He was going to be entering fourth grade with his two best buddies. He was going to be going to school with the same kids he’d known since kindergarten. He was going to be on the “big kid playground”, and roaming the halls with the confidence of someone who’s walked up and down them since he wore a size 5T.
Two months ago that was what was going to be.
Now it’s not.
Instead, now it’s a new school district, new halls, and strange faces.
My oldest son is entering fourth grade… and he’s THE NEW KID.
He’s left behind his first group of very real friends… they were a part of his burgeoning identity.
It can be scary. It can be lonely.
Forth grade already has it’s own challenges. Math is no longer the kind “I can do in my head”. Language Arts is more complicated… and socially things become a little more nuanced and exclusionary. Fourth graders are hovering in that doorway to tween-dom. In kindergarten everyone seems to play with everyone else… but not so much in fourth grade.
As a kid who also moved to a new school in the fourth grade, I know how tough it can be. So we developed a plan for how he can keep in touch with his old friends, and we talked about his anxiety/excitement about finding new ones… then before the first day of school, I spent the night staring at the ceiling and whispering requests to the universe that everyone in the whole school would fall in love with my son instantly.
The next morning while making that first day drive to school with the family, I reminded him that everyone gets excited about a new student. The new kid is different… and mysterious… and cool.
EVERYONE wants to know about the new kid, right?
This gave my son the confidence boost he needed to get out of the car and meet that first day head on… but I know it won’t carry him much longer. While the idea of my son becoming instantly popular sounded great for a second, I know what he’s really going to need is one or two true friends – not a ton of superficial ones.
As a #TalkEarly ambassador, I’ve written about the importance of connection with our kids before. That goes not only for the parent/child connection, but the connection our kids can find with others when they form true, strong friendships.
In fact, the #TalkEarly team did an interview with psychologist Dr. Mary Alvord about this topic, and she stressed the importance of our children’s friendships. She stated that having even one good friend can serve as a protective barrier against bullying, and having strong friendship bonds can help children avoid risky behaviors as they get older. Quality beats quantity when it comes to friends.
“Negative thoughts and therefore negative emotions and resulting behaviors are more likely when you don’t have a friend to help you get perspective. We share with friends, and we learn from friends.”
Now that the first day of school is under our belt, I’ve been trying my best to nurture my son’s sense of self and encourage him to be brave about putting himself out there. I’ve been sounding a lot more like an after school special – “be yourself” and all that…
Because it’s true – there are one or two kids in the fourth grade just waiting to find a Harry Potter reading, comic book writing, math lover with a taste for all things sushi.
Having everyone think of you as the mysterious new kid is fun for a day or two…
But having one or two people think of you as a really good friend is much better.
You can read more about what Dr. Alvord had to say here.
*This post is in partnership with Responsibility.org.
Featured photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash