Helping children build good relationships with their peers

One of the most important aspects of school-life for children is developing friendships and positive relationships with their peers. Like adults, children cannot be expected to be friends with everyone they have to work with but are likely to feel much happier at school if they can develop some strong, lasting friendships and are able to cooperate with their peer group.

One of the most important aspects of school-life for children is developing friendships and positive relationships with their peers.

Like adults, children cannot be expected to be friends with everyone they have to work with but are likely to feel much happier at school if they can develop some strong, lasting friendships and are able to cooperate with their peer group.

While many children will make friends and learn how to cooperate with their peers naturally, this section provides some suggestions for things you can do at home to help.

Modelling appropriate behaviour

During the early years of child development, children learn social skills by copying the adults they see around them. It is therefore important for adults to model the behaviour they would like to see in their child and be aware of their reactions to everyday social situations.

If a child sees that adults make unkind comments about one another, or see them speaking in anger then they will assume that this is acceptable behaviour. If, on the other hand, they see adults helping one another and speaking kindly they will be more likely to do the same. Consider what your child is learning through your own relationships and interactions with others and try to demonstrate the attitudes and behaviours that nurture lasting friendships.

Encouraging positivity

Most people tend to prefer the company of positive people as positivity, like negativity, is contagious! Positive people who feel good about themselves generally make others feel good too so attract friends.

You can encourage your child to be positive by discussing problems and talking about how to turn a situation around. An example might be:

‘Sarah won’t talk to me. She just ignores me and walks away and plays with Jessica.’

‘Why do you think that is?’

‘She doesn’t like me.’

‘Who do you get on well with?’

‘What do you like to play with Amber?’

‘We like skipping.’

‘Well you are a really good skipper. I think you’d enjoy skipping with Amber tomorrow. You could ask her in the morning.

Teach your child that having a positive attitude is a choice. Show them how to turn negative feelings around into positive ones by having an internal dialogue. For example:

‘Sarah won’t play with me but it doesn’t matter. It’s her loss. She likes Jessica better than me but maybe that is because they have more in common. That’s ok. I get on really well with Amber and I will play with her tomorrow.’


Shared interests

Most good friendships are based around some shared interests, although not all interests will be shared.

Giving your child lots of opportunities to try different activities will help them to find out what their interests are and build their confidence to try new things. Being involved in a variety of activities also helps children to meet different people who might become good friends.


Using humour

Children are naturally ‘attracted’ to peers with a good sense of humour. Humour can be learnt if it doesn’t come easily.

  •  At home children can read joke books and remember some of the jokes to tell their friends.
  • They can create cartoon strips to practise humorous interactions. An online programme for making cartoon strips can be found here:
  • By playing with your children, you can teach them social skills, have fun and develop their sense of humour too

Starting conversations

Some children struggle to make friends because they don’t have the confidence or communication skills to take the first step. You could help them by role playing opening sentences to help your child get the conversation started.

Examples of opening sentences to practise through role play:

‘Hi there. My name is x. Would you like to play tag?’

‘Did you do anything nice this weekend? I went swimming.’

‘Which one would you like to play with?’ (pointing to toys).

Some children might need support in getting a conversation started and then need you to back away so they can manage themselves.

Giving compliments can also help children to start conversations and build a sense of rapport. Children should understand that compliments should be specific, heart-felt and merited though as people quickly spot those who shower others with compliments that aren’t genuine!


Good manners

The importance of good manners in developing good relationships is often overlooked; it important to model and teach when to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and how to greet adults and other children in different situations.

This might also include learning how to join in a conversation politely, without interrupting. Entering a conversation that has already started is quite a difficult skill to learn so children may need to practise listening to discussions, waiting for a pause then adding something relevant to the conversation.

It is also helpful for children to learn how to deal with a difference of opinion in a polite and respectful way.

Some sentences to practise might be:

‘I know what you mean but I think that x is a good thing.’

‘I don’t agree with you but that’s ok because everyone feels differently don’t they?’

‘I understand what you are saying but I’m afraid I don’t agree because …’


Building confidence

A particularly daunting prospect for children who are shy is to enter a game or activity that others are already engaged in. You can role play this scenario by suggesting your child says something as simple as: ‘Can I play too?’ You can then respond in different ways and help them to think of appropriate answers. The more they practise the more confident they are likely to become.

Other things you can do help your child feel more confident in social situations include:

  • Taking your children to places that are full of children, such as a play park. It is important not to avoid these places even though your child might find it challenging.
  • Inviting other children for a play date so that your child can remain in the comfort of their own home.
  • Keeping play dates small so your child can concentrate on one activity at a time.
  • Modelling and encouraging co-operative play and conversations. Move away when the game or conversation is flowing.  

It is important to remember that it fine for children to have 1 or 2 good friends rather than a large group of friends. Everyone is different and some children enjoy the company of a large group and others prefer a quieter friendship with a single person.


Sharing friends

One of the things some children find very difficult is having the self-assurance to share their friends with others. They might suffer feelings of jealousy, feel left out or worry that their friend prefers the company of someone else.

For children who are having friendship difficulties, discussing stories about different social situations can be very helpful. Lots of suitable stories can be found in the teachers section of the Go-Givers website or on other websites for children; you could even write your own!

As in the story above you can help your child to see that having one good friend can be an amazing thing but often having more in a group can bring opportunities for games and fun that one friend cannot always fill. Some games require more than two people! You can also help them to see what qualities they have that mean their friends enjoy their company.

It is important for children to recognise that their friends sometimes need space and may prefer to play with others on occasion. With encouragement from you, they should understand that their friends will then return to play with them when they are ready. Children are together at school for a large part of the day and it is inevitable that they need space from each other from time to time. 

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