426. The New Kid

Life can be fun and exciting for a child who is entering a new classroom and/or school mid-year. The chances are that no one knows who this stranger is, and that gives the newcomer a chance to redefine herself/himself, highlighting aspects of his/her personality that weren’t highlighted in the old place, and maybe concealing some aspects that were. Old problems can even go away in the new place, and new strengths can emerge. To a lesser degree, this can also be true for a child who has been elsewhere for a significant amount of time, due to illness or family business.
But usually, there’s more trauma than fun involved in such transitions. Everyone else seems to know each other, and to know the routines in the classroom and school. The teacher has had plenty of time to do things to make each child feel special. There can be name tags, photographs, and charts that include every child, and throughout the classroom, there are drawings and other evidence that each child is an important member of the class.
The teacher is already involved in planning the rest of the year, and has already developed strategies for coping with various ideosyncracies; all attempts to include the new child have to be quite deliberate. And children, who have spent the beginning of the school year establishing their places in the complicated social and academic world of the classroom and school, also have to figure out how to relate with this new person.
Occasionally, a newcomer who really has her/his act together can improve the class by his/her added presence. This new kid on the block can be the friend Child A has really needed. Child B, who had a strength or weakness that set her/him apart, may now be able to feel a little less strange, because the new child also has that strength or weakness. I usually enjoyed adding a child to my class; it was exciting to witness the different ways children responded, and to
help guide them towards positive responses. I remember being a seven year old new kid, and I remember the myriad of feelings that came with that role. It was exciting and scary; I saw potential for both connection and alienation. Now, when I help a child adjust, I partly feel as if I am helping that little boy I used to be.
It doesn’t have to take long. Children are often great at including newcomers, and teachers usually have strategies for making new children feel at home. They use records sent by previous teachers, insights offered by parents, input from other adults, and their own experience and skill. And soon, the new kid can become a full-fledged member of the class, ready to help the next new kid adjust.

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