What Makes a Good Friend
One of the wonderful things about being a teacher and getting the chance to work with young children is that you have the opportunity to see them learn how to socialise and start to developing friendships.
It’s fascinating to watch and it’s a time when kids get begin to understand they can learn about the world and discover who they are through other people.
School exposes children to different cultures, different personalities and ways of working, which is all good practice for adult life. While all of this sounds wonderful, it’s not always smooth sailing.
The very young are entirely dependent on the adults that take care of them and meet their needs. This changes as they grow older and transitioning to daily life in a busy classroom can be tricky.
It’s important for you as a teacher to know what the traits of a truly good friend are so you can be on the lookout for kids who are finding making and keeping friends difficult. If a child is struggling it is probably because they have an unmet need. Try to look beyond the behaviour and work out why they are behaving in the way they are. If you need to, seek support from your SENCO.
So what makes a good friend? These four traits are vitally important:
Being able to understand that other people have feelings separate from their own is an important milestone children develop. Children begin to show empathy around 2 years old, but it is a skill that lots of us could develop.
Empathy is important for friendships and learning. It encourages tolerance, allows us to see when others need help and assists us in providing help. Whether it is noticing that another child is feeling left out on the playground and inviting them into a game or noticing another person has different needs that are also important. Empathy is an important skill.
Support children to develop empathy by modelling it and giving children the language to explain what they are seeing and doing. This can be as simple as having a quiet chat with a child or children after an incident has occurred, where you talk about what happened and discuss feelings. Make sure this doesn't become a lecture and have a negative focus. Notice the positive examples too.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old cliche that ‘sharing is caring’ and you’re probably rolling your eyes right now after reading it here, but it’s true, and it’s an important one to know.
A child will share their toys if they feel secure that their toys will be looked after and that they will get them back. As time passes children enjoy sharing toys and experiences with their friends. Sharing takes a lot of practice and requires children to develop empathy.
Children should have the right not to share something that belongs to them, if they don't want to. As adults we all have things we wouldn't be expected to share, from our phones to our lunches. Afford children this same right and help them navigate the tricky social etiquettes involved in sharing.
In a solid caring friendship there will be give and take, both parties will look out for each other and keep each other’s best interests at heart. So be on the lookout for those children that are finding sharing difficult and support them to see why sharing is important.
Children can communicate, make themselves heard and get attention well before they are old enough to go to school.
It can be tough to teach them that conversation is a two-way street and that the more you listen, the more you learn and understand.
Friendships, where people don't feel listened to or heard, are not satisfying friendships, nor are they healthy or beneficial.
The value of listening should be impressed upon children. You can find ways to show them that listening is actually exciting and then when another child tries to tell them something they’ll hang on every word.
Read stories and poetry and teach them from an early age how enjoyable and rewarding listening is.
Learning to lie is, as strange as it might seem, an important developmental milestone. It requires children to realise that they do not share their thoughts with others.
Children and adults lie for a variety of reasons, whether it is to protect themselves or others, to get a need met or to control others. If a child is lying frequently sit down with them and have a discussion about what is going on and work out how you can support them and remove the need to lie. Often helping a child feel safe is the first step to stopping lies. Ask yourself questions like these:
Are they lying because they are scared?
Are they lying because they are embarrassed or ashamed?
Are they lying because they are trying to be tactful?
You can support children to feel safe, show them the benefits of honesty and the consequences of lying and from when they’re very young.
Learning how to be a good friend can effectively set up all of the relationships in your life to be positive ones. A child who learns to understand the joy of strong human connections when they are young will value those forever.