression. Therefore, it’s up to you to teach your child about it. Give her a crash course in body language before your move, during your move, and after your move. All your kid needs to know to make new friends is that she should be like Dory. Yes, the one and only Dory from Finding Dory and Finding Nemo. Tell your kid to swim through the SEA and say “Hi!” to everyone.
Focus on these three things to help your child make friends (SEA):
1. Smile 2. Eyes 3. Arms
Your child shines when he smiles. When people see him smile they want to talk to him. They think he looks friendly and approachable. When he doesn’t smile, kids worry that he’s angry or sad or wants to be left alone. Since he wants to meet new friends, he doesn’t want to give the impression that he wants to be left alone. Even if it’s really hard to do, he should practice smiling with family members or in front of a mirror. A smile is an open invitation. Show your child how it lights up his face.
Looking into someone’s eyes shows that you care and that you are interested in the other person. For kids, looking into another person’s eyes can be a tough one. First, practice at home looking into each other’s eyes during dinner. Make it into a game and try a staring contest. Extra bonus points if you can smile during the staring contest. Later, ask your child to tell you the color of other people’s eyes while you are out grocery shopping or at a restaurant. If your child feels uncomfortable, tell her it’s okay to look at the other person’s nose or forehead. The other person won’t be able to tell the difference.
Your child wants people to know that he’s open to making friends. His arms can play tricks on him if he doesn’t know that he should keep his arms uncrossed. If he crosses his arms, it sends out a defensive signal. His crossed arms tell others that he wants to be left alone. He can put his hands in his pockets if he feels awkward holding his arms by his side. What’s important is that he keeps his heart open and faces the other person’s heart. Arms at side, turned heart to heart, is the way to show others he’d like to make new friends.
Role Play is the Key to Helping Your Child Make Friends
Set up a time to do role play with your child. For our family, after dinner seems to work best. We start off with the kids as our audience, sitting on the couch. I take the stage on the other side of our coffee table. I keep it simple at first. In one scenario, I smile. In the next scenario, I don’t smile. I do the same thing with looking into people’s eyes and keeping my arms uncrossed. The kids shout out what I’m doing right or wrong. Then, it gets trickier. I start combining two or three of the SEA elements and I do some correctly and some incorrectly in the same turn. Then, each kid gets the chance to perform. I whisper prompts to the performer and the rest of the family needs to guess what’s going on. Things tend to get silly, so enthusiastic applause and giggles are always welcome. After everyone’s turn, it’s time to move from body language to speaking.
You know your child best, so you may decide to split the role play over several sessions. Simply knowing about body language improves your child’s chances of making friends. Open body language will encourage others to come to her to say “hello.” Reaching out and speaking to the other kids at school can be a big leap for many kids. Whenever you feel your child is ready, you can teach your child how to say “hi” and how to introduce herself. Remember to incorporate the body language elements as well. My kids love when we make it into a game. For example, I’ll tell my son to say “Hi. I’m Joseph” while he frowns with his arms crossed and looking at the ground. Asking them to do things wrong usually produces the most laughter and helps them remember what’s important.
Rejection as a Teaching Moment
Prepare your child to deal with rejection as part of these exercises. Sometimes other kids have bad days or don’t know how to behave in new scenarios. Remind your child that it is not a reflection on her. Teach your child to say something nice and then to walk away. She can say, “Okay. Maybe next time.” By ending the conversation on a positive note, she leaves room for another encounter later and she ends things on her terms. It’s easier to tell your child about these possibilities before they happen. After rejection happens, you and your child may feel too emotional to deal with it rationally.
Let Your Child Fly
You cannot make friends for your child. You’ve given her the tools and lessons to succeed. Now you must let her go out into the world of school cafeterias and playgrounds on her own. And, no, there’s nothing more gut-wrenching than watching your child approach another kid and put herself out on the line. Yes, it’s torture, but you will also feel tremendous pride. This is the moment when you see that your child can do anything. She survived a move and now she is more grown-up and independent than you ever imagined.
Give It Time
Please remember that it takes time to make friends. Try not to ask if she made a new friend on the first day of school. Instead, ask her if she met anyone who looked friendly or if a teacher seemed nice. Enjoy some milk and cookies together while you chat. You’ll probably need the comfort more than she does.