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The Top Friendship Skill That Your Students Need

friendship skill

What is the #1 friendship skill that students need our help with? One word: Empathy.

Building empathy is a hugely important friendship skill that is important for all children. And often, students need our help building their empathy. But the truth is… there are a lot of friendship skills that are needed to help children build empathy. As we work on these, students develop their natural empathy.

Want to learn how to teach children this crucial friendship skill? Read on!

friendship lessons

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Why Is Empathy An Important Friendship Skill?

Empathy is a crucial skill for everyone to develop, and it starts with childhood. The Oxford Dictionary defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others”.

As teachers, we do a lot of work to help students understand the perspectives of others. Empathy is the number one friendship skill that students need in order to do this successfully. It plays a huge role in being able to form positive relationships, especially friendships.

Whenever we do work around friendships with students, empathy will be at the center of this work. This important friendship skill will affect how students are able to interact with their peers and create positive relationships at school.

But how do we help students build empathy? There are 5 key friendship skills that we can teach and reinforce with students that will help increase empathy.

The Friendship Skills That Build Empathy

What are the most important friendship skills to work on with students?

  1. Self Awareness: Being aware of our actions and how they affect others is a huge part of being empathetic. We can help students set goals about being a good friend, which helps them focus on their actions and the effects of those actions on their classmates.
  2. Making New Friends: Making new friends is a skill that even adults struggle with! It takes a lot of bravery, and it also requires learning how to connect with people you don’t know very well. When we try to reach out to others, we take on their point of view which exercises those empathy muscles.
  3. Being Inclusive: Learning to include others is a huge form of empathy. At school, there are so many important opportunities for students to practice this friendship skill. Coaching students to be inclusive helps them consider the feelings of others, sometimes over their own feelings.
  4. Fixing Friendships: Navigating conflicts in friendships is pretty much a constant during elementary school. As we help students learn to apologize and forgive, they build more empathy and understanding for others. This is a key skill that teachers must help their students with.
  5. Kindness: Kindness is a term that is thrown around a lot in education, but it’s something we have to actively help students practice. Concrete examples of kind actions, alongside the opportunities to put these into action, can greatly help our students increase empathy.

Okay, okay, this sounds great. But how the heck are we going to practice all of these friendship skills in the classroom? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! The next section is going to dive into some specific activities you can easily do with your students.

Friendship Activities To Try

Ideally, we would be carving out time every day for this type social emotional learning. And it doesn’t have to be hard!

I think a lot of times, social emotional learning gets put to the wayside because we have so much to teach. But we need to set aside time to teach these strategies, allow students to practice, and then review them. (That’s why I created the Friendship Skills Curriculum!)

Here are some of my favorite ways to practice friendship skills to build empathy in the classroom:

1. Friendship Goals Anchor Chart

friendship skills

If you’re trying to help students build empathy, this is a great place to start. Having students brainstorm what it means to be a good friend will help students start to be more considerate of others. Then take it a step further by having them set a goal for themselves to focus on that week.

Some examples you can give to get the conversation started:

  • Letting someone else choose the game
  • Waving hello
  • Asking how someone is doing
  • Helping someone who gets hurt
  • Asking someone to play
  • Sitting with someone new at lunch
  • Sharing a favorite game or toy
  • Giving a compliment
  • Getting to know a classmate better
  • Helping someone with their homework

Once you get started, you can see there are lots of possibilities! And your students will quickly notice how it makes them happier to be friendlier.

2. Making New Friends Booklet

friendship activities

Making new friends at school can feel daunting. But it can also be so beneficial for students, even ones who have close friends that they’ve known for a long time.

As teachers we can help in two ways:

  1. By helping students practice the skills to make new friends, like with this craft booklet. It’s always most helpful to give students concrete strategies, such as asking about someone’s favorite color, inviting them to play a game, or asking if they can sit with someone at lunch.
  2. Creating opportunities during the school day for students to work and sit with new people. I always recommend assigning partners and seats for at least part of the day, so that students get the chance to work with a variety of peers.

A fun book to read when introducing this concept is Let’s Play.

3. Inclusivity Fortune Teller

friendship activities for students

My elementary school has a rule, which is that if someone wants to play with you, you have to say yes. This might sound crazy, but this “inclusivity rule” actually had a huge effect on the community of the school overall.

Even though may not be able to go that far, you can still make inclusivity a rule for your classroom. Having students brainstorm what it means to be inclusive can help them see what this means. Some examples of inclusive acts are:

  • Inviting someone new to join the game.
  • Sitting with someone new at lunch time.
  • Standing up for someone who is being left out.
  • Starting a group game that anyone can join.
  • Including all your tablemates in the conversation.

You can make this fun with a cute activity like this fortune teller. Students can see which strategy they land on, and try to put it into action that day. As students practice this friendship skill, their empathy towards others automatically grows.

4. Social Stories About Apologies and Forgiveness

friendship lessons

Social stories are a great way of helping students think critically about conflict resolution. Asking students for their thoughts on what the characters should do next also helps them build greater independence with this friendship skill.

Here are a few ways to work social stories into your school day:

  • Social Stories Worksheets are great for independent practice. Students think about what they would do in that situation, and the helps them later when real friendship conflicts come up.
  • Read Alouds where characters are having friendship problems help model various social situations for students. A few of my favorites are The Sour Grape, My New Friend Is So Fun, and Enemy Pie.
  • Puppet Shows are a wonderful way for younger students to see friendship conflicts in action. As you act out various social stories about friendship, ask students for their thoughts about what the characters should do next.

The more students are asked to think through these types of situations, the more their empathy and other friendship skills will strengthen.

5. Friendship Challenge

friendship activities for kids

You and your students will LOVE doing a friendship challenge to jumpstart empathy in your classroom. It’s totally fun, and not that hard to put together. Here’s how it works:

  • Each day, you reveal a new row of the challenge. You read all the squares, and students think about one that they would like to do that day.
  • Have a time of day to check in with students on their friendship goal. You can check off on the chart, or have another way of recording acts of friendship, such as a gem jar or a paper chain you add on to.
  • At the end of the week, when the whole chart has been revealed, you have students reflect on the friendship, kindness, and empathy they participated in.

Friendship Skills In The Classroom

I hope these ideas about empathy and building friendships skills have given you some inspiration to try out some friendship activities with your students. Remember, these are lifelong skills, so your students aren’t going to master them in one lesson. It will take many friendship lessons, real-life experiences, and loving examples for students to build up their empathy.

If you want more friendship lessons, check out my Friendship Skills Lesson Plans.

friendship lessons
What friendship activity idea are you going to try out? Let me know in the comments!

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