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How to Make Friends at School When Remote Learning or Socially Distanced

by Ali Wenzke

2020 poses many challenges for families who are moving. Of course, there are the logistical concerns and questions about moving during a pandemic. Then, there is the emotional aspect of moving during COVID-19. Will my family be happy in a city we knew nothing about back in February? Will my child make friends at school when she is remote learning or wearing a mask all day? How can I make things better? For today, let’s focus on how to make friends at school when you are in a remote learning or hybrid environment.

How to Make Friends at School When Remote Learning

For many years I have offered family workshops for kids who are starting at a new school after a move. We practice body language and small talk skills. By the end of our hour together, I can see the difference in each child’s confidence as they sit taller, smile, and introduce themselves. The basic thing to know is SEA – Smile, Eye Contact, and Arms Open. This is applicable whether you are on Zoom or in person.

  1. Smile on camera when you are remote learning

One benefit of doing remote learning is that you will be able to see each other’s unmasked smile, and there’s nothing better than having someone smile at you during these times. While you probably won’t be wearing a big grin for an entire at-home school day, try to do what the news reporters do. Give a little smile. Even when a reporter is explaining serious news, she keeps her lips slightly turned up. That’s because you appear more engaged and energetic when you smile.

Try it in front of the mirror. Make a neutral face, not a frown. Now smile a small smile. You can keep your mouth closed. Can you tell the difference? Do you see how your eyes light up? When you are smiling on camera, your new classmates will consider you friendly and will be more likely to reach out to you. If your teacher or classmate says something funny, do not be afraid to laugh, even if your microphone is on mute. Even without sound, your happiness will attract friends to you.

Smiling during class will make you feel happier, too.

  1. Make eye contact with your teacher and classmates

It’s easy to get distracted when you are sitting at a computer screen. Put your phone and other devices away during school. Then, make an effort to look at your teacher’s eyes as much as possible during the class. She will appreciate your attentiveness. When you look at your teacher, you will demonstrate that you are a good listener and you will better understand the lesson.

You can also make eye contact with the kids in the classroom. If you are using Zoom, the order in which you see people on the screen will be different than how the other students see it. You may see Duvan in the third square on the top row while Leo may see Duvan in the fourth square in the second row. So, you can look at your classmates on screen without it feeling awkward. If you find your mind wandering, try to learn something new about a classmate each day. What are people’s names and what clues can you get from the clothes they are wearing or the room they are in? You might find that you share similar interests like a love of Harry Potter or drawing comics.

  1. Don’t cross your arms on camera

In order to show people you are friendly and open to making friends, you want to keep your arms open. In other words, don’t cross your arms. When you cross your arms, it comes across as defensive and it seems like you don’t want to make friends.

  1. Set up a nice workspace for being on video

For remote learning you’ll want a space where you feel comfortable and that’s good for video. That may mean adding light to the space or readjusting your desk. For example, I do Zoom calls in our guest bedroom. If I keep my desk in its regular position, my background would be a bed. Not ideal. So, I turn my desk perpendicular to the wall with a blank space behind me. Then, I place a lamp in front of me to get the best lighting for other people on Zoom to be able to see me. Remember to keep the camera pointed directly at you, because your classmates would much rather see your smiling face than your ceiling.

Create a workspace that you love.

  1. Share visual cues of your hobbies and interests

You can learn a lot about someone from her Chicago Cubs t-shirt or her Beanie Boo key chains. What visual cues can you use to share information? In my office, I added a small table with flowers to make the blank wall behind me seem more inviting. When I do media calls, I prop up a poster of my book. What story do you want to share with your classmates? Aside from wearing your favorite t-shirts, you can put up a poster of the Barcelona soccer team or you can prop your guitar against the wall.

  1. Reach out to your classmates

It will take more of an effort to make friends through remote learning than it would in normal times, but you will make new friends. Follow the tips above, and then reach out to classmates who seem nice. If you like playing video games, ask a kid in your class if you can play online together. If you enjoy reading or baking, see if anyone would be interested in a virtual book club or baking club. Ask your parents for help in organizing a virtual meet-up or a socially distanced get together.

How to Make Friends at School When You are Socially Distanced

  1. Smile with your eyes

All of the advice above applies to making friends in school, although it’s harder to show your smile behind your mask. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t smile. Your body language changes and your face lights up when you smile, so let your classmates see those smiling eyes.

Show them your smiling eyes.

  1. Wear masks that show off your personality

My daughter wore a mask recently that said, “I’m on mute.” Several people commented on it as we walked around the local farmers market. Find a mask that you love because it can be a conversation starter.

  1. Tell people that you are new to school

When you are the new kid in school, you feel like you are the only new kid in school. Chances are good that there are other new students, too. However, your classmates may not know you are new. For one, you’re probably wearing a mask and it can be harder to recognize people when they are wearing masks. Second, many students will assume you were in a different teacher’s class last year, not that you are new to the school. Let people know so you can start a conversation. You can say, “Hi! I’m Briana. My family just moved here from Miami.” Then, see where the conversation takes you.

General Tips For Parents

  1. Reach out to the teacher to discuss your move

It is an understatement to say that your child’s teacher is handling a lot right now. In the best of times, teachers don’t always know who the new kid is on the first day of school. To him, every student is new. Therefore, send the teacher an email and schedule a phone call to discuss your move and your child’s learning needs.

  1. Contact the school about a welcoming committee

Many schools have a parent organization that will reach out to newcomers. Ask your child’s school about it. Get on the mailing list and attend any welcoming events you can, even if Zoom networking is not your thing. If there isn’t a dedicated committee for new families, ask the school principal to connect you with at least one family so you can ask questions about the day-to-day, whether it’s carpool procedures or Zoom schedules.

  1. Connect with other new families at school

While it’s wonderful to meet established families in the neighborhood who can give you the inside scoop, newcomers often gravitate to one another because you’re going through the same thing at the same time. That’s never been more true than right now. If the school won’t provide another family’s information due to privacy reasons, ask the school to share your email address with any new families with children in the same grade as your child.

  1. Introduce yourself on the school and neighborhood Facebook groups

Local, private Facebook groups are the best way to get information about your school and neighborhood. Introduce yourself and your family. Where did you move from? What grade is your child in? What activities does your child like? Ask for information about the best restaurants for curbside pick-up or the best place to grab a cup of coffee when the pandemic is over. People like to give recommendations, so ask the questions you’d love answers to.

You’ll get through this together.

  1. Turn the camera on during remote learning

If turning on the video is not mandatory for your child’s class, ask the teacher if she would consider changing the policy. What we discovered in the spring is that students would not turn on the camera when it was optional, because the other students did not turn on their cameras. You should encourage your child to be on camera whenever possible to connect with other students and the teacher.

  1. Practice role play scenarios together

In my book, The Art of Happy Moving, I offer a chapter filled with role play scenarios that you can practice with your child. In addition to working on small talk skills, you can log onto Zoom with your child to try out the body language suggestions above. The more practice your child gets, the more confident he will feel.

  1. Remember that making friends takes time

A University of Kansas study found that it takes 94 hours for adults to turn acquaintances into casual friends. For students (during normal times), it takes 43 hours.  For those students to transition from casual friends to friends, it takes 57 hours. We have all received a crash course in patience these last several months. Continue to channel that patience. Your child will make friends, but it takes time. Yes, it will take more effort from you and your child as our social landscape has changed. However, unique relationships and special bonds will form during this unforgettable time.





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