If you would like more information about any of the following programs, please contact Jessica Larson, MTSS Coordinator, at 815-801-0127 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Helping Children Make Friends and Make the Grade
August is already upon us, and on its tails the start of a new school year. At this time, teachers’ thoughts inevitably turn to lesson plans and classroom decoration. But while you’re busy planning your students’ learning experiences for the coming year, know that what’s on their minds is likely their friends, or lack thereof. Some students may not have seen their friends all summer, so for them the new school year means a happy reunion. For those with few or no friends, the return to school may not be so joyful.
Why Are Friendship Skills Important?
Children lacking friendship skills are often those who bully or are bullied. They typically don’t form strong bonds with school, making connecting with teachers and peers challenging. Their feeling of connectedness at school can affect their sense of academic competence, leading to lower academic performance. Children who have difficulty developing successful relationships end up feeling isolated and alone. For them, school is a far cry from being a positive, safe place where they can learn.
On the flip side, when children have good friendship skills, they get more out of school, both socially and academically. They’re less likely to be rejected, isolated, and bullied. In fact, friendship protects children from the harmful effects of bullying. Children with friends are happier and more successful in school. They stay out of trouble, have better grades and higher test scores, and are more involved in school activities. And children with friendship skills know how to get along with one another, contributing greatly to an overall positive school climate.
Building the Foundation for Friendship Skills
When children have a strong base of social-emotional skills, they experience more social and academic success in school. Committee for Children’s new early learning and new edition K–5 Second Step programs are designed to help children build the foundation of social-emotional skills that will help them form and maintain successful relationships with peers and teachers alike. The skills are built across the following four units:
Skills for Learning
In this unit, children learn to focus their attention and listen, skills important for learning as well as relating to others well. When you can focus your attention on someone and listen carefully to what he or she is saying, you’re more likely to pick up on and remember friendship-building information, such as similar preferences or experiences you share in common. Another skill children learn is how to be assertive. Being assertive will help children be more successful in asking to join in a game or introducing themselves to someone new.
The ability to have empathy—to feel or understand how someone else feels—is central to making and keeping friends. It provides the foundation for helpful and socially responsible behavior and helps prepare children to solve interpersonal problems. In this unit of the program, children learn skills for identifying emotions in themselves and others, labeling these emotions, and taking the perspectives of others. These skills help children build friendships and avoid conflicts.
In the Empathy Unit, children also learn about putting empathy into action by showing compassion. Children can channel their empathy into compassion to help peers feel less isolated, provide emotional support to friends having difficulties, and strengthen friendships. Children who are bullied can experience fewer difficulties if other children are compassionate and show them support.
Having the skills to manage strong emotions such as anger, embarrassment, anxiety, fear, and jealousy can improve children’s ability to get along with their friends and make good choices. The Second Step program teaches children proactive strategies that help prevent strong emotions from escalating into negative behaviors. These strategies, such as deep, centered breathing and positive self-talk, help children focus and calm themselves instead of acting on their first impulse. Emotion-management skills help children handle peer-relation problems—like put-downs, name-calling, and gossip—calmly, resulting in more positive relationships with others.
When children have conflicts with their friends and peers, it can lead to impulsive or aggressive behaviors. The Second Step program builds on children’s ability to handle peer conflicts effectively. Based on research on effective patterns of thinking in social situations, students are taught first to calm down, then to follow four Problem-Solving Steps: S: Say the problem, T: Think of solutions, E: Explore consequences, and P: Pick the best solution. When children are able to state a problem in a neutral way, think of safe and respectful solutions, and evaluate positive and negative consequences of these solutions, they are better able to choose prosocial solutions to their problems.
Academic and Social Benefits of Friendship SkillsWhen children have good friendship skills, they’re able to make and keep friends. They experience more positive, successful relationships with peers and adults at school. The Second Step program teaches key social-emotional skills that support the ability to make friends and have successful relationships. This will help strengthen children’s bond to school, which can increase their academic achievement.