By the second week of September, an entire nation of students will have started the 2018-2019 school year. I fondly call this Be Nice to the New Kid Month. There are many studies on the positive effects of kindness. It’s a teachable skill and one that does as much for the giver as the receiver. Schools that make social emotional learning a priority create environments where kids feel safe and thrive.
But it’s not just up to schools. When parents make it a priority, everyone wins. The beginning days of school offer a tangible way to teach kindness. A simple statement as they go off to school — Today, be nice to the new kid — is a simple, powerful way to help set them on a path of leadership. It doesn’t matter how old they are. The message is ageless.
“Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.” —Blaise Pascal
If you’ve ever had to walk into a school knowing no one, I don’t have to explain the importance of a peer introducing themselves or including you at their lunch table or sharing a book if you don’t have one. For most kids, the fear and anticipation of starting a new school is like jumping out of an airplane. You know other people have survived but you’re not sure you will. That one kind person can feel like soft welcoming ground.
Although I’m sure she doesn’t remember me, I’ll never forget the girl who was nice to the new kid. When my family moved from a small town in Indiana to San Juan, Puerto Rico, I was going into 8th grade. I didn’t know the language. I was leaving the world’s best friends right before the best year of elementary. And my new brown and yellow uniform could not have been uglier (the phys ed uniform is too embarrassing even to describe) . A trifecta of bad.
To say that I was scared is an understatement. I wanted to be invisible until Carmelina broke away from her gaggle of friends and switched from Spanish to English as she took me under her wing. She introduced me to as many people as she could and although they weren’t mean, they didn’t pay much attention to me either. I kept thinking how grateful I was to her for getting me through the dreaded first day. Although most of the other girls didn’t ever really warm up to me, Carmelina was kind every single day until graduation.
Kathryn Otoshi, author of the award-winning children’s book, One, knows that this is a subject near and dear to my heart so she sent me a copy of Wonder a few years ago. (If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie, now is a good time.) It beautifully illustrates the plight of the new or different kid and the tangled ball of emotions most kids experience. They need mentors. We are their Go-To Adults.
So when you drop your kids off at school and you remind them to “be nice to the new kid,” know you’re raising a leader and this former “new kid” is cheering you on.