Friendship doesn't just make life easier. It can also make you more successful. Numerous studies, including a 2012 "Research in Labor Economics" analysis, have found that social skills are correlated with later job success. Educators can help their students increase their odds of success by teaching about friendship alongside lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic.
Children who work together on a shared project may learn that they have more in common than they previously thought, and teamwork prepares students for the social interaction and group work that is typically part of adult careers. Children of all ages can work together on age-appropriate projects. Rather than allowing children to choose their own groups -- which can lead to exclusion and cause children to work only with people they know -- assign children groups, and change the group each time your students embark on a new project.
Help With Body Language
Body language communicates as much -- or even more -- than our words and actions. Helping children become aware of body language gives them the tools they need to control the way others perceive them and send the right message. Elementary schoolers should learn the basics of making eye contact. Play games that help students practice this, such as games that teach students to look at another's nose or forehead if eye contact is uncomfortable. Older students in middle and high school should learn about more subtle body language then practice their body language skills in one-on-one conversations with other students. Encouraging students to focus on one skill at a time -- such as not fidgeting or crossing their arms -- can make the game easier and more practical.
Actively Teach Social Skills
Social skills aren't innate; they have to be learned, and not every child gets lessons in social skills at home. Devote a lesson or two to social skills every few weeks, ensuring that lessons are age-appropriate and progressively more complex. In high school, for example, you might teach students about good things to say when asking for a date or consoling a grieving friend, while kindergartners might focus on naming and recognizing others' feelings.
Asking another person questions about herself is a great way to foster friendship because virtually everyone enjoys talking about themselves. Teach kids to ask others questions about themselves by teaching age-appropriate questions and then holding role-playing sessions. In first grade, for example, students might learn to ask about their classmates' favorite sports or colors -- but by high school, kids should ask about opinions on political, legal or academic challenges.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.