Encouraging pupils to make friends

Written by: Naomi Richards | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Making friends is a key learning curve of primary school and teaches pupils many key skills for later life. However, it is something that some pupils can find difficult. Naomi Richards offers some ideas for how schools can help pupils to make and retain friends

Everyone needs a friend to have fun with and confide in. Without friends you would be very lonely. Some children find it incredibly easy to make friends but some children do not. They find it difficult to navigate the stormy seas that friendships can sometimes bring and that is down to them not having the right skills to understand friendship situations and knowing what to do to keep a friendship alive.

Friendships can be really complicated. Some are easy and do not require too much effort and others can be quite hard work. It can be difficult to get on with all of your peers as there are so many different personality types. Some children will clash and never see eye-to-eye while other children will get along with anybody give or take having the odd argument.

It is a fact that children won’t get on with everyone that they meet at school – in their class, their set, in after-school activities. What they can do is try and understand why some people behave the way they do (that they do not agree with) and why their peers treat friends in a certain way (they have different values and ways of communicating). Once they are able to do both, it will make friendships much easier.

As most friendship skills are learnt within the playground, schools play an integral role in teaching children about friendships. They can teach them how to make friends – this is important when they enter the school system, especially if they have not been around very many children before at a nursery, play groups or in childcare – and how to keep friends.

The way children interact with their friends at a young age shapes the way they interact with others later on in life – in further education, at work, within their family unit. The interpersonal skills they learn within friendships are transferable across all areas of life and the way their friendships are – good or bad – will affect everything from their behaviour to their school work.

Friendships play a huge part in a child’s happiness and how they feel about themselves. A child who has a happy social life will be able to focus on learning and will have a healthier self-esteem. Friendships are necessary for healthy psychological development. Research shows that children with friends have a greater sense of wellbeing and fewer social problems as adults than individuals without friends. However, children with friends who have friendship problems are more likely to have problems at school.

Some children are very good at making friends but then find they lose friends because they are not taking care of them. I like to use the analogy of a plant when explaining friendships to children. All plants need sunlight and water. If you don’t put them in the sun or water them then they will die. The same goes for friendships. If we don’t care for our friends and treat them with respect and kindness they will die/fizzle out. So, how can schools help children to make and keep friends?

Identifying friends

First of all they need to identify the friends for them. Schools can encourage them to play with many different types of friends or groups of friends to find the right ones for them. These children will be ones they have lots of things in common with – hobbies, interests, games to play – with common personality traits. Talk to the class as a group and get them to think about what kind of friends they like to have.

Knowing what to say

Schools can teach them what to say when meeting someone new and how to say it. It is very important that they help them to show an interest in other people by getting them to ask potential friends questions. They can ask their friends how they got on with their homework, what they did at the weekend, did they watch such and such on television last night?

Explain the importance of asking questions that start with why, what, how, where, or when, so they get a detailed answer to their question rather than a yes or no answer.

Perhaps role-play can be done in class to include children who find it hard to ask questions. Those children may not feel confident and so it would be a case of getting them to think of the positive things that could happen by asking questions and how it makes other children feel.

Conversation tips

Schools can teach children how to look interested when a friend is talking to them. There are some words which really show that they are paying attention to a conversation. “Um”, “yes”, “great”, “really?” are just a few. The same goes for physical cues such as nodding your head or smiling. Being continually interested in friends and knowing what they are up to keeps friendships alive.

Social skills

Social skills and sociable behaviour can also be shared. When children are inclusive, are considerate of other friends’ feelings and use good manners they are more likely to be accepted into friendship groups. They need to be flexible in their thinking, share, be trustworthy and adaptable to other friends’ needs.

Teachers can talk about the importance of these traits and can get the children to think about what a good friend is – the qualities they have – and then decide if they are being a good friend or if they need to change something about themselves to be a better friend.

Schools can also teach the children the “friendship code”. The code is made up of the list of what makes a good friend as suggested above and then it is turned into their own friendship code by defining what they need from a friend: “A good friend for me is someone who...” It will help the children to identify what they see as acceptable behaviour from friends. Each of the children should have a different code for themselves.

Anger-management

One of the biggest challenges of friendships is being able to let go of situations they find themselves in with friends. Instead of holding onto anger or frustration about something that happened they need to be able to talk about it and then move on.

Schools can help friends move on by giving them the tools to communicate calmly to their peers and explain what did not work for them and what they would prefer to happen. They also need to help them understand the unwritten rules of friendship, such as agreeing to disagree, how to accept others and their weaknesses and understand that no friend is perfect. We all have our faults and should not hold other’s faults against them.

Problem-solving

Help them problem-solve for themselves. Teachers should be encouraging the children to tackle any friendship problems themselves. They can also help by getting them to think of three possible solutions in which they can solve their problem. For example, a child may get upset because the leader of their group is being bossy towards them. They have a choice – they can play with others, make a joke about the friend being bossy or suggest that “you all take a turn at x”. With this choice they can decide which is the best solution to use by taking into consideration the reaction of the friend in question.

The bigger picture

Children can often be blinded by seeing only what they want to see and don’t always see the whole picture or situation. Teachers can teach them to take a step back before reacting to a situation. One of those may be mind-reading. Second guessing what someone else is thinking is dangerous and it can change how a child feels about themselves. If someone says something hurtful to them, teachers can get them to think about why that friend said it, help them to rationalise the comment and throw it away without it touching their ego. It is very easy for feelings to get hurt and so children need to be taught what to do to protect those feelings. One idea is to put on a suit of armour so the words can’t penetrate though it.

Evolving friendships

True friendship means letting friends be who they are and trying not to change them. It also means letting friends go if they want to spend time with other people. Friends evolve and change as they grow up and some children will mature earlier than others. It is important to teach children that they do not own their friends and that if they want to move group or spend time with others that it is okay. Children need to accept that friendships evolve, new ones grow and old ones fizzle out. If they can keep in the here and now they will appreciate what they have and move on like their friends are doing.

Conclusion

Friendships are complicated but with the learning going on at home and school, children should be able to navigate their childhood years with strong friendships and without too many fallouts.

  • Naomi Richards is the co-author of Being Me (And Loving It). With 29 real-life and relatable stories at its heart, the book is designed to help build self-esteem and body confidence in children aged five to 11. Aimed at PSHE teachers, each story is the focus of a ready-to-use lesson plan, covering common issues that affect children such as friendships and peers. Visit www.thekidscoach.org.uk


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