Teaching Children How to Make Friends at School: How Social Relationships Contribute to School Success

Dyan EybergenBy Dyan Eybergen, RN

When asked what makes them happy at school, kids most often answer: friends! Children have better attitudes about education and learning when they have friends at school.

It's important for children to adopt healthy attitudes about school and learning. Beliefs regarding education should first be modeled by parents; however, this will take a child only so far in transcending those values into positive experiences. Children will eventually rely on other factors relating to the school environment when deciding whether or not they are enjoying it. Having friends tends to be one of those key factors.

How Parents Can Teach a Child to Make Friends

Children are not born socially competent. The behaviours needed for positive interpersonal interactions are learned through the relationship a child first has with his/her parents. Through interactions with their parents, children practice and fine tune how to behave in socially acceptable ways. Children will navigate their way through future social exchanges, including friendships, based on the skills their relationship with their parents has taught them.

The following skills are important in the acquisition of friendships and should be among the skills parents instil in their children:

Planning and Decision Making

Whenever possible and appropriate, parents should give children choices. When given the opportunity to practice decision making skills, children are exercising their ability to weigh options and choose what is in their best interest. By carefully considering what each choice means for them, children can think about and plan for the consequence of each choice. Making the wrong choice also prepares them for future similar events. Once a child has made a mistake, he/she is less apt to choose that way the next time. Choices help guide children in a direction that is right for them. Having friendships often comes down to making choices about who to be friends with, what game to play, who to invite to a birthday party, etc.

Interpersonal Skills

Empathy is taught by giving children a feelings vocabulary where they learn to articulate their emotions and understand how their actions impact the feelings of other people. Children who have a strong foundation in emotional literacy tolerate frustration better, get into fewer fights, and exhibit less aggressive behaviour than children who do not have the language capacity for expressing themselves. This skill alone makes a big difference on the school playground!

Cultural Competence

When children know about and are comfortable with people of different cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds, there are fewer incidences of intolerance and prejudice bullying. When children are taught acceptance they do not factor in exclusion criteria for being friends with someone of a different colour or religion. And children who are of a minority are not ostracized, further broadening the opportunity to make friends.

Resistance Skills and Conflict Resolution

Children need to be taught to resist peer pressure and make decisions based on their moral character and value system. Parents cannot preach this to their children, it needs to be practiced in order to be learned. Parents can give their children different hypothetical scenarios where they are asked to refuse peer pressure. By the acquisition of the above mentioned social skills, children will be developing a healthy self-esteem through social confidence where they are better able to walk away, than succumbing to the negative requests of their peers.

If conflict arises in these situations, children need to be able to resolve issues in a peaceful, non-violent way. Conflict-resolution skills can be thought of as competence in advanced interpersonal relations and communication. Conflict resolution is an important tool that will be useful not just during the school years, but for the rest of a child's life.

Making and keeping friends is probably one of the most important aspects to the social-emotional development of a school-age child. When children are socially competent and feel good about the friendships they have at school, the experience of going to school will be far more enjoyable for them.


Out of the Mouths of BabesDyan Eybergen, BA, RN. Is a nationally recognized parent educator and a recipient of a Mom’s Choice Award for her book Out of the Mouths of Babes: Parenting from a Child’s Perspective. She is a frequent guest expert on CTV South Western Ontario’s Health and Lifestyle and Edmonton’s CTV News at Noon. You can find her on the Web at www.dyaneybergen.com.

Also by Dyan Eybergen
Trust Intuition when Raising Children