Navigating friendships and relationships

Insights from Harold the giraffe and lead educators

Friendships are important in the growth and development of tamariki, offering companionship, emotional support, and a sense of belonging. As rangatahi, the influence of friends becomes increasingly significant, shaping their experiences and perceptions of the world around them.

At the start of the school year, making friends is a big part of everyday life for tamariki. Whether it’s re-engaging with old friends, finding their way with new kids who are joining the school, or going to a new school and starting fresh, relationships and friendships can sometimes be hard to navigate.  


Educator Ingrid Kemp with Harold the giraffe Nelson educator Ingrid Kemp says she collaborates with teachers for the lessons and together they shape the conversation. One of the key concepts Ingrid brings to the classroom is that of 'not wrong, just different.' This conflict resolution focuses on helping tamariki understand that other people’s ideas or ways of doing something aren’t wrong, just different. 

“Ensuring students are aware that we are all unique and special. We all think differently, like different things, and act in different ways, even when we have the same experiences. It’s having the understanding that we don’t have to be the same and to celebrate our differences.”

Ingrid and Harold also work with students helping them to identify the qualities that make a good friend. One way to do this is to relate it to how other people might describe them. 

“By encouraging kindness and empathy, tamariki and rangatahi can put themselves into the other person’s shoes and think about how they might feel if certain things were said to them or done to them,” says Ingrid.

Ingrid uses the analogy of a seed growing to help tamariki understand relationships. A seed needs sun, water, and time to grow, similarly young friendships need nurturing and time to grow.

“When we first plant a seed, we don’t instantly get a flower the next day, it takes time. So do good strong friendships,” she says.


Southland educator Teresa Wallace notes that exploring what it means to be tolerant is a key aspect of understanding friendships and relationships.

“We talk about what we can do to be a friend to ourselves, as looking after ourselves helps us to be friendly,” says Teresa.

A child recently told Teresa; “Getting enough sleep helps me to be less grumpy and then I won’t yell at others.”

It’s important to build young people’s understanding of empathy and give them techniques they can use to navigate friendships and relationships in both the offline and online worlds.

Counties-Manukau educator Carleen Craig stresses the importance of making young people aware of online relationships.

“The online world is becoming more and more important to the older students (Years 6 and above), but they don't always see the connection between the interactions they have online and offline."

“What they never think they would say/or do to a person when they are face-to-face can be forgotten when they are online as they don't see the impact of the words on the other person,” says Carleen.

In addition to classroom teachings, Ingrid has some valuable tips for parents to support their children in cultivating healthy relationships. Encouraging integrity, practicing calming techniques, and establishing healthy habits such as regulated screen time are crucial steps in nurturing positive social interactions both online and offline.

Recognizing signs of distress or discomfort in children is equally important. Ingrid advocates for creating a safe space for children to express their feelings openly, allowing them to address any challenges they may encounter in their social interactions.