“How do I make friends?” “How do I keep friends?” These are two of the questions that I am most frequently asked by students across all grade levels in my daily counseling practice. In response, I always start by turning back to the IB Learner Profile and reviewing with students what it means to be reflective. Students explain their knowledge and understanding of this profile trait and I reiterate that being reflective means thinking about yourself and the role you play in any situation.
Then, I turn to one of my most trusted resources to help students in their reflection process and in making meaning of their friendship questions and issues. I pull out my “Trouble Starters” list which I originally found in a book from the American Girl Company called Friends: Making them and keeping them (Criswell, 2006). This resource names 10 actions or choices that a student (or adult) might make that would most likely cause conflict with a friend.
Together the student and I look through the list, one item at a time. I make sure the student understands what each action means and that they have context for the statement. We then spend time dialoguing around why this might cause problems with friends. Then, I ask the student to reflect silently on if she/he might have ever intentionally or accidentally engaged in that action. Often the student shares out his/her response and a personal example or connection. After this I always ask, “In the future, what will look different?” At this point, the student usually spends some time thinking and responding about different choices she/he could make to avoid a trouble starter with friends. Sometimes we spend time planning for actual conversations or situations. Sometimes it is more theoretical or vague. No matter what, I always communicate that we are focusing on his/her actions NOT the friend’s actions as the only person we can ever change is our self.
I have found that this list of Trouble Starters is a powerful tool for students of all ages as they can make personal connections between their actions and the impact on the friendship. Each trouble starter also seems to be a universal action that students comprehend regardless of home culture, community, or country making this a great resource for the international school community. I have also had many students report back when they 1) caused conflict with friends by using a trouble starter or 2) avoided conflict by choosing a different action. When this happens I always acknowledge the student being reflective and either celebrate or counsel accordingly.
Trouble Starters has been in my counseling tool kit for years. What other resources do you rely on to explicitly teach friendship skills? How do you encourage student reflection?
Criswell, P.K. (2006). Friends: Making them and keeping them. Middleton, WI: American Girls Publishing, Inc.