Nobody Likes Me: Teaching Students How to Make Friends
It’s no secret that education today is a world filled with high-stakes testing, competition for federal funding and grants, and an overall atmosphere of one-upping the next guy, be it a rival school, another state, or another nation. When No Child Left Behind was implemented the emphasis that was placed upon American schools regaining ground was not entirely unfounded, however in our effort to score higher on tests and get the money we need to give our students an academic leg up, many parents and even teachers forget the important intangible social and life skills that education fosters. Teaching students how to make friends and promoting prosocial behavior in the classroom is just as important as increasing your school’s math scores, maybe even more so. What Is Prosocial? If you’re like me, the first time you saw this term you were confused. A lot of attention these days is paid to antisocial behavior, especially among children with learning disabilities, but we rarely focus on the alternative. Prosocial behavior is that essential set of skills and norms that facilitate a child’s ability to interact with other children and adults in a successful manner. As educators, our job to promote prosocial situations and integrate these skills into our daily lessons helps to set the stage for a child’s future both in and out of school. Not All Children Make Friends Easily Though much of the academic study in terms of social abilities revolves around Autism Spectrum disorders and their associated impact on a child’s social radar, it is important to remember that every child struggles at one time or another to make friends. Sometimes this struggle is related to a learning disability and we need to be mindful of that, but other times, it is simply a quirk of personality or a lack of experience that draws a child inward and makes him or her especially hesitant when it comes to operating within a group. I was one of those “shy” kids growing up and I remember how much I struggled even into adolescence and young adulthood to simply speak up and get over my feelings of inadequacy among peers. Though I went to school during a time long before NCLB, it wasn’t until 4th grade when a teacher (through consort with my parents) actually sat down and discussed my feelings and fears with me. The immediate impact of that teacher’s effort was negligible, it still took me well into college to learn to coach myself in social situations, but I will always remember his effort. His very act of caring showed me that there was more to life than my fears and that there was hope. Ways You Can Promote Prosocial Behaviors in the Classroom So what strategies can you use to help children who are still learning to make friends? One of the best ways is through the environment and curriculum that you create. The following suggestions are adapted from Kathy Preusse’s wonderful and accessible article called “Fostering Prosocial Behavior in Young Children”:
- Use direct instruction as a means to model appropriate behaviors for children and allow them an outlet in which to air their struggles with friendships and making connections.
- Allow opportunities for low stakes group play among younger children and low stakes group activities among older ones where the focus is on social development over academics.
- Arrange groups in order to allow for a diversity of experience among children of different backgrounds and to break up already formed groups to allow others to participate.
- Inject yourself into group play and activities and ask exploratory questions that allow children to reflect upon the choices they make and the ways that they feel.