What can we do to support our kids and their friendships at school?

We all know the pain of missing out on the party invitation. They have even created a fun term for this – FOMO (fear of missing out). We all love to be included. So how do we do help our kids do friendship well?

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To have friends, you have to be a friend. For our kids, school is where they dive into the deep end of navigating friendships in what is completely unfamiliar social territory for them. As they are working this out, they need us as parents and educators to get behind them and support and equip them at home and in the classroom.

What are realistic expectations for parents to have around their children’s friendships at school?

Children should be happy at school. They should have a friend to sit with at lunchtime. But every child is different, so depending on their personality, some will love having lots of friends and others will be happy with a just couple – and that’s okay!

A special note – encourage your child to be inclusive and have more than one friend. Having a best friend is great but it’s too easy for it to all fall apart if that one friend is sick one day or changes schools. Setting your children up for success means encouraging them not to have an exclusive set-up. Getting them involved in teams and activities both in and outside of school is a great way to get them connected to other children who enjoy the same things they do.

We also need to remember to allow time for settling and to find their way in new friendships. For example, your child may feel out of sorts for a little while if they start in a new classroom and find their two friends from last year are in a different classroom. At this point, giving their teacher a heads up is a great idea so they can keep an eye on them as they find their feet.

How involved do teachers get in navigating friendships? What should parents do when their children are going through a hard friendship situation?

One of our goals as teachers is to empower our students to be resilient and independent. We want them to leave school with a ‘toolbox’ of social skills. This works especially well if parents and teachers are on the same page, supporting the children.

This means actively teaching them friendship skills like taking turns and being kind with our words. One thing I’ve seen work well is using a class agreement at the beginning of the school year to set expectations of behaviour. For example, “In our classroom we treat each other with respect”, “In our classroom we use build-ups, not put-downs”, and we can refer back to it throughout the year.

However, hard friendship situations are inevitable and it can be painful to watch your child hurting at school. The most important thing to do is listen. Your understanding will help them know that you are in their corner.

The other important thing to do is encourage your child to take the lead in overcoming the challenge. Talk with them, explore options on how to work through it, and the possible outcomes. This supports the development of their independence and resilience. This could sound like –

“What could you do?”
“I could go play with someone else.”
“Yes, that could work. ”
“Can you think of someone else you might like to play with?”
“Can you think of a game you’d like to play with them?”
“What could happen if you did that?”

Or

“What could you do?”
“I’m going to hit them.”
“What would happen if you did that?”

And so on. Also encourage your child to take the lead in approaching their teacher for help. “I’ve let your teacher know you’re having a bit of a hard time with your friends. She is looking forward to chatting with you and helping you tomorrow.”

Keep in mind that young ones don’t always do the best job at communicating the whole story to us so it’s important to get a bigger picture – for our sake as well as theirs. For example, your child might come home saying, “Someone is bullying me. They’re making me move my bike.” When we hear the word ‘bullied’, it’s only natural for parents to rush to the defence of our child. But it’s helpful to take a moment to gather the whole story, which might throw some light on what happened. For example, the whole story could actually be that their bike was in the pathway and tripping others up. Helping your child understand the bigger context might be a helpful way to reframe their experience.

What can parents do to help support their kids and their friendships?

A few of the teachers in our school sent in their ideas in response to this question. Here are some of their thoughts.

Ask positive questions at the end of the day

Kids are great at moving on from small things and it’s often us grown-ups who look for or dwell on problems. What we focus our attention on is what our kids will focus their attention on. So instead of asking, “Was there any bullying today?” Try, “What went well today? What was the highlight? Tell me about your lovely friends today.”

Model how to be a friend

It is really important for children to see their parents and teachers being good friends. Take them with you when you’re taking soup to a friend who is sick. Let them see your gestures of friendships like bringing home baking or doing someone a favour. Let them hear you give a friend a compliment. Let them catch you showing kindness even when no one else is watching.

Allow time for children to just play

Our children’s social skills are in development, particularly for the little ones who are brand-new to their school career. A simple way to support this is to set up play dates for them – but not ones that are structured and organised from drop-off to pick-up. Try putting some games out on the table and simply letting the children hang out together and enjoy each other’s’ company.


Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.

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About Author

Juliet Small

Juliet is the Principal of Saint Kentigern Girls’ School in Auckland. She has taught across all age groups from new entrants to intermediate level at schools in London, Hamilton, Invercargill and Auckland. She has 14 years of experience as a principal in Auckland primary schools and holds a Bachelor of Education, Diploma in Teaching and Post-Graduate Diploma in Counselling Theory. Fun fact - Juliet is also an accomplished violinist, playing with the Auckland Symphony Orchestra for eight years.

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