Strangers In A Strange Land: Making Friends In A New Environment

Having good friends builds your child’s self-esteem and is also crucial for the development of important life skills such as getting along with others independently and conflict resolution.

Such skills are key ingredients in the recipe for success during later stages in life. At the same time, the anxiety that comes with trying to strike up conversation and make new friends in an unfamiliar social setting is very real, even for adults who have had the experience of navigating many such situations over the years.

For children making the move from one school to another at the primary, secondary or junior college levels, or for the very young ones going to preschool for the first time, the thought of entering a strange environment where everyone is a stranger can be even more unsettling. Getting excluded from the class’ main social group can also be a miserable feeling for children and have an adverse impact on performance in the rest of the school year.

While more gregarious children will quite naturally form relationships on their own, children who are shy, introverted or awkward may need a little more help from their parents to begin with. Here are some ways you can help your child along and encourage to put themselves out there.

1. Practise socialising at home

You won’t be able to supervise your child’s in-class interactions, but the next best thing is to set him or her up for success by practising how to engage in conversations at home.

This can range from a simple “Hello, how are you” routine that you can slowly get your child to try out on relatives you do not live with such as cousins around the same age, to showing them what counts as proper conversation etiquette, including taking turns to speak and not interrupting, and asking for the other party’s thoughts.

When it comes to group activities like playing games, remind your child to play by both the game’s rules and the unspoken social rule of sticking to an agreed format. You can also model the appropriate behaviour for him or her when speaking to your friends or guests, so your child gets to see the “model answer” carried out in a real-life setting. Getting your child to rehearse their social skills in a more familiar environment can really help build their confidence.

2. Make a habit of being kind and generous

As a parent, you will already have been teaching your child to be gracious, kind and good.

These are values that will also serve your child well when he or she meets new people. Let your child know that the same acts of kindness such as helping a sibling with chores or sharing a new toy will also earn him or her the gratitude and goodwill of other children.

While gaining new friends should not be the point of being kind and generous, making friends while doing so does reinforce such positive behaviour.

3. Do more of what your child enjoys in a group setting

One of the best ways for your child to make friends is with like-minded classmates or schoolmates who share similar interests.

If your child enjoys football or basketball, for example, getting them to join the school’s CCA will not only allow them to pursue their interests but very likely strike up new friendships too.

It doesn’t even have to be a sport, but simply something he or she enjoys.

For younger children, you may want to ask what games or activities other children are playing in school, and which ones he or she is interested in. In the event that none of them interest your child, you could suggest that he or she starts a game that they do like by asking classmates to join in.

When it comes to a more hands-on and proactive option, you may want to set up play-dates with children your child is closer to (or parents you are close to). Ask your child whom he or she would like to invite over, and give them the green light to extend the invitation. For especially shy children, you may have to take matters into your own hands and do the inviting yourself.

4. Share your own experiences

Your child may not realise it at this moment, but you were once a student too.

Share your own experiences of school life, and what it was like for you to be dropped into a new environment much as is happening with your child right now.

Doing so lets your child know that, even if it doesn’t feel that way, they are not the only ones to have worried about making new friends and struggling to fit in.

Encourage your child to talk about his or her feelings in return, and try to relate your experiences to theirs in offering advice and guidance.

5. Reassure your child and make them feel loved

Lastly, let your child know that, no matter what happens in school, they will always have nothing but complete acceptance and love at home from you.

It can be disheartening and miserable to have no friends in the early going, which can really deal a blow to your child’s self-confidence or self-esteem.

At the same time, encourage your child by telling him or her that they have everything it takes to change the situation, and that it is only a matter of time before a good friend or two comes along. Your constant support will be a bulwark your child can lean on during a period of uncertainty and flux.

A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed

Good friends are one of the joys of life, and childhood is when many of us meet those with whom we forge lifelong bonds. Although transitioning to a new school environment is never easy, your child should not worry overly about fitting in.

At The Learning Lab Asia, we believe in helping your child build meaningful friendships that enhance their learning experience. In our classes, we ease our students into getting to know each other with fun games and activities that allow the kids to bond even as they absorb key academic content.

Click here to find out more about how our programmes can equip your child with the right tools.

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