I adjusted my off-the-shoulder sweatshirt covered in splatter paint. Inspired by the movie Flashdance, my sweatshirt did little to distract from the fact that I was a 5’8″ tall twelve-year-old standing alone outside a 7th grade classroom. It was the first day of school and I knew no one. My family had just relocated from the East Coast to Arizona.
As I waited for the door to my classroom to open, I saw two girls whispering nearby.
“Smile,” I thought to myself as my lips curled over my teeth, covered in braces. “Make new friends,” I could hear my mother’s voice inside my head coaching me.
They approached, with the kind of confidence reserved for tweens who have lived in the same place their whole lives.
“Are you the new teacher?” one of them asked.
“No,” I replied. Then I froze. I knew I was taller than the average twelve-year-old, but had I just been mistaken for an adult? “I’m a new student here,” I told them.
And then they walked away.
Being the new kid is a phenomenon that many middle and high schoolers will experience in their lives. School districts and government agencies officially refer to it as student mobility, defined as any time a student changes school for reasons other than grade promotion. Student mobility can be voluntary, such as changing schools to participate in a magnet program, or involuntary, as was my case, due to a change in my father’s job.
But on that uncomfortable first day, I was not thinking about what kind of statistic I was. All I knew was that I was alone, nervous, and scared. The experience of being the new kid has encouraged me to teach my own kids, ages 11 and 15, to look for the new kids in their middle and high schools and be kind to them. Everyone is anxious as school starts, but in a culture that is desperate for kindness, reaching out to the new kids is a tangible way to demonstrate it.
Here are 10 concrete ways I’m teaching my kids to help the new kid in school. May these be helpful to share with your own kids:
1. Recognize that their will be new kids at school, kids who do not know anyone. Look for them, not past them. It can be challenging in upper grades when students change classes, but the new kids will be the ones not talking to or sitting with anyone.
2. Say hi. Ask where the new kid is from. Does she have pets? Siblings?
3. Sit with the new kid at lunch. Oh my word, just sit with him at lunch.
4. Friend the new kid on Snapchat or get her Instagram.
5. Did I mention just talk to the new kid? It’s okay if you’re not best friends. But if you never even talk to the new kid, then you won’t find out if you have anything in common or not.
6. Tell the new kid about clubs, sports, or other activities. When I was invited to join the basketball team (remember how tall I was?), I gained a whole team of friends.
7. Help the new kid navigate the cafeteria. My junior year of high school I was the new kid again. I ate lunch outside on the front steps because I was too intimidated to use the cafeteria. For an entire month.
8. Sit with the new kid on the bus, stand with her at the pick-up loop, or give her a ride home if she lives in your neighborhood. Even if it’s just for a day or two.
9. Compliment the new kid. Maybe he has a cool backpack or he’s wearing a shirt with a band that is your favorite band. Remember those girls that walked away from me in 7th grade? Later one of them told me she liked my watch band. It was a small comment, but it meant so much to me.
10. Be welcoming and inclusive in group work in class, rather than just teaming up with your best friend since kindergarten. Remember, the new kid knows no one and things may have run differently at her old school.
Parents, by teaching your kids to look for the new students and take any of these concrete steps to be kind and helpful, the new kid won’t feel so alone and will be one step closer to finding her way in a new school.
And if you see any new parents standing alone at back-to-school night or looking lost at the pick-up loop? Then it’s your turn to say hello. Ask where they are from. If you never even talk to the new parents, then you won’t find out if you have anything in common or not.
This post originally appeared on Your Teen.