SALT LAKE CITY — New school year jitters are enough to cause a sick day for some children. As a former schoolteacher and parent of two, I have seen firsthand how kids and parents can worry themselves sick.
I have learned that parents can help ease these fears by simply helping their child make friends. Parents sometimes forget that making friends and keeping them takes a lot of practice. Here are a few tips I learned as a teacher and as a parent that can help a child fit in and make friends this school year.
Teach your children to be the kind of friend they want to play with. Kids want to play with positive kids who share, take turns being the leader and a serve as a friend who helps when needed. My 4-year-old and her best friends take turns being the leader at each other’s houses.
Invite their friends over to your house. Let’s face the truth, we all feel more comfortable in smaller groups. Play dates take time, but they allow shy — as well as outgoing — children to interact with their peers in a low-stress situation. The play dates can help forge strong friendships simply because the children have memories together that involved a safe, stress-free atmosphere. Smaller children will need more guidance on activities from their parents. As time goes on, play dates become less work for the parent and more fun for the kids.
Don’t emphasize popularity as being the key to happiness in school. Talk with your kids about how having good friends that will be there for them is more important than being the most popular kid in school. As a teacher, I noticed that most of the popular kids did not see themselves as popular. They had a few close friends they interacted with and other students wanted to be a part of that friendship, so their circle of friends continued to grow each year.
Let your children choose their friends. Let them find the friends that help them be who they truly are. At dinner each night, ask specific questions about their interactions with other students and their friends. Never ask yes or no questions. If certain names keep popping up, get to know their parents and invite the children over for a play date. If you feel your child’s new friends may pose a danger to your child, then you need to step in and help your child divert time to other friends.
I have learned that parents can help ease these fears by simply helping their child make friends. Parents sometimes forget that making friends and keeping them takes a lot of practice.
Talk to your children and their friends about bullying. It’s a fact all adults have been affected by a bully at some point in their lives. Parents can help their children deal with bullies in ways that will help build their coping skills for the rest of their lives. As a teacher, I observed that bullies chose their victims by observing who sat alone and lacked confidence. Before and during the school year, emphasize with your children and their friends how they need to stick together and stand up for each other.
If a bully tries to pick on a child and finds multiple kids standing up to him or her, the bully will stop the bullying. If you feel your child is being bullied at school, talk to your child’s teacher. Teachers want to help and can’t see everything. When a parent takes the time to contact a teacher, the teacher will make sure to keep an eye on the situation and help divert the bully away from destructive behavior. Follow up with the teacher on a weekly basis to see how the situation is progressing.
Get involved with your child’s life and school. The best students I had as a teacher were typically the ones who had parents who were involved. Ask your child’s teacher how you can help. Young kids love parents who bring in crafts, treats or participate in holiday celebrations. You may embarrass your child every once in a while, but the worst alternative is to do nothing.