Two of our eight children still lived at home when we made the biggest transition our family had ever experienced – a move from the suburbs of Los Angeles to a small town in central Arizona. Lizzy would soon begin grade seven, and Rachel would enter her senior year of high school.

We had a lot to look forward to: three acres in the country, gardening, riding lessons and kayaking in the local lakes.

The heartbreak of moving

But all the joy we shared looking at photos of the new house and Internet tours of the area dissolved in tears when it came time for our kids to let their friends know about the move.

Anguish and agony followed. We arranged for future visits to the old hometown and their friends’ visits to our new home. Rachel would attend proms at both her old and new high schools. We compensated where we could, but the loss weighed heavily.

Our children needed the comfort of new friends, but the town we were moving to was so small, most of the kids there had known each other since kindergarten. We knew it might be tough for our children to break into those established friendships. We also didn’t have much time. School would start soon. No child wants to experience an all-alone-at-lunch moment in a new school. I had to act fast!

How to help kids settle in

Here are the strategies I used to help our daughters find friends:

  • Join a church family. Before moving, I searched online for churches and conducted phone interviews with youth pastors. We moved in on a Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the girls attended youth group. Finding new friends may take awhile in the older age groups, where kids are self-conscious and cliques are common, but combine kids with fun activities, and friendships will follow.

  • Meet the neighbours. In the old days, neighbours arrived with warm muffins as soon as the moving truck left. It’s not that way anymore. No one came calling, so we decided to be proactive. We had fun baking and delivering cookies to each neighbour. They were genuinely delighted to meet us. Though none of our neighbours was the same age as our girls, Rachel and Lizzy found some steady babysitting jobs this way.

  • Get the lay of the land. We explored the neighbourhood on foot and the area by car. We discovered tourist spots, hiking trails, parks, equestrian centres and stores galore. We visited museums, restaurants and their new schools. We also met many wonderful folks who filled us in on information about the town.

  • Shop for friends. At local yard sales, we found not only bargains but also friendly people who answered our questions about local churches, which parks were best for what activities and whether the kids liked their schools.

  • Get involved in sports. Rachel and Lizzy both competed on local softball teams, which created a natural entrance into the town’s social scene. A summer recreation league can help a child not only find friends but also strengthen social skills such as teamwork, taking turns and graceful losing. Joining the Y will also open up a world of fun and new friends.

  • Be friendly. The girls stretched themselves to be outgoing with strangers. This paid off for Lizzy while she was attending a back-to-school event at her junior high. Another mom and daughter were processing Lizzy’s papers when they noticed she was from California. Lizzy struck up a conversation with the girl and invited her to our house, and they’ve been BFF (best friends forever) since.

  • Pray. We prayed for new friendships every day, and we saw God’s hand in how their friendships developed. Our daughters met their friends primarily by making themselves available for divine appointments that God tucked into their everyday lives. Today, they enjoy old friends and new. Prayer truly works.

Friends for Mom

  • Join groups where moms and kids gather. If you have younger children, join neighbourhood playgroups and mommy-and-me swim classes. If you have older kids, try mother-daughter retreats or volunteer to help with clubs and other extracurricular activities. At soccer practice, get to know the moms in the stands. Anything that brings kids and parents together is a double blessing.

  • Check out the local newspaper and chamber of commerce website. You’ll find classes, book clubs, Bible studies and many other activities. And the great thing is, you most likely have something in common with the people in these groups. You may find friends who share your hobbies, your political views or your burden to bring friends and neighbours to the Lord. Shared interest is a firm base on which to build friendship.

  • Take notes. Each time I met someone new, I’d go back to the car and write the person’s name in my "new friend" notebook, along with something interesting about him or her. Over time, people were amazed that I remembered their names, and this developed into friendly encounters every time I was in town.

  • Throw a party. My husband thought I was nuts when I wanted to throw a fundraiser for the visiting director of a Ugandan orphanage. "But you don’t know anybody," he said. I got out my "friend notebook" and invited everyone I had ever met. Since it was a fun party for a good cause, about 70 people came and brought other people, too. Through that party, we met many people who shared our interest in missions and became our close friends.

  • Be open to divine introductions. I had been in our new home only for a month when I decided to hire a handyman from a newspaper ad. I asked him for references, and the first lady I called raved about him, then engaged me in conversation for an hour. We are prayer partners today, and her husband returned to the Lord through friendship with my husband. The handyman became our friend, too.

  • If you’re shy, try making friends one on one. Engage another pet fancier at the dog park. Sympathize with a struggler in your crochet class. Attend a newcomers club where they make introductions easy. Go your own speed. Others are seeking meaningful connections, too, and you may be the answer to their prayers.

Linda Riley is a foster and adoptive parent.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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