Sometimes we expect that all we have to do for children to make friends is to put them in close proximity to other children. We may see it happen at the park, in a playground, in a shopping centre, at school. Children are attracted to other children, but it is not always easy for them to make friends. We should no more expect them to get along than we would expect adults thrown together at a party, conference or other social situation to become friends immediately.
While some children are gregarious and will talk to anyone, others may be more introverted and less inclined to make the first move. But whether extrovert or introvert, children need to learn how to interact with others in ways that encourage friendships to be made. The development of social-emotional skills, including empathy or understanding how others feel, is an important part of becoming a friend.
Make friendship skills lessons an ongoing part of your program
Lessons in how to be a friend need to be an ongoing part of any class program. While many teachers allocate some time for getting to know each other at the beginning of the school year, it is important to maintain the focus throughout the year. As children mature and interact with others, they will encounter a greater variety of situations with which they need to deal.
It is not always necessary to timetable or set up specific lessons. Sometimes the spontaneous discussions before and after break times can help highlight needs and alert you to who is having trouble in the playground. These focused incident-specific discussions can help resolve issues and prevent them from escalating.
As new children enter the class, they also need to be introduced and made to feel welcome and included. It is important for the introductions to go both ways. New children have many others to get to know; the existing class members have only one, and it may be difficult for a new child to settle into established groups. It is necessary to establish procedures that will help a child settle while more permanent friendships are being formed. For example, friendship buddies could be allocated to show the child around and help them become familiar with school routines and behaviour expectations.
Establish a supportive classroom environment
One of the best ways of ensuring that children feel friendly towards each other is by establishing a supportive classroom environment in which children have a sense of belonging, feel respected and valued.
Previous posts about establishing a supportive classroom environment include Establishing a supportive classroom environment from day one. A search of resources using the words ‘supportive classroom’ will bring up a list of other related posts and resources.
Similar searches using the words ‘friends’ and ‘friendship skills’ will bring up lists of other resources, or source them from the category Character Development — Friendship Skills.
Getting to know you surveys are a good way to help break the ice and form friendships with everyone in the class. Of course, we can’t expect children to be best friends with everyone, but we can expect them to be friendly with everyone.
Sing your way to friendship
There is nothing like singing to get everyone smiling and put them in a positive frame of mind. I always began the day with a positive song and often sang others throughout the day. Sometimes we ended the day with a song too. Other times, we finished with a chant.
Songs from the Special As I Can Be CD by Anne Infante are a great way to start each day. The CD is a collection of songs of affirmation which children enjoy and love to join in singing. On many occasions, children in my class would break out into song while working on other tasks during the day. Happy children singing is music to the ears and heart.
Another of my favourite songs about friendship to sing with the children is You’ve Got A Friend In Me by Randy Newman from the Toy Story movie. I’m sure you have favourites of your own as well. Please let me know in the comments what they are.
Partner games and clapping songs are also a fun way of getting children interacting with each other. You can get them to engage with others, not just their ‘best friend’, by employing different ways of allocating partners or playing the games as a progressive activity in which children move to the next partner around the circle.
Friendship is a superpower
Help children to see that, although they may have some special friends, they can be friendly towards everyone. No one should be excluded. Everyone should be included.
Explain that being friendly towards others encourages others to be friendly towards them. Being a friend is like a superpower. It helps everyone, including yourself, have a good day.
This week I have uploaded new resources on the theme of using your Friendship Superpower to be a Friendship Superhero.
Friendship superpower posters is a set of eight posters presenting four different statements, each with a boy or girl Friendship Superhero:
- Friendship is my superpower! Who can I help today?
- Be a Friendship Superhero. Turn the sad to glad.
- Unleash your friendship superpower.
- I am a friendship superhero, spreading smiles wherever I go.
The posters are available in three colour formats for printing choice.
Friendship Superhero badges can be printed and used as incentives or rewards for friendly behaviour.
The Friendship Superhero Award can be printed and distributed to acknowledge special effort.
Friendship Superheroes are printable sheets which children can use for writing about the ways in which they show kindness to others by being good friends.
Friendship Scenario discussion starters presents a series of everyday situations which children may encounter. Discussion of the scenarios will provide children with strategies they can employ should they encounter similar situations.
Remind children that if they find themselves in the ‘sad’ situation, they can be their own superhero. They don’t need to wait for someone else to come and rescue them — they can rescue themselves.
It is important not to ask the children to act out the sad situations as we do not want the children to unnecessarily feel the associated emotions by role-playing them. Instead get the children to act out what they would do in unleashing their friendship superpower.
Remind children that the high-5 is a good starting strategy to use if they are experiencing a problem in the playground.
Perhaps they also need strategies to use if there’s no one to play with. For example, they could:
- Look for someone else who looks lonely – ask “Can I play?” or “Will you play with me?”
- Approach children who are playing a game, ask “Can I play?”
- Make up their own game; play with a ball or skipping rope, maybe someone will want to join in with them.
- Go to the library and find a good book to read, or maybe some children to play with there.
Children may have suggestions of their own which could be presented on a chart as reminders.
As a further aid to discussion about friendship, I have uploaded the Busy Bees ABC of friendship which presents an alphabet of friendship words to assist understanding. Each letter is presented individually on a page. Additionally, the entire alphabet of friendship words is presented on one page which can be printed and displayed in the classroom or laminated and presented to children as reminders.
Please let me know if there are any other resources you would like included in the series.
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