Friendship might feel like an inspired moment but there is SCIENCE to friend making! The Science of Friendship is a simple series of steps to help kids build friendships.
The National Inclusion Project has created a model that builds inclusive play for all children, so no one sits on the sidelines. You have the opportunity to make children of all abilities feel included in your work. It’s a powerful position, but we know you can do it!
The Science of Friendship allows practitioners in the recreation, camp and after-school settings to encourage friendships to bloom. While there is no way to “force” a relationship, the Science of Friendship improves the possibility that a connection can be forged between two children.
Sometimes for children with disabilities it is hard for them to make friends quickly. By not being included in play activities, everyone misses out – both children with disabilities and children who are typically developing. Inclusion is the fastest way to help a child with disabilities feel like he/she belongs.
1. Check Your Own Attitude
Do you think inclusion is possible? Can you envision your program being a place where all kids play and no one sits on the sidelines? IT IS POSSIBLE. You just have to be pro-active and intentional about creating an environment where friendship can bloom.
2. Know Your Kid – Not Their Diagnosis
Get to know all the kids in your program. Kids with disabilities are motivated in the same ways every kid is. Know the things that make them feel encouraged, their triggers and the ways to make them feel more independent. You can gather these motivations by talking to the child or their parents. Knowing a diagnosis means nothing. Each kid is different. Keep it simple. You don’t have to know everything. Just know enough to know your kid.
3. Be Open To Questions And Comments
Every unanswered question is a detour on the road to friendship. Questions and comments come from curiosity, fear or meanness. In the heat of the moment, every question can probably sound like meanness. Try this the next time you are faced with a tough question:
- Always start with “What do you mean?” This give the kid a chance to add more information, but it also allows you to take a breath, check your attitude, and answer with patience.
- Then try these conversation starters:
- Relate back to the child – Show the child how an action or behavior is a similar way to express their own actions/behaviors. Do they also make noise or jump when they get excited? That is the way a child with a disability also shows their excitement
- Relate back to yourself – Make your own experience or appearance the example. Share personal tastes, experiences or unique factors that relate you to the child with the disability.
- Connect the children to explore the answer – When appropriate, start a conversation with the child with a disability and the child with a question.
- You can also ALWAYS say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” But ALWAYS find out. Kids forget nothing
4. Celebrate BOTH Similarities And Differences
Differences without connection lead to separation. Differences with connection makes things interesting! Create a safe environment for kids to show their uniqueness. Yep, this is all about making “weird” something that is “cool.”
It is a fine line to both celebrate how each kid is the same – ice cream flavor preference, music choice, etc – and also how they are unique and wonderfully individual , but it is possible and it creates a powerful environment for friendships to flourish!
Need Inspiration? Try our ice breaker games to lay the foundation for friendship.
5. Let Kids Be Kids
Once you’ve planted these seeds, just step back and let them play. Kids are pretty amazing when left without an adult fretting over the perfect way to do something. You have been intentional with setting up an environment for friendship. Let it grow and bloom!
Need Inspiration? Here are some simple games every kid can play.
So how do you know you are successful? You know friendships are happening when kids are invited to playdates, parties and events outside of your program. In your job, you know that your work is more than applying manual skills learned and that every kid goes home safe. It’s about the memories and friendships formed under your watch. By using these simple tips you can help friendships bloom!
Need Inspiration? Read how much inclusion means to parents of children with disabilities.