Often being the “new kid at school” brings with it a host of anxieties, from what kind of backpack kids at that school bring to who might be their lunch buddy or tetherball mate. If you’ve recently moved to a new area, the good news is that there are a variety of things you can do to ease the transition and help your kid start feeling like one of the gang.
1. Plan a Casual Party.
Rather than waiting for an invitation, issue one yourself and invite your neighbors over for a block party. You can keep it as informal as you like—maybe even just desserts and lemonade and some informal games. Keep your expectations in check since it is a busy time year and your turnout might be small.
The goal is to meet kids, of course, but focus on the fact that anyone you meet is one more person than you knew the day before. So if two older couples come over, ask them what the block was like when they had kids – if they lived there – and what they remember about the elementary school. Sometimes teachers and families stick around, and they might be a gold mine of information about the area, and also might be able to connect you with other neighbor families to contact later.
2. Visit the Playground.
While the school building itself may be closed and locked, the playground is usually open for summer, says Ali Wenzke, who has moved 10 times in 11 years and is currently chronicling her family’s adventures in a book called “The Art of Happy Moving.”
It might sound silly to a parent but something as simple as being familiar with the slide or monkey bars and the general layout of that particular playground can help a kid feel more at ease during the first recess.
“And with any luck, there may be some other classmates climbing around whom you can meet,” Wenzke says.
3. Contact the Parent-Teacher Organization.
Even if you can’t reach the school administration during summer break, you can typically get in touch with someone at the parent teacher organization. Check the school’s website for a contact person and then ask if the PTO hosts special events for new families or even just a back-to-school/bring-in-your-supplies social. You also could ask if they can connect you with another new family and/or an involved family with kids in similar grades who might be up for an ice cream.
4. Enroll in Sports or Other After-School Activities.
Check out the local parks and recreation organization to see if they have an activity that your child already enjoys, where they will meet kids of similar ages, suggests residential real estate expert and Suburban Jungle President and Founder, Alison Bernstein.
New families often find that the deadline to register for a fall sport is in the spring, but if you explain that you’ve just arrived, they might ease the deadline and find a team for you. Other activities like dance classes or karate are usually more fluid with their sign-up dates. You also could see if there is a camp running before school starts.
5. Get Online.
Most towns have a community Facebook or Nextdoor site you can join. It’s a great place to find out the general vibe of the area, but it’s also a good avenue to make connections, says Bernstein.
“Reach out on the parent pages to see if there are any events or activities that local kids in your children’s grades are involved with,” Bernstein said.
If a parent seems particularly friendly, see if you they’d be willing to get together with you and your kids.
6. Role Play for Confidence.
It’s almost guaranteed that the first day is going to be tough, so Wenzke recommends working with kids on some general basic body language tips that help them feel more self-assured. She teaches these skills in family workshops and says she regularly sees kids transform from uncertain to empowered in just one hour. The good news is that you can do it at home with your kids, too, using a technique she teaches called SEA: Smile, Eye contact and Arms open.
“Practice scenarios such as arriving in the classroom, getting on the bus or going out to the playground. Show your child the difference between using SEA and not using SEA so they can see how easy it is,” she says. “And definitely feel free to make it silly.”
After all, every family member can use a laugh during the stress of moving.