Forming and maintaining good friendships is great for your health. Our friendships increase our overall happiness, mental health and sense of belonging; they help our self-confidence and self-worth and can also reduce our stress.
While it's great to form a diverse network of friends, it's important to remember that quality counts more than quantity.
In adolescence, friendships are also crucial for developing students' problem-solving and social skills. Teachers play an important role in guiding students towards positive friendships and social connections. Here's how you can help your students to form quality friendships at school.
Provide opportunities to form connections
Students are most likely to make friends with:
- classmates or people they work with
- students they have been friends with in the past
- students they enjoy talking to
- students they share family ties with.
Teachers can provide students with the opportunity to connect by:
- hosting group activities that encourage teamwork, collaboration and cooperation
- encouraging students to ask each other for help in the classroom and playground
- facilitating in-class conversations that provide students with the opportunity to get to know each other and to identify like-minded people
- demonstrating the importance of a safe and secure classroom environment and the acceptable behaviour required from students to achieve this.
Promote extracurricular activities
Teachers need to identify what their students' interests are. They can then suggest activities for their students to explore, or clubs and groups to join, to help them develop new skills and meet like-minded people.
For example, an active student who shows enthusiasm for HPE (health and physical education) could be guided towards a school sports team, and a student who is a confident speaker could be encouraged to join the school debating team.
ReachOut's Student Snapshot survey can help teachers to identify which extracurricular activities to suggest to students.
Nurture empathy, listening and cooperation in the classroom
Great friendships require empathy, compassion, active listening, sharing and cooperation, and classrooms provide an ideal environment for students to develop these positive traits.
Teachers can provide opportunities for students to build and demonstrate these important social skills by facilitating classroom activities that encourage them.
For example, create tasks where students are required to listen to others, and share and cooperate with them, to get the job done. By encouraging these traits, teachers can create and sustain secure and inclusive classroom environments.
Students who adopt these traits and acquire these skills from an early age will be empowered to maintain quality, long-term friendships.
Teach students how to have difficult conversations
Adolescent friendships can be turbulent and a source of anxiety for students, especially those who haven't yet developed conflict resolution skills. A disagreement between students can quickly turn a good friendship bad if neither of them knows how to have a difficult conversation.
Teachers can play an important role in educating students about how to confidently manage issues within their friendships to ensure that their relationships grow in healthy ways.
Students can benefit from learning how to:
- discuss issues that arise with their friends, instead of avoiding or ignoring them
- deal with conflict confidently and effectively to minimise stressful situations and preserve connections
- identify toxic friendship behaviours to reduce the likelihood of mistreatment
- accept responsibility for problems, instead of blaming others
- listen to others with the intention of understanding their perspectives, instead of intending to win arguments and to always be right.
What can I do now?
- Share the healthy friendship group quiz with your classroom.
- Help students to identify toxic friendships.
- Read about why it's important for teachers to understand their students' needs and interests.