I just dropped off my oldest boy about 20 yards from the front entrance of his new school. He will start 7th grade in a new school in a new city, having only met a couple boys his age a few days previous. He is not worried about the homework or the teachers or the classes or the sports. He is worrying about meeting new friends. “Will I have friends?” Fair enough.
I moved 13 times before I moved off to college at 18 yrs old. With every move I had the same question. I wondered who I needed to be this time – what kind of boy had friends in this town – what did they like – who was popular – how could I be like them?
Now that I am grown and have my own children, my tendency is to say what we all say to children – “Just be yourself.”
Well, this morning before I dropped off my 7th grader, I got to thinking about that advice. Be Yourself. What, exactly does that mean? What does being yourself actually look like?
I realized that I still don’t know what ‘being myself’ is – not entirely. I naturally try people on – try on their traits and characteristics – is this me? Do I like being this way – do others like me being this way. No, I realized, “just be yourself” doesn’t work. It makes no sense to a 7th grader, let alone a 1st or 2nd grader. No, they need more practical, in the field advice.
So here is what I said instead.
Find the ‘Nice’ kids. Yes, nice is a loaded word – mostly due to its opposite, ‘mean’, but this is how kids navigate the world. They get a sense of people, make bold assessments and then act on those assessments. Whatever ‘nice’ means to your child – they should look for the child that is demonstrating ‘niceness’. Usually nice does not mean competitive, funny or commanding. Nice tends to be a little quieter, a little softer, a little sweeter, a little more innocent. Your child will be friends will all the kids eventually, but best start with ‘nice’.
Ask questions. “What is this teacher like? Where do I go for this class? What time is lunch? What do you like to do?” We all love it when people are interested in us and it feels good when you can help someone out. Ask for help. Ask about stories. Ask opinions. Ask ask ask. And then …
Listen. Really listen. Look at their face – watch their eyes. See how they move their hands. Look where they are looking. Raise your eyebrows and really take it all in. Listen to everything they say, but especially listen to know what the next question is.
Your child can try those three things and then, surely, others will start asking questions of them. They will think your child is ‘nice’ – they will be interested in your child and listen to what he or she has to say. And then suddenly, they will be friends.
About the Author
David Sewell McCann
David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.