6 Tips to Help Kids Come Out of Their Shells and Make New Friends in Middle School
by Jacqueline West
If you had asked my twelve-year-old self for some tips on making friends in middle school, she would probably have ducked behind her own hair, stared out at you confusedly for a minute, and then — as soon as she could escape without seeming rude — darted into the corner to bury herself in a copy of Jane Eyre.
I was that kid: shy, hypersensitive, bookish, always vaguely out of place. That’s probably why I write about lonely, vulnerable, out-of-place kids like Van in The Collectors.
Back then, books helped me to feel less alone.
They’re still helping me now.
Weirdly enough, my love of books has ended up pushing me into the real world. Reading, writing, and teaching fiction has opened my life to all kinds of people. So while twelve-year-old Jacqueline might have had more to say about the Brontë sisters than about making new friends, grown-up author and parent Jacqueline has a tiny bit more insight.
Tip 1: Follow your own interests — not anyone else’s.
Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Choose the electives, join the teams, and pursue the hobbies that appeal to you. Maybe you won’t find your very best friend in the anime club or among the mathletes, but shared interests are the common ground where new friendships can be built.
If your school doesn’t have a club for your favorite hobby — whether it’s knitting, or Minecraft, or writing mash-up fan fiction about superheroes who ride My Little Ponies — you could be really brave and start one. You never know how many other kids share your interests until you join in the sharing yourself.
Tip 2: Find friends outside of school.
It can be hard to make new friends in a place where all the other kids already know you…or think they do.
In middle school, we all tend to get sorted into little boxes — jock, brain, skater, nerd — and then we’re stuck. But when you join a class or a group that meets outside of school, maybe even in another town, you get a fresh start at simply being you, with no labels or cliques attached. And that can be awesome.
Tip 3: A grade is nothing but a number.
Most of your middle school classes will be spent with other kids in your grade. But don’t forget that there are two (or more!) other grades sharing your school. That’s three times as many potential friends!
Kids in the grade above you might be a little more mature. Kids in the grade below you might be a little less worried about being cool. And your best friends might be waiting in either place. So look for the classes, clubs, or teams that are for mixed age groups. You can double or triple your odds of finding yourself sitting next to someone wonderful.
Tip 4: Be your wonderfully nerdy self.
The trendy sneakers everybody’s wearing today are going to be old news tomorrow. But that battered Slytherin T-shirt, the one you got at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (which was your idea of heaven on earth): that’s not going to fade. Because you hand-wash it. But also because it’s a reflection of you. Why not let other people have that glimpse of your true self?
Whatever your fandom is — science fiction, cake baking, vintage clothes, intense online puzzle games that take six months to learn — you can wear it on your sleeve. Or on your notebook cover. Think of it as a little signal to your fellow wonderful nerds.
Tip 5: Remember kindness.
Middle school is tough. Just surviving the day can feel like trekking through Siberia with forty pounds of textbooks and a wad of sweaty gym clothes strapped to your back — especially if you’re the sensitive type. It’s harder to think of the feelings of others when you’re so overwhelmed with your own. But when you come across other kids who need kindness — maybe they’ve fallen and spilled their own forty pounds of textbooks all over the hallway, or they haven’t been unchosen for a group project — be kind. Because they’re making that Siberian trek too.
Tip 6: The shell isn’t all bad.
There’s a lot of pressure to be outgoing. Anybody who’s naturally shy ends up feeling like there’s something terribly wrong with them. Guess what? There isn’t. Some of us are extroverts, and some of us are introverts, and that’s a good thing. The world needs parties and libraries.
If you need your shell to feel safe right now, that’s fine. Shells are useful. (There’s a reason turtles have survived for 200 million years.) But if people try to coax you out of your shell — maybe they invite you to join a recess basketball game, or they sit by you on the bus, or they just give you a friendly smile — stick your neck out a little. Smile back. The shell will still be there when you need it…although you might find yourself needing it less and less.
About the author
Jacqueline West is the author of the award-winning and bestselling Books of Elsewhere series. Her short fiction and poetry appear in a variety of publications. She is also a classically trained singer and an actress, and she still performs with local theatre troupes. She lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota. www.jacquelinewest.com