For the children in the home it can mean NEW: Home, School, Church, Youth Group, & Friends
It also means you all left things behind. No matter if the situation was difficult chances are your kids didn’t “feel it” to the same extent you did and they have favorite: friends, places, and times they have left behind.
Everything is about starting over. It takes a toll on all of you in ways you never knew.
This has been my own family for 8 months now. I have always known a sense of community is important in our youth programming however recently it has become personal. Why? My kids are the ones at your youth service or group with their hands dug into the bottom of their pockets, staring at their feet, holding their breath, hoping beyond hope someone will create a space for them to belong.
I thought I knew how to create a warm environment. However, there are some key pieces I am observing as well in our own journey.
- Leadership sets the tone:
Students and other leaders follow the examples of those considered “in charge.” If we want them to understand how to welcome in someone new, we have to show and teach: HOW. Even when one adult is welcoming, if it feels like all the “kids” are just staring, the “newbie” won’t want to come back. Draw up a clear map and plan of action for building in new students.
- Follow up is key:
The students want to know it “mattered” to someone they were there. Even better: Would it mean anything to anyone if they came back? All the “new” compared with missing the “old,” is hard. Follow up.
- Know your culture- and explain it to the newbies.
In our last move my children landed in the youth programming of a Presbyterian church. We had never been “Presbyterian” before. Not only are there nuances of the new group, they talk about things like “Confirmation” that were not a part of our church back home. They have a small group leader that explains the new terms and what to expect in programming each week. In addition as parents, we are engaged by the youth pastor to ensure we know what everything means. This way we can help as well with the comfort levels.
- Get Your Other Students Involved:
Put a couple of students who are naturally friendly in charge of showing new kids the “ropes.” In addition put others in charge of following up later in the week, or checking up on students who have lapsed. I actually had someone who did this for me when I was in High School. It inspired my whole family to return to church.
- Purposely “Mix it Up.”
Be aware of the cliques and friendship clusters in your group. Students will always gravitate to people they feel comfortable with. While this is not always, “evil.” We have a responsibility to create new interactions within our group.
As a parent I have seen once again, inclusion always begins with the youth pastor/leader. It must always be on our radar to create community, not programming. Their youth pastor didn’t have to create a space for them in his group. My kids just want to know there is a new place for them to “belong.”
What do you do to help new kids belong?