My daughter started a new high school this week, where she only knows a few people. She wanted a brand new start so this was part of the plan, but the isolation has been a bit of a surprise for her. Kids like mine, who’ve been in the same small school since they were tiny, might romanticize the idea of a fresh start without fully understanding what a blank slate means. I’m all too familiar with it, having made 3 fresh starts in my life (you can read my favorite blog about that HERE). I’ve been giving my daughter nightly pep-talks, which she rolls her eyes at but I think deep down, she hears me. While browsing social media today, I realized that many of my friends are talking their kids through similar pains, because so many are starting new schools and colleges. I thought I’d share the advice I’ve been giving, so you too could sit through the annoyed eye-rolls of your spawn.
1) Making new friends will take longer than you want it to.
Settle in for some prolonged awkwardness because this isn’t an overnight fix. Building a new life takes time, which probably means more alone time than you’ve had in years. Remember that it IS part of the plan and nothing to worry about.
2) Don’t take it personally.
You might starting thinking things like, “Why don’t I have friends? Nobody likes me!” Cut it out. Nobody knows you. There’s a big difference.
3) Be prepared for that alone time.
What will you do with yourself when you don’t have friends to talk to? Keep some books handy so you’ll have something to focus on. Do some homework, check Instagram or do some Pinteresting. Text or call your friends, but leave some time open in case a potential new friend wants to join you.
4) Look for familiar and friendly faces.
New friendships usually build from familiarity and repetition, meaning that the same faces you see every day are potential new pals. Look for the people you recognize and zero in on the ones who seem to recognize you.
5) BE a familiar and friendly face.
If someone seems to notice you, smile. Allow that door to open. Odds are, they’re looking for a friend, too.
6) Have something to say.
This might sound like a given, but it’s common to go *blank* in that moment of recognition. Be ready with something to say about your class, the weather, the campus, or whatever makes sense for the situation. If they’re responsive, keep the conversation going. Ask questions, be interested and respond in kind.
7) Be picky.
Don’t let loneliness make you feel desperate. You don’t have to be friends with everyone you meet. That might sound harsh but I learned this lesson the hard way. There was one particularly painful dinner with a new friend, who couldn’t stop talking about himself. I stared at him as hard as I could and thought, “Stop talking-stop talking-stop talking,” hoping that I might telepathically put an end to his torture. It didn’t work, of course, and I vowed to never sit through a meal like that again. You’ll know pretty quickly if someone is “friend” material or not. Trust your intuition.
8) Embrace this moment.
Think back to the little voice that told you to do this. There’s a reason that you made this difficult decision, even if you can’t remember it now. Trust that little voice, and the person you were when you listened to it. The biggest challenges usually offer the biggest rewards. You will learn lessons now, even from the tough times, that you will carry into your adulthood, and they will make you a better person. Try to remember that and be proud of yourself for taking the challenge.
The most important thing to remember, for parents and their kids alike, is that something might be hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Struggle builds that all-important “character” that we’re constantly preaching to our kids about. Best of all, if you’re hurting, that means you’re going through the hard part. And we all know that the hard part comes before the good part! Keep reminding your kids (and yourself) of that and hopefully the hard part will end sooner than expected. And if it doesn’t, just keep reminding your kids of steps 1) though 8) while they keep rolling their eyes at you.