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Being the New Kid is Never Easy

Creating a more welcoming community

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Most of us, at one point or another, have been “the new kid.” Whether it’s at a new school, new classroom, new sports team or new neighborhood – something we all know is that being the new kid is never easy.

You’re worried. You want people to like you.

You want to make friends… or, at the very least, feel welcomed. You want to believe that eventually, if all goes well and the stars align, you’ll belong. You want to have others realize that you are worth having them take the time and make the effort of connecting with you. And, while children up to a certain age can be great at making friends and inviting the new kid to play with them, they aren’t necessarily welcoming. They don’t know how, unless they’ve been taught by the adults in their lives. And how many adults do you know who are really, truly welcoming?

I recently moved to a new community.

Far away from my tribe and the people that know and love me. From where I was welcomed. From where I belonged. From where I understood the social norms. Since my spouse and I work from home, we don’t have the luxury of a workplace where we’ll be meeting new people in our vicinity. I told myself that it wouldn’t be too hard to get to meet people. That we’ll meet them at our kiddo’s school – because having a child is a magnet for making other parent-friends, or so I’m told. That we need to give it time – I mean, we’ve only been here a month and a half.

As humans, we never outgrow the feelings of insecurity when it comes to being the “new kid.”

Humans are hardwired to be social beings. We are not, however, hardwired to be welcoming. This is something we learn by emulating others who are welcoming, or by the “live and learn” method taught in the school of life. Hopefully now you’re finding yourself wondering, “Am I welcoming? When was the last time I spoke to a new person with the intention of making them feel like they are welcome? What did I do or not do to be welcoming?” Good… keep reading!

Things to consider:

Timing Part I. Don’t be too early. The Welcome Wagon often gets mocked for this very reason. It can be anywhere from a single person to a group consisting of X number of people, normally assumed to be nosy and gossipy. You’ve been in your new place less than 48 hours, your stuff is dumped all over the place as you sort and arrange… and they get to take it all in before you are properly prepared for company. Give people a few days – or even a couple of weeks – to settle in a little before you come into their new space. If you see them at the supermarket or at the bank, wave or say hello, and maybe introduce yourself. But don’t invade their personal space yet; you don’t know if they are still scrambling around going commando because the movers thought it would be funny to pack their underwear in a box and label it “CDs” (true story).

Timing Part II. Don’t wait a month or more to say hello or strike up a conversation. That is too long a time, and it allows feelings of loneliness and insecurity to crop up. I mean, c’mon – you know they are new because you either saw the For Sale or For Rent sign get taken down, or you’ve never seen them in your neighborhood before and now you see them all the time. Waiting too long to welcome the “new kid” is apathetic and inhospitable.

Behavior. Be friendly. Smile. No, not your awkward nervous smile. Smile like you mean it. Say “Hi, how’s it going?” Engage them in conversation. You can ask them where they are from, how they are liking their new community, and if they are getting settled in okay. Invite them to participate in something you might have going on soon, make a playdate (if you both have kids… otherwise it’s just weird), or ask when might be a good time to share a cup of coffee.

And finally, my extra special secret tip:

Offer to help them with anything that they might need. This doesn’t necessarily mean unpacking or helping move the very heavy couch to that perfect spot in their living room. It means you can clue them into the secrets of their new community. The things that help you adapt, adjust, and feel like you are “in the know.” Where you can get the best tacos in town, and which restaurant you should avoid if you value your internal organs. Where the gym or library or community center is located. What fun annual events are coming up.

This might be a tough one. They might be things you take for granted because you yourself are not the new kid. But that’s exactly why it’s “extra special.” When the new kid knows these things… they won’t feel so much like the new kid anymore.

Everyone has a part to play – including the new kid.

That’s right! The responsibility isn’t all on you. They need to remember to smile, as well… to use open body language and show that they are willing to engage. I’m currently the new kid in my neighborhood, and when I started writing this I was feeling pretty lonely and dejected. But in the process of exploring the “new kid experience,” I realized that I needed to examine my own role in the matter.

And I had an AHA! moment.

See, I’d go to pick up my kiddo at school, stand with all the other parents waiting for the kids to come out, and proceed to pull out my phone and fully engage… with my Facebook newsfeed. Um, hello? Who is going to be rude enough to approach me when I’m being unapproachable? Upon realizing this, I made some changes, and (I don’t want to brag or anything but) in a week’s time I’ve added three new mom contacts to my phone. Score!

The key here: people are worth investing in.

The person doing the welcoming has to remember that – whether you are welcoming someone for a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime – people are worth the effort. Just because you think they may not be around for long doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to connect. Nowadays, even if someone is only in your community for a short time, it is incredibly easy to keep in touch and be a part of each other’s lives. You never know when you’ll cross paths again… and you never know just how they might enrich your world.

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