Relationships, connection and belonging

We all need to form relationships, connect with other people, and belong to social groups. We have relationships with many of the people around us, not just within our own family. For example, relationships form between friends, between colleagues at work, and between teachers and pupils in schools. We get a sense of connection and belonging from having good relationships, and there is strong evidence that a feeling of belonging can lead to good mental health. Having good relationships is really important for a child or young person’s wellbeing.

What makes a good relationship?

A good relationship involves:­

Trusting each other

Being open and honest, keeping promises.

Communicating effectively

Choosing the right time and place, listening carefully to really understand the other person, thinking about their perspective and being aware of non-verbal cues.

Respecting each other

Being considerate and aware of how the other person feels.

Give and take

Giving to each other, and cooperating and compromising to both get the best from the relationship.

Valuing differences

Accepting the different views and opinions of the other person and valuing each others’ differences.

How to build a good relationship with a child or young person

Trusting each other

  • Keep the promises you make to the child or young person so they can trust that you mean what you say.
  • Be honest and clear about what you expect from them.
  • Say sorry when you make a mistake, and forgive them for their mistakes. Help them understand that you expect the same in return.
  • Remember that all the things you say or do will affect the level of trust the child or young person has in you.

Communicating effectively

  • Make time to listen to the child or young person.
  • If you are busy and unable to concentrate on them when they want to speak to you, either stop what you’re doing or explain to them that you'll need to finish so that you can give them your full attention.
  • When they’re talking to you, put your thoughts and feelings aside so that you can really try to see things from their point of view.
  • Listen with the intention of really understanding what they mean. Acknowledge how they feel without judging them or offering solutions, so they feel supported and understood.

When I ask you to listen and you start giving advice, you have not done what I have asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as it may seem. Listen! All I ask is that you listen: not talk or do - just hear me.

Ralph Roughton

Watch this short video to find out more about communicating effectively:

  • The child or young person might find it easier to talk when you are doing something with them, rather than sitting down face-to-face. For example, washing the dishes together or driving somewhere in the car.
  • Actively check that you understand what they mean and how they feel, as sometimes you might think you have understood, but you actually haven't.
  • Tune in to their body language to get cues about how they are feeling.
  • When talking to them, be clear, think about their perspective and use words that they will understand.

Respecting each other

  • Be aware the child or young person’s idea of what is important may be very different from yours.
  • Involve them in discussions, for example when planning an outing, to help them feel they belong and that their ideas matter.
  • If you have to criticise, make sure your criticism is constructive and describes the behaviour, not the child or young person.

Give and take

  • Give a child or young person your time. Spending time with them on their own shows that you are interested in them and enjoy their company.
  • When you are setting rules, consider things from their perspective and compromise where you can, to get to a point that you both agree is fair. For example, when deciding the time a child should go to bed at the weekend or the time a teenager should come home on a school night.
  • When you have a disagreement, listen to them and try to understand their point of view, and help them to understand yours.
  • Cooperate with each other to think of ways to solve the problem that you are both happy with.

Valuing differences

  • Show a child or young person that you accept that everyone is different, and that people see the world in different ways. If they also learn to value these differences, it will help them to develop good relationships with others.

How to help children and young people build good relationships with others

  • Be a good role model. When you have respectful, trusting relationships and interact with others in a kind, appreciative and caring way, children and young people will learn from your example.
  • Give children opportunities to interact with other children from an early age, as they need practice to learn to share, take turns and solve problems.
  • When children are playing together:
    • Encourage them to help each other, e.g. when tidying up or getting a snack.
    • Help them understand how their behaviour might affect others, e.g. how leaving a child out of the game might make them feel upset.
    • Encourage them to think about other children’s feelings to help develop their own empathy, e.g. how would they feel if they were left out of the game.
  • Help them to understand that everyone has different ways of thinking and doing things, and that this is good and can lead to new ideas, e.g. adding a new rule to a playground game to make it more exciting.
  • Support children and young people to work together in groups, as they can be more creative together and come up with things that they may not have thought about as individuals.
  • Encourage them to really listen and try to understand and appreciate each other’s ideas and contributions.
  • Help children and young people understand they don't have to compete with each other to gain recognition or opportunities. Their own success does not have to be diminished by someone else’s.
  • Help them to help each other to be successful by encouraging them to recognise each other’s strengths. As they recognise and value their differences, their good relationships with each other will develop.
  • Remind children and young people that to fit in and feel comfortable with other people, they don’t have to be the same as them. We just have to accept and value others - when we can make others feel accepted and valued, they are more likely to accept and value us.
  • If you have concerns about relationships between children and young people, you may want to speak to school staff or other adults involved in the situation.


Here are some activities to encourage the development of good relationships:­

Talking Stick

Using a talking stick (or anything that’s nice to hold, like a soft toy) can help children and young people listen to each other with respect and with the intention to understand.

Before I tuck the kids into bed we try to have a 10 minute chat about the day. They look forward to telling me all about their day - what went well and anything they are worried about. I tell them about my day too. We pass around a teddy to hold when we are speaking and only the person holding the teddy is allowed to speak while the others listen.

Mum of 11 year old twins

This can also be helpful when you have a problem to solve, for example if a group of friends has fallen out. Each person involved gets the chance to hold the talking stick and speak until they feel understood. The children or young people take turns until everyone has had a go with the talking stick. No one should interrupt while the person with the talking stick is speaking.

Our Trophy

Think about what your family, class or group does best together and celebrate it by creating your own unique trophy.

What you need:

  • Paper and pen
  • A large plastic bottle
  • Junk and other creative scraps you can find
  • Plastic-friendly glue
  • Scissors
  • Tissue paper, paint, brushes, etc.

What you do:

  • Talk about what you think your family, class or group is best at doing together. Are you good at talking and listening to each other, being tidy, eating meals together, sports, music, solving problems, moving house, supporting each other, etc? It must be something that involves everyone in your family, class or group.
  • When you’ve decided what you’re really good at, create a special trophy for yourselves. The design, words and decorations on the award should say something about your special skills.