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How to develop childhood friendships in your primary school class

How to develop childhood friendships in your primary school class

We all know that learning social skills is a vital part of growing up. As young learners grow, they develop the social skills that are essential for strong childhood friendships.

But what do these stages look like?

How and when a child learns to become a good friend varies, but these are the basic stages of childhood friendship that they are likely to go through:


Stages of childhood friendships


Developing Childhood FriendshipsDeveloping childhood friendships is vital for young learners' happiness and wellbeing.
  • Babies respond to voices and imitate facial expressions, learning by imitation.
  • Children in Early Years are able to form attachments with friends. They tend to have fleeting friendships and often lack the communication skills necessary to understand and to resolve conflicts.
  • In KS1 children begin to use a range of strategies to communicate with their peers and work out where they fit in their social group. A huge challenge they face is learning empathy and putting their learning into practice independently!
  • In LKS2 children can become very concerned with what is fair, often liking rigid rules around actions and reactions. As they become more aware of how others think and feel they often start to evaluate themselves critically and compare themselves to others.
  • In UKS2 children have generally learnt to compromise, but they can place their friends on pedestals and feel devastatingly betrayed by a friend's actions.


Learning the skills to be a good friend is all about trial and error! Since practice makes perfect, what can we do to help children on this emotional journey of discovery?


What teachers can do to foster strong childhood friendships

As teachers you know how important it is to encourage and support children on this difficult journey. Finding time at the end of break to deal with the playground scraps can be hard enough and fitting in time for lessons specifically focused on emotional development is difficult with the packed timetables.

When children return to class distressed it affects their emotional well-being. When they are unable to work collaboratively it affects the flow of your lessons. All this impacts on their ability to learn. So how can you find time to support your class develop these skills and what can you do to help them?



Think carefully about the problems that keep coming up with your class and devote PSHE lessons to tackling them. Provide lots of opportunities for discussion and role play, but ensure you are being sensitive towards the children's’ needs. This may mean not coming at an issue head on, but approaching it through a metaphorical story. This should allow you to explore the problem without singling anyone out. If you are stuck for ideas, you might find these three Being Kind to You & Me lessons are helpful for learning about good friendship skills.


2. Provide lots of opportunities for children to work in groups

Being able to work collaboratively is an important skill for young learners. How do you make sure you are heard without dominating the group and alienating people if you are not given the chance to practice?

When it is appropriate, get children working in pairs or groups. This doesn’t need to be a huge change to your lesson: it could be done in a few minutes as your class feedback ideas during a mini-plenary. If you mix the roles and responsibilities in the groups around you will give children the opportunity to branch out of their comfort zone and develop new skills.

Is one child always the scribe? Does another child always feedback to the class?

When the children are confident working within their normal group, change the groups around. This gives them the opportunity to see how they work with a variety of children and personalities.


3. Organised collaborative games

These games are great for getting children working and thinking like a team. The games can be included as part of a lesson or during playtime. They teach new skills, working collaboratively, relying on others, how to react to success and failure and concentration.


Some of our favourites collaborative games

  1. Pass the squeeze or pass the smile – get the children in a circle and pass a smile to the person next to you or when sitting in a circle get all the children holding hands and pass a squeeze to the person next to you.
  2. Pass the stretch – this game is similar to a Mexican wave but involves stretches, not a wave.
  3. Sharks and fishes – set mats out in the hall, when you say ‘the sharks are coming’ the children have to get into groups on a mat. The number of children allowed in each group is limited!
  4. Can you build it – give each group a variety of materials and challenge them to build something that meets a criteria e.g. tallest tower, a bridge that can support a toy car etc..
  5. Tell a story – as you go around the circle, each child is allowed to say one sentence of the story. This can be made harder by limiting the number of words they can say.
  6. Solve the mystery – give the groups clues, which group can solve the mystery the quickest.


4. Playground buddies

Once children have learnt these collaborative games, encourage them to teach them to other children on the playground. This will take some time to set up, but the opportunities for developing emotional intelligence and positive childhood friendships are endless.

You could also have a team of playground buddies who support children with solving simpler problems. This will help them to develop their empathy and give them a valuable insight into how to cope with a range of problems.

If you notice a child really make an effort to be a good friend to others, why not reward them? This free Friendship Award certificate is nice to give out occasionally. You could even invite children to secretly nominate others for the award!


5. Discuss Problems

Above all, we think it is important to take the time to talk through problems with the children. You can do this by trying to embed emotional development into the school day.

Don’t just assume the children know how to fix a problem and don’t assume they understand how and why they are feeling. If a child cannot name the emotion they are experiencing and why they are feeling it, then they won’t be able to manage it effectively or recognise it in other people.

Discussing and naming emotions allow children to become emotionally intelligent, which is important if you want them to be able to make and keep strong childhood friendships, and work effectively with a range of different people.


Hopefully you'll find some of this advice helpful, and can incorporate them into teaching and learning in your classroom. If you'd like some ready-to-teach resources for developing childhood friendships and helping children live happier, more fulfilled lives, we've made these ready-to-teach Fulfilled Lives mini-schemes of work for KS1 and KS2.


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