Teaching Friendship Skills through Video Modeling

By William T. Mulcahy, LPC, NCC, CEAP, author of the Zach Rules series

William Mulcahy, Free Spirit AuthorWhen I asked a friend what tools teachers could give kids to help them build healthy friendships, she replied, “Have them watch Barney. You know, ‘I love you, you love me.’ ”

After a good laugh, we got to thinking about all those trite phrases that have evolved over the eons of teachers teaching and parents raising children. Some of our favorites were “Play nice,” “Keep your hands, feet, and other objects to yourself,” and “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” My dad’s favorite when we were younger was, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

All of these adages are meant to teach kids—or more precisely, tell kids—how to get along with other children, including their siblings. While each of these sayings has some merit, it is not at all reasonable to expect that a child will actually be a better friend simply because an adult told him or her something like, “Why can’t you all just get along?” (I tried this last week on my oldest and it didn’t work, for the hundredth time.)

Each year, at the beginning of my middle son’s IEP meeting, I hand out to everyone present a paper with the following saying:

Tell me and I will forget
Show me and I will remember
Involve me and I will understand

ZachApologizes from FSPI certainly want all my children to be involved in their academic learning so that they achieve a thorough understanding, but I can’t think of any other “skill” more important than learning how to be good friends. Relationships, after all, are the source of our love and our lives. They are the foundation of who we are. Yet, too often it seems, we treat the building of friendship with casualness, putting it on the back burner, or approaching it with passive expectation: We believe our kids will pick it up naturally.

One of the coolest ways I have found to get children involved in learning about and coming to a deeper understanding about friendships is the use of video technology and video modeling. Video technology is getting a lot of attention these days as a means to support children with autism spectrum disorder in everything from daily living skills to safety skills and behavioral issues. Why not use it at school to support kids of all ages and all developmental stages?

(c) Godfer, Dreamstime.comOf course, many of us already use video technology to teach students by way of interactive whiteboards, computers, video conferencing, presentation software like PowerPoint, and other forms of picture-orientated technology.

But of particular interest to me is video modeling, or the modeling of friendship and other skills on video with the intention of teaching these friendship skills to children. You can do this with kids in three pretty simple phases, as long as you have some basic video equipment, including tablet computers, smartphones, or iPods with video-recording capabilities.

  1. The Preparation Phase of a unit on how to be a good friend involves all the students in the class. Discuss with your class specific relationship skills, perhaps based on a character education unit you’re doing, and agree upon certain ones as the key components students need to build healthy friendships. These might be: how to share your friends with other friends, how to invite someone new into a group, and how to say you’re sorry. Assign students roles—or have them choose their roles—for video production including script writers, actors, director, video recorders, and video editors. Have students learn about what types of equipment are available, and train them (or have them train you) in using these tools.
  2. The Production Phase of the friendship unit involves the acting, filming, directing, and editing of the video. Some videos might include how not to be a good friend as well as the right choices.
  3. Last is the Viewing and Reviewing Phase. This is a time for students to have fun watching themselves, but also for teachers to solidify the essential learning objectives of the friendship unit. The video can be reviewed as needed to gently remind students when problems develop.

Video modeling requires no pre-teaching. Going through the three phases provides multiple opportunities to practice friendship skills. Over time, children can monitor and think critically about their own behavior by watching themselves over and over. Have your camera ready to film the behind-the-scenes work, too. These can also be fun and instructive to watch again.

As you may already know, children are naturals with iPods, iPads, and other recording devices. A classroom video also makes a great end-of-the-year gift to students. By the way, don’t forget to get permission from parents to record their children.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, you’ve gotten your students involved in learning friendship skills!

Have you used video modeling for friendship or other social-emotional topics with kids? Leave a comment sharing your experience.

ZachGetsFrustrated from FSPWilliam Mulcahy is a licensed professional counselor, psychotherapist, and supervisor of the Cooperative Parenting Center at Family Service in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Previously he has served as a counselor at Stillwaters Cancer Support Services in Wisconsin, specializing in grief and cancer-related issues, and worked with children with special needs. Bill’s short stories have appeared in several publications. The Zach Rules series books are his first books for children, merging his passions for good storytelling and providing counseling-like tools to help children live healthier, happier lives. Bill lives in Summit, Wisconsin, with his three sons who played their own role in the creation of the Zach Rules series.


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Suggested Resources, samples of video modeling:
“Social Skills Training: Making Friends in Middle School”
“Social Skills Training: Taking Turns Speaking”
“Autism Video Modeling: Sharing”


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2013 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to Teaching Friendship Skills through Video Modeling

  1. I love doing video modeling with the kids. It’s such a powerful tool for them see their facial expressions and body language. It can be a lot of work and preparation, but it’s definitely worth it.

  2. marybeth says:

    I started Video Modeling with my son 11 years ago – after 2 years of other types of therapy did not prove to be successful. It was the best thing I ever did in my life! He responded within 2.5 weeks.

    Teaching children through modeling in a natural environment is the best way to teach – children love video, love all the gadgets and absorb video! In addition it is not a “chore” but FUN. Our society has forgotten that they are children – and children learn through fun and play….. its fairly simple yet soooooooo incredibly effective. I encourage everyone to try it! You will not be let down! There is so much science behind this – but what really matters is the success you have….

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