According to the U.S. Census, Bend's population grew by an estimated 3,408 people between July 2016 and 2017, reaching an estimated 94,520 people. In the 2018-19 school year, 72 students were approved to transfer to a school within the Bend-La Pine School District, while 41 were approved to transfer outside of the district. That's more than 100 kids transferring just this year to and from Bend area schools. Coming from a family that moved quite a few times throughout my childhood, I know what it's like to be the new kid at school.
The summer after my fourth-grade year, following my parents' divorce, I moved to Montana with my mother and siblings. The rest of my summer was filled with days at the lake, camping and hiking. I had never been to a more beautiful place in my life.
Then the first day of fifth grade arrived.
Preteens were just beginning to form cliques in preparation for the jungle that is middle school. Everyone already knew each other—everyone except for me. At recess and lunch, I sat on the swings by myself. I didn't talk to anybody. I just stared at my feet, hoping not to be noticed. The only thing worse than being invisible at that age is being made fun of. Better to be invisible, I thought. Fifth grade may not be the hell that is middle school, but it's certainly a precursor.
And that's how it was for weeks—maybe even months. At least it felt like months. I didn't tell my mother I was having trouble making friends. I avoided the subject altogether. She would ask me over dinner if I had met anyone at school that day. I would sit staring at my plate, my face burning hot, wishing she would just leave it alone. How could she understand what it was like? She suggested that I simply walk up to some girls on the playground and ask if I could play. What if they said no? Or worse, what if they clearly wanted to say no, but were too nice to say it? I can honestly say it was the loneliest I have ever been in my entire life.
"Being patient and listening to your kid's emotions without trying to solve their problems is key to supporting your child through this transition." —Kristin Daleytweet this
Eventually, I did take my mother's advice. I gathered up the courage to get up from the swing that had become my solitary perch on the edge of the schoolyard and crossed the playground. One foot in front of the other I moved with a lowered gaze, until I found myself at the wooden ledge holding the sand in place around the jungle gym. I forced myself to look up. They were playing tag. I blurted out awkwardly and too suddenly—"Can I play with you?" The words lingered for what seemed like an eternity. "Sure," one of the girls said, perhaps a little tentatively. A sigh of relief. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Being a kid is tough.
I wish my mother knew how hard it was for me to be, well—me—at that age. She was always so sure of her answers and always had a simple solution at hand. It wasn't that simple to me—not then. How do you explain to a parent how hard it is to be a kid?
As students are preparing to go back to school this week, it's worth remembering what it was like at that age. Did you have trouble fitting in? Was schoolwork stressful? Parents can help their children who are going through a tough time at a new school. According to a 2017 article on psychbytes.com, Dr. Kristin Daley says being patient and listening to your kid's emotions without trying to solve their problems is key to supporting your child through this transition. Try giving your kid a confidence boost by helping them pick out a new outfit for the first day of school and make each day an adventure by exploring and learning about your new community.
For parents looking for information on what children need from adults for their general well-being, the Family Resource Center of Central Oregon is holding "I Wish My Parents New... A Parenting Summit" on Friday, Oct. 12. The event will delve into the power of connection between parents and children, and how that connection affects their development, emotions and behaviors.
There's still room on the waitlist and more seats will be released closer to the event. For more information on the summit, visit frconline.org/news-events/the-parenting-summit
*Correction 9/11: An earlier version of this story alluded to the Family Resource Center's parenting summit as specifically addressing children who are having trouble acclimating to a new school. While the summit won't cover this topic specifically, the content of the summit could provide useful information for parents looking to connect with their children.