What Are They?

Most people would agree that few things impacted their school lives as much as their relationships with their peers—friends, acquaintances, or otherwise. Peer relationships play an important role in children’s school lives, and relationships with peers become even more influential as children enter adolescence.

Research on positive peer relationships often distinguishes between friendship and peer acceptance. High-quality friendships involve not only companionship, but also caring, validation, and support. In addition to playing together, good friends feel comfortable opening up to each other and are motivated to resolve conflicts that arise.

Peer acceptance, sometimes referred to by researchers as popularity, focuses on how much students like or like to play with their classmates, and has been found to affect students’ sense of belonging in school and their academic achievement.

A 5th grade math teacher read a study that found that students’ math grades improve when they exhibit self-control and when they feel accepted by other students in the class. As a result, she has students practice mindfulness each morning to help develop their attention skills, and she creates a safe and welcoming classroom through cooperative problem-solving groups and regular class meetings so that students feel they belong and are connected to one another.

Why Are They Important?

Research shows that positive peer relationships benefit students in a myriad of ways, at school and in life.

 

Both quantity and quality of relationships matter for kids.

  • Studies have found that young children with higher numbers of friends are less likely to be lonely, and more likely to like and be engaged at school.
  • In middle childhood, peer acceptance, friendship, and friendship quality all matter in terms of reducing a child’s chance of loneliness.
  • Positive peer relationships help make children more resilient, even when they face difficulties at home.

 

Having one good friend can be enough.

  • Having just one close friend can be enough to protect kids from the negative effects of being treated badly by other peers.
  • Similarly, research shows that adolescents with at least one reciprocal friendship have higher self-esteem than those without one; on the other hand, having greater numbers of friendships doesn’t seem to further increase self-esteem.

 

Especially for adolescents, positive relationships with peers make a big difference in other areas of life.

  • Peer acceptance relates positively to GPA in middle school; in fact, research shows that positive peer relationships can explain up to 40% of adolescents’ academic achievement.
  • Positive peer support also predicts adolescents’ health and well-being and their emotional and behavioral engagement with school, an effect that increases over time.
  • Likewise, teens whose close friends are prosocial are much more likely to set prosocial goals and behave prosocially themselves in the future.

Practices

Level
Duration
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Students draw and write about ways they have acted with kindness towards others.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
A cooperative learning technique that engages all students’ participation through movement, discussion, and communication of ideas.
Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College
≤ 1 hour
Use the Circle process to encourage students to safely and respectfully share their level of understanding on an academic topic.
Middle School, High School, College
≤ 30 minutes
Use the Circle process to build a sense of connection among students and staff by sharing moods, feelings, and moments of joy and pain.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College, Adult
≤ 30 minutes
Students read a text slowly and reflect on its personal meaning for them.
Middle School, High School, College
≤ 30 minutes
Students engage in prosocial (kind, helpful) actions for ten days and reflect on the impact of their actions on themselves and others.
Middle School, High School, College
Multiple Sessions
Students think about a time when they felt close to someone in order to foster a sense of belonging and well-being.
Middle School, High School, College
≤ 15 minutes
In this circle activity, students practice mindful speaking and mindful listening.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 15 minutes
An interactive learning strategy that helps students clarify their own ideas and hear other perspectives—while getting them out of their seats.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College
≤ 30 minutes
Students think about the factors that encourage and discourage people to act when they confront suffering or injustice.
High School, College
≤ 1 hour
Acknowledge the faces of everyone in your classroom or meeting to deepen a sense of group connection.
High School, College, Adult
≤ 15 minutes
Students get a secret kindness buddy to do a kind act for during the week.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students establish and build friendships with classmates in a safe way.
Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
Students use photography or drawing to explore purpose and meaning in their lives.
Middle School, High School, College
Multiple Sessions
Create class community by brainstorming ways to stop put-downs.
Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 1 hour
Students discuss the SEL skills touched upon during the activity in which they have just participated.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
Students explore how our beliefs about differences influence the ways in which we see and choose to interact with each other.
High School
≤ 1 hour
Students look for the good in others by acknowledging each other’s strengths. (Gratitude for Tweens and Teens Lesson 3)
Middle School, High School
≤ 1 hour
Use the Circle process to encourage self-care among staff and students in all dimensions.
Middle School, High School, College, Adult
≤ 30 minutes
Students build trust and inclusion through a quick and fun game that reveals their commonalities.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 15 minutes
A tool for fostering a supportive and equitable classroom and school environment and for promoting SEL.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College, Adult
Students define and practice “good sense,” or the will and know-how to do the right thing.
High School
Multiple Sessions
Students learn how kindness and gratitude strengthen friendships through Splat the Cat.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students examine how they face everyday moral dilemmas and consider who and what influences their reactions when conflicts arise.
Upper Elementary, Middle School
≤ 1 hour
Through stories, discussion, and creative presentations about true heroes, students foster their compassion for others and see brave community involvement as an admirable, heroic way of life.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
Multiple Sessions
“’You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’”
–E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web