Wellbeing: How to handle student-friendship dramas

Teenagers can fall out and make up within moments, but how should teachers handle more serious issues, asks Laura Tsabet

Laura Tsabet

student friendship

Going into school is difficult for some students. 

Learning isn’t easy and secondary school, full of teenagers, can be a hotbed of emotions, noise, rumours and powerful crushes on people they’ve never even spoken to. 

Attending school can be even harder for students in the midst of friendship problems. 

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Whether it’s petty squabbles with your nearest and dearest BFFL (that’s “best friend for life”, for anyone not clued up on teen speak), tension caused by hierarchical struggles within groups, or flitting from friend to friend because you have difficulty maintaining friendships, these things can lead to students feeling anxious about school.

But disagreement is part of life and students need to learn that these problems are mostly only temporary. 

Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you that most friendship issues resolve themselves overnight or, for more heated disputes, over the course of a few days – often without too much intervention.

Developing resilience

Where intervention is needed, though, teachers and parents play a huge role in developing the consideration and resilience of pupils who struggle with friendships. 

These students can sometimes be ruled by emotions such as pride or anger and can find it difficult to see another person’s point of view at first. 

They must learn that both sides need to voice their opinions and that, in order to effectively resolve the issue, compromises often must be made on both sides.

Having this explained to you by someone older than you isn’t always the most effective way to learn, however. 

Adults should also model how to act and give suggestions about the best ways to respond.

Working with a student scripting or acting out a conversation to have with their friend is often productive, allowing them time to calm down, appreciate their friend’s perspective and learn about the appropriate way to deal with their problem.

A restorative approach

Of course, where larger groups are concerned, this scripted approach won’t work and schools may need to intervene by calling a meeting between members of the group. 

As more students are involved, it is best practice to carefully plan the meeting with more than one adult in attendance. A restorative approach is advised, as taking punitive measures against members of the group will probably only add fuel to the fire. 

The ideal outcome is students discussing their friendship in a safe setting with adults advising them how to resolve any conflicts, identifying key members of the group that might need further support at another stage.

We can try our hardest to explain to students that friendship issues are part of growing up, but ultimately, they will probably continue to feel upset over it – it’s only natural. What matters is how we deal with it. 

By showing compassion, empathy and understanding of their emotions, and carefully modelling appropriate responses and intervening when necessary to help resolve conflict, we can help combat some of that anxiety and dread about going to school while it’s happening. 

And hopefully it won’t be long before they’re back to being BFFLs again.

Laura Tsabet is lead practitioner of teaching and learning at a school in Bournemouth. She tweets @lauratsabet

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Laura Tsabet

Laura Tsabet

Laura Tsabet is director of CPD and ITT at a school in Bournemouth

Find me on Twitter @lauratsabet

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