Healthy friendships play an important role as children grow into teens and strive for more independence. Friendships can teach important life skills such as learning to share, compromise and set boundaries. Learning to make friends and when to end a friendship are life skills that can build as a child moves into adulthood where they may have more intimate relationships.

Being sociable and getting along with people are seen as important social skills. Most children learn the social skills needed for friendships by watching others around them. Some youth with disabilities may not pick up or practice these skills in the same way. Their social opportunities may be limited to a few situations and parents may worry that their child does not have friends. However, there can be lots of ways to encourage healthy relationships and some help and support can assist children and youth with making friends.



Jo is 12 years old and goes to the local school. She has lived in the same community all her life. Her parents love that she knows her way around, although the neighbourhood kids don’t really come around or ask Jo to hang out. Now Jo is becoming a teenager they wonder when she will start to make some friends. She has been with the same group of students at school in the assisted learning program all her school years and doesn’t really get the chance to socialize with lots of different teens.


Friends usually have something in common, such as attending the same school or being similar in age. It is important to help children and youth learn that their teachers, caregivers, and even family members are not friends. These people may be special to them but they play a different role in their world. There will probably be a difference in age but most importantly there is a difference in power and responsibility.


Service providers can help by emphasizing the difference between being “friendly” and having friendships. Parents can remind youth that service providers are there to help and guide them, but not as friends.

Children and youth can learn that good friends are:


  • Respectful
  • Kind
  • Safe
  • Honest and trustworthy
  • Patient
  • Good listeners




Parents and service providers can use books, TV shows and movies to highlight examples of good friendships, especially for youth who do not have friendships of their own to use as an example. Talk about how the characters treat each other. Be sure to point out when someone is not being a good friend.


Youth may need support building skills to develop friendships. Useful questions to discuss include:


  • How do you know if a person wants to be your friend? Can you tell if someone does not want to be your friend?
  • How can you ask a friend to spend time with you? What types of things can you do together?
  • How do you know if this is a good friendship? How do you want to be treated?
  • What can you do and say if a friend starts to be unkind and the relationship is not healthy?


Parents can help arrange time for youth to get together outside of schools and clubs. Perhaps youth can go to a movie, spend time at someone’s house or even take a trip to the mall.


For healthy friendships lesson plans on teachingsexualhealth.ca, click here.




Practice makes perfect! Some children and youth will benefit from practicing what they need to say and do when making friends. Role playing a situation by acting it out can be fun. Choose a character and then have the child or youth respond as if you were that character (e.g., you play the role of a person your child would like to be friends with). They can also write it down to practice if that is helpful.


Using social media and spending time online is a typical daily activity for many children and youth. It helps them stay connected and is a valuable life skill.


It is important to know that the online world is very public and youth can sometimes share information that is private without realizing the dangers.


Boundaries and limits about who they can online chat and message with can help.


Personal information about family and home, including photos, should only be shared with permission from parents and family members.




Talk to them about what they are doing online, who they are communicating with and what to do if something they find uncomfortable comes up (e.g., a mean text). Providers can explain that online information is public and teach online safety skills. Parents should keep up to date with the apps their children are using by looking at their devices together and setting limits and consequences if content is inappropriate. (You may need to let other caregivers, teachers, etc. know also.)


For more information and tips about youth and technology, click here.

Questions & Answers: Sexual Health Education for Youth With Physical Disabilities