In parts 1 and 2 of our series on the importance of peer connections, we looked at the effects these important relationships can have on students (both positive and negative) and how teacher-student relationships can also influence behaviour and academic performance. Here, we hope to share some tips on how parents and teachers can encourage positive peer relationships, both at school and at home.
As we have seen, research shows that peer connections can have a huge influence on a child’s development. Studies show that student academic and ultimately life success is directly tied to social interactions with peers (Steedly, Schwartz, Levin, & Luke, 2011). While some students, particularly those with behavioral disabilities, often lack the skills to interact with peers in a positive manner, it is imperative they are taught or shown good examples at the very least. Teachers and parents should work together in guiding students towards positive interactions both in the classroom and at home.
In a project funded by the Child Care and Head Start Bureaus in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning lists some skills that are useful for interacting with peers and building social relationships.
- Getting a friend’s attention
- Sharing objects
- Asking peers to share objects
- Providing a play idea to a peer
- Saying something nice to a friend
The detailed documents they share on their website include loads of practical and easy-to-do tips for encouraging positive peer relationships. Here are some of Beyond the Classroom’s favourites:
- Focus on teaching and modeling social and emotional learning strategies that encourage reflection and self-awareness. Encourage students to consider how individual actions and words have consequences. Through various modeling opportunities, assist in developing students’ ability to take different perspectives and viewpoints. Teach students to think through situations and/or challenges by rehearsing various outcomes (Quinn et al., 2000)
- Teach problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. Many students with behavioral disorders have deficits in executive functioning skills and require step-by-step instruction in problem-solving activities. Teachers and parents should take the role of a coach and assist students in a problem-solving process. Teach students and children to identify the problem and brainstorm various solutions and identify the solution he or she will use (Steedly, Schwartz, Levin, & Luke, 2011)
- Create opportunities to practice effective social skills both individually and in groups. Model effective social skills in the classroom and at home through praise, positive reinforcement and correction and redirection of inappropriate behaviors. Provide role-play scenarios that build social skills (Quinn et al., 2000)
- Practice and model good communication skills, in school and at home. Provide opportunities to practice effective communication skills and model to students/children how to listen to others and waiting to talk, taking turns in a conversation, suggesting an idea, providing praise to others, saying thank-you and apologizing. Communication skills can be taught through role play, games, and practice
- Utilize collaborative learning environments. Incorporate collaborative learning activities within the curriculum and home-based activities to encourage social interaction. Utilizing collaborative groups will allow students to practice and observe appropriate social interactions with peer
- Be Creative! Utilize various forms of media when teaching social skills. Allow students to read books about various conflict situations and verbally discuss solutions. Verbally discuss the characters’ interactions and discuss better behavior choices.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, “improving students’ health and education outcomes by improving connectedness to school is a large undertaking that requires efforts of not only those within school buildings, but also people and organizations outside of schools”. For example, parents and community organizations can provide support outside of school to enhance activities done within the school and teacher preparation programs and professional organizations can provide teachers and school administrators with the awareness, knowledge, and skills needed to implement the recommended actions. The power of peers is not just in the control of students and their teachers, but their parents and the local community as well.