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Helping Our Students Make Friends
By Ben Fishman 13-Nov-19
Ling, a Grade 2 student at your school, comes in from recess and appears to be quite distraught. She goes on to tell you that Min, her BFF (best friend forever), was happily eating her snack at morning recess with the new student from Hong Kong, Elizabeth. Every day, Ling has her snack with Min, and today she is feeling left out after having walked all over the playground looking for her friend. “I wanted to join them,” she says, “so I waved at Min and Elizabeth, but there were no smiles from them. So I stopped. I did not know what to do, and I turned around and walked the other way and began to cry.” Whether your students are in pre-kindergarten or seniors in high school, feeling included within and outside of the classroom is paramount in their world. It can be hard for educators to see our students sad or feeling anxious about friendship dynamics. Although they do not need to have several friends or be well-liked at school to do well, if they don’t have at least one or two good friends our concern about students’ emotional wellbeing is probably justified. Teachers play an important role in helping children gain and keep friends. As is true for adults, having friends is important to children. They promote positive emotional wellbeing and a feeling of inclusion and belonging. Healthy friendships provide children with cognitive skills for problem solving and acquiring new knowledge. They also help children to develop social skills, find a positive outlet in which to express their feelings, and provide infusions of joy throughout the day. Finally, friendships among young people offer opportunities to form lasting relationships. Some children may find it easy to make friends at school or in their neighborhoods, but others don’t. Why is this? And how can educators help their students to make friends? Children develop a path to making friends around the age of three or four. Some, especially lower-primary elementary-age students, may need help developing social skills such as empathy, problem-solving, cooperation, and communication skills before they are comfortable making friends. More importantly, they need our understanding and assistance when they do not seem to want to make friends. Helping your students to make friends begins by encouraging them to tell you about their daily experiences. This is true whether or not your students show signs of shyness, avoidance, and inhibition, which might include avoiding social situations that should be pleasurable, being passive or pessimistic, and indulging in excessive computer use that is not social in nature. Such dispositions may escalate to pose future challenges in cultivating friendships. Encouraging students to communicate with you by telling stories and sharing information about their daily experiences and how they feel about them will allow you to help them connect with other children. Some children are more comfortable moving about and talking to large groups of kids. They can be seen actively seeking connections, waving to and walking over to a group of children. Others are more comfortable spending time alone engaged in activities such as reading, playing computer games, and watching others socialize. In a room with other kids, they can be seen initially glancing toward another child, as though waiting for a nod or smile, before walking over and beginning a conversation. We can do something to facilitate such contacts when we spend enough time with our students and when we listen to them without judgement. We also help our children make friends when we serve as good examples. This involves showing them what it means to be kind by giving compliments, waving to a friend, greeting and communicating with other children. These are all basic but important skills that some students may need help learning. Listening to others and understanding what they are going through teaches our children to connect by empathizing. When children learn from us how these simple gestures help them gain friends, they will now be ready to talk, become empowered, and form friendships. Educators can do this by creating or finding various opportunities for them to socialize and play with other children. Some examples may be: getting students involved in extracurricular activities (music, sports, drama, etc.), encouraging parents to set up play dates, and signing them up for classes over long breaks so that kids can interact and meet their peers in several different settings. Making friends is a lifelong process and will have its ups and downs. We can support our kids through trying times by listening to them and acknowledging their feelings. Children develop into well-rounded, emotionally healthy human beings by building friendships. When we give time to truly understanding them and when we show them how to be a good friend to the people we know and care about, we give our children the skills to be confident and compassionate in engaging with other people from all walks of life. Friendships provide a richness and happiness your child will always treasure, alongside success in school, as well as a support system in life which gives our children the courage to live their dreams. Ben Fishman is currently working as an elementary school counselor at Concordia International School Shanghai.
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