Mental Health & Well-being

How to help students struggling with social situations

Step One: Observe

It sounds simple, but observing is actually a complicated skill. This skill is so important that it will be used throughout all four steps.

Observe the child’s behaviour before a social struggle occurs-listen to choice of words and tone of voice. This way, if something seems “off” it will be easy to see the difference between a student’s normal way of speaking and the way they speak when they’re distressed.

Observe if a child speaks directly to you without being asked. Notice how they speak and when they tell you what is wrong. There are times when a student will not come directly to you and you will have to take notice of changes in their behaviour.

Observing, knowing, and recognizing how a child acts if they’re having a social problem will help you help them.

Step Two: Connect

Connect to the child by using active listening. Try and genuinely listen to their issue or problem, then essentially repeat back to them what they have said. But do not add judgment or guidance. Dig through the details of their story and simply repeat what you think they have said.

For example say something like, “That’s a lot of information. Let me see if I understand. You are angry because your friend didn’t save you a seat and you felt lonely because you sat by yourself. Is that right?”

If the child feels that you understand how they are feeling, but you are not judging them, they will be more likely to discuss their problem further and in turn, more likely to take your suggestions on ways to fix the situation.

Step Three: Guide


Work together with the student to help them better understand the issue and help them come up with a few options for resolution.

First, identify the real issue, which may or may not be the problem that the child is telling you. Next, depersonalize the situation by presenting other points of view. Lastly, help brainstorm a number of possible solutions or courses of action.

If needed, help the student identify their place in the friendship dynamic or group dynamic. Sometimes understanding the dynamic of a situation differently can help a child feel differently about a problem and it will most likely help their decision-making process.

Step Four: Support

Your job now is to help and support the student while they choose what action to take. Do not push them to make a decision. It is important that they make the decision by themselves. But, more importantly, the student must choose a decision that they can live with and be comfortable about.

If the student needs to practice what they imagine will happen, then offer to do some role-playing with them. This will help them practice what to say, how to use their body language and how to come to a solution.

None of these steps should take a lot of time. The key to all of these steps is to observe their behaviour when they’re upset and to support and encourage them while they make decisions about what is possibly a very difficult social situation.

This information was adapted from a section of Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert, published by St. Martin’s Press.