How to help a student with no friends

January 27, 2015

Help students to join in games

Teachers and other school professionals are frequently called on to assist students who have difficulties making and keeping friends. This is particularly true at the beginning of a new school year. Friendship issues are a normal part of school life, and in most circumstances will be resolved in time with little or no adult intervention. In many cases, encouraging children to deal with friendship issues themselves can help to build their resilience by developing personal problem solving and coping strategies. Obviously adult intervention is warranted if bullying is occurring.

For children who struggle to make and keep friends one-on-one assistance from a teacher, parent, or other school professional should aim to build social skills and confidence rather than stepping in and solving the friendship difficulty for them. 

Helping students to join in

Teachers often ask us for tips on how to help a student join in conversations or games with others in the schoolyard. Children who struggle to engage with other students often ‘give up’ after the first rejection or ask a closed question that can be responded to with a ‘No!’ for example. Teach students to use ‘open’ assertive statements or actions which improve their chances of being included in games or social situations. Such statements can be explicitly taught to students, for example

Unassertive statement, self talk or action

Likely outcome and response

Assertive statement, self talk or action

Likely outcome and response

‘Can I please join in?’

‘No!’ Dejected, student walks away.

Student is rebuffed. ‘Okay, I will watch the first game, and then ask to play in the next game.’

‘Sure, Jordan is about to finish up, so it can be your turn next.

Student stands nearby and watches others play 4 square.

Student misses out playing the game.

Student simply stands in line with other students who are waiting their turn.

Student gets to play and even survives several goes before getting out.

‘No one let me play with them today!’

Student shuffles around the asphalt area feeling unhappy.

Student requests access to a class ball or arranges with the Physical Education teacher to borrow a ball for break times.

Other students ask if they can play and they all agree quickly on a game to be played.

Student has been following others around.

‘You’re too weak to play with us, just p-off follower.’

‘I have a game to share that doesn’t need super strength. It’s called … (marbles, jacks, chalk drawing) and I have it here in my pocket.

One of the students says he is prepared to ‘give-it-a-go’. Eventually the others join in.

The example above is from a list of 10 strategies you can use with students who have no friends or few friends in the ‘Behaviour support and student management strategies’ section of the P4S website (members only).  

P4S members – For more information and strategies to help children with friendships see: