Be Nice to the New Kid 2020

By September 8, 2020 No Comments

It’s just weird. But we’ll do what we have to do. — Maryanne, mom  of two on first day of school

Whether the school year started mid-August or you’re about to dive into this unchartered territory this week, I think you’re the bravest parents ever. Seriously. You’re making choices that have never been made before. Your own parents may have a hard time giving you advice. To pod or not to pod? In school or at home? Part-time in school or full-time? To work or not to work?

Every year parents collectively hold their breath during these first few days, hoping that kids get off on the right foot with a new teacher and friends. I feel particularly sympathetic towards parents putting their children in new schools. Having or being the “new kid” can be so stressful.

This year, the stress might be over the top.

That is why 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.  This year more than ever, it’s evident that empathy is taught and learned at home.

Last year,  6-year-old Blake Rajahn asked his mom to make him a t-shirt that reads, “I Will Be Your Friend.” I still love that. This year, it could be a mask. Going back to school with new restrictions can make kids feel very vulnerable and perhaps not in their stride. It may be harder to reach out to that new student or include them since lunchroom and recess times may be impacted. Yes, another Covid-19 challenge.

As a parent, you might want to mention that it’s different for everyone this year but extra hard for the new kids. Together strategize ways to make that potential new friend feel comfortable. Perhaps it’s making a welcome sign or offer to have an after school virtual get together to get to know them without a mask. One silver lining of the pandemic is creativity. Kids shock me with their resilience and their ability to step up. It may be a wonderful confidence boost.

Pandemic or no pandemic, the beginning days of school offer a tangible way to teach kindness. A simple statement as they go off to school or turn on the computer — 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

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.

Thank you, Carmelina!

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.

This year, everyone feels different.

So when you drop your kids off at school and after you straighten their mask, or if they’re joining their peers remotely from your house, remind them to “be nice to the new kid.”  Now pat yourself on the back for raising a leader despite a global pandemic. That’s what makes you so cool.

This former “new kid” is cheering you on, mask and all.