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Russell Lower School

Friendship difficulties

Friendship issues

If we think back to our own childhood days, most of us would agree making good friends in primary school was not always an easy task.  Friendship needs to be given freely (rather than forced), reciprocal (rather than one-sided), and recognise the value of both /all those involved. 


What is developmentally normal?

From a psychological perspective, there are five stages that influence the formation of friendships:


Stage 1:  (three to seven years) involves momentary friendship with whoever is in close proximity. This is often seen in parallel play where children play and interact with whoever is close by.


Stage 2:  (four to nine years) involves one-way friendship with someone who can help us achieve our own goals. This can be seen when children play or collaborate to achieve a specific aim for example building a train track or throwing and catching a ball. 


Stage 3:  (six to 12 years) involves reciprocal friendship, but only under specific conditions. This reflects friendships where both value each other but may be affected by the environment such as being in the same class or club.


Stage 4:  (11-15 years) involves mutually close and supportive friendship.


Stage 5: (12 to adulthood) involves friendship which respects the autonomy of each individual even though they may share similar interests and deeper feelings.


Within our school, we observe friendships at stages 1 to 3 and hope that by developing the children’s understanding of friendship they will be better placed to proceed onto Stage 5. Obviously, children do not necessarily move through these stages in a sequential order or at the same time as their peers. Children draw on their own experiences and understanding whilst developing friendships and this does not always match adult expectations. Children tend to play with friends who are like them in some way. For example, they may be similar in age, gender, beliefs, appearance, attitudes, interests and likes.

It’s not surprising therefore that many parents at some point are concerned with the friendships or lack of perceived friendships their children have and how they can support them to make quality friendships in primary school. 



It is normal for misunderstandings and disagreements to occur between friends. It is best to model and support how to sort these issues out initially and then let children resolve these issues themselves, where they possess the required social skills and knowledge. Dealing with small friendship issues can help to build resilience and coping skills through learning to problem solve and negotiate.

What parents can do

Strategies that can help:

  • encouraging your child to participate in school-based extra-curricular activities such as sport clubs or other activities as this allows them to meet children that they may not necessarily meet in class but who share similar interests.
  • organising play dates with children who may have similar interests to your child.
  • supporting your child’s own strategies for making friends at school such as observing peers, making or accepting requests to play, initiating or participating in clubs or teams and intervening to include others.
 What school staff can do:

Staff at school also have a role to play in supporting children to make and maintain positive friendships through:

  • explicitly teaching interpersonal skills such as expressing opinions in constructive ways, respecting difference, and caring about the feelings of others.
  • providing time, space and opportunities for children to work or play with others, identify new friends and maintain their own existing friendships
  • being aware of peer culture and attuned to changes, tensions and exclusions in friendship groups in the classroom or on the playground
  • creating a safe space where children can discuss friendship issues.


School policy

Inappropriate teacher or parent intervention can hamper skill development. Teacher intervention is warranted if the issue is persistent, serious or involves bullying. Generally talking things through and providing children with opportunities to practise new skills in social situations is more powerful in the longer term. Social and emotional competence develops through meaningful practice over time, in the same way that other skills are developed.

At Russell Lower School we regard inclusion and acceptance as part of the core Russell Rights and will always offer support to children who are at risk of being excluded by others. Often children feel worried and surprised when a previously good friend may no longer wish include them in their play or activities. Behaviour which is deliberately intended to cause hurt or upset will be dealt with by the class teacher, who may involve Pastoral support if this is deemed appropriate.


Books on friendship issues

Strictly no Elephants by Lisa Mantchal

The invisible boy by Trudy Ludwig

One by Kathryn Otoshi

Bring me a rock by Daniel Mijares