Eight Great Lessons on Friendship Every Elementary School Teacher Should Share
Insights on children’s development in elementary school and how teachers can help
Becoming an elementary school teacher can be a rewarding career choice that allows you to help children learn and apply important skills such as reading, writing, and math. Elementary school teachers also play an important role—alongside parents—in teaching children how to communicate and get along with others. Though BS in Elementary Education programs prepare teacher candidates to become highly effective educators in the classroom, teacher candidates should also know how to manage the complexities of elementary school friendships.
During the elementary school years, children are gaining an understanding of their place in the world, developing interpersonal skills, and learning how to be a good friend. Even though teachers are not counselors or psychologists, being able to help children navigate relationships in school is a critical part of the job. Understanding why certain behaviors are happening will help you in the classroom.*
Here are four key insights on elementary school friendships every teacher should know:
- Meanness happens. Although teachers of course want their students to be kind to each other, all kids can be unkind at some point. It’s important to recognize meanness as an opportunity for children to work on important social skills such as empathy.*
- Children’s self-awareness is growing. As they grow older, children begin to better understand multiple points of view, but before they can do that, their world is all about them. As children continue to develop themselves as individuals, they are also developing themselves as friends, wherein they assert themselves and express their own interests.†
- Communication skills are still developing. It can be a lot easier for a child to tell the entire class why two times two equals four than to nicely tell another student, even a best friend, that they don’t want to play. As children begin to understand multiple viewpoints and that what they say and do affects others, teachers can observe and help steer them to become better friends.*
- Relational aggression can intensify. In elementary school, children start to identify best friends and form small exclusive groups of friends or cliques. This tends to happen more for girls and can become problematic, creating an emotional roller coaster of who’s in and who’s out. At the same time, children can start to use friendships as weapons and social currency, resulting in competition, rejection, and gossip. Though it can be hurtful, the behavior is likely more functional than malicious.‡
It’s important for elementary school teachers to be prepared for working with their students, who are navigating the uncharted waters of developing friendships. Here are four easy ways teachers in elementary education can help:
- Be an active listener. Avoid stepping into a situation. Instead, steer students to make good decisions by actively listening to them about their feelings and goals and responding back with your understanding of what’s happening.*
- Institute relationship reading activities. With so many books about friendship, make reading them a regular, interactive activity. Asking open-ended questions about the characters may engage even the shyest of kids.*
- Role-play. By having children act out the emotions they might feel in certain situations, they can begin to understand others’ viewpoints. Switching roles for the same situation can change the experience and perspective for each child.*
- Promote play dates. Sometimes it’s easier to develop friendships outside of the classroom when connections are one-to-one. Friendships forged at home tend to carry over to the classroom.†
Elementary education years are the foundation for a child’s future learning, both scholastically and personally. Become a more confident teacher candidate by earning a BS in Elementary Education online from Walden University. This online degree program can prepare you to work collaboratively with children, families, colleagues, and communities to improve outcomes for children and effect positive social change.
*M. Anthony, When Friendship Hurts, Scholastic Teacher, on the internet at www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/when-friendship-hurts/.
†C. Poole, S. Miller, and E. Booth Church, Ages & Stages: How Children Build Friendships, Scholastic, on the internet at www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3747174.
‡PBS parents, Understanding Elementary School Friendships, on the internet at www.pbs.org/parents/parenting/raising-girls/friends-social-life/understanding-elementary-school-friendships/.