top of page

Building Relationships

Ahead of our Building Relationships with Children event next week, Eloise Dalby, our Assistant Educational Psychologist (soon be Trainee EP) looks at the importance of building relationships with children and young people as they develop, as well as other school relationship.

Human relationships, and the effect of relationships on relationships, are the building blocks of healthy development. (National Research Council & Institute of Medicine, 2000)

With the end of the summer term just around the corner, schools will be starting to make plans for children and young people moving into their new classes; leaving to move to new settings; or joining school from a previous phase of education, such as preschool or primary school. Following another disrupted school year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a focus on relationships during these summer term transitions will be especially crucial.

Why are relationships important?

Relationships matter: the currency for systemic change is trust, and trust comes through forming healthy, working relationships. People, not programs, change people. (Perry & Szalavitz, 2017)

Relationships are important because they support children and young people’s social and emotional development in a number of ways.

These include:

  • Connectedness – relationships help us to establish our sense of belonging in groups, as part of communities, or with places, which may also increase feelings of safety (Arslan, 2020)

  • Nurturing resilience – resilience is the capacity to cope with and overcome adversities. In the face of adversity, trusting relationships can serve as an ‘outside support’, to nurture the development of emotional regulation, and self-efficacy (Gartland et al., 2019; Grotberg, 1995).

  • Developing trust – positive and consistent relationships help us to perceive others as trustworthy and reliable, as well as supporting empathic development and prosocial behaviours, such as being helpful and cooperating with others (Shaver et al., 2016).

Relationships through childhood

Relationships develop and change as children grow and develop themselves.


  • In infancy and early childhood, attachment behaviours such as crying, vocalising, clapping, pointing or smiling are used to maximise proximity to caregivers, including parents or carers at home, and nursery or teaching staff in childcare and early years settings.

  • Consistent and sensitive responses to these behaviours predict children developing positive relationships with those caring for them, which may support children’s emotional development (Ainsworth, 1978; Lippard, La Paro, Rouse & Crosby, 2018).


  • As children move from infancy into middle childhood, their social worlds begin to expand, as they spend more time in educational settings and in the company of their peers (Kerns, 2009).

  • Here, the positive relationships that children have experienced in their earlier childhoods can predict the development of the social and academic skills required for school (Williford et al., 2016).


  • Relationships between young people and adults, such as caregivers or teachers become reciprocal, with both parties taking responsibility for communicating and coordinating contact with each other.

  • The range of relationships also expands to include friends and romantic partners. The attachment behaviours seen in earlier childhood transform from proximity-seeking to availability-seeking (Ainsworth, 1989; Kobak & Kerig, 2015).

Relationships in schools

Sometimes it can be difficult to make and prioritise relationships in schools due to teaching a big class, job-sharing, changes in staffing, teaching different cohorts, or having increased workloads and responsibilities. However, as well as supporting the children and young people in our care, relationships also help to foster a positive and supportive environment between colleagues, as well as effective home-school relationships.

Strategies that may support this:

  • Continue to honour and respect the relationships that were made in the previous class or school.

  • End of the day reflection – What went well? Even better if…

  • Establish staff peer mentoring through the autumn term to share successes, ideas or concerns

Relationships with pupils

Research into relationships between secondary school teachers and their pupils has found that placing a focus on positive relationships as part of teachers’ classroom management has a positive impact on pupils’ effort and attainment, relating to both behaviour and learning (Foster et al., 2017).

This is an area we will focus on in our online Building Relationships with Children training.

Strategies that may support this:

  • Opportunities to say goodbye in a careful and considered way – this can be a positive developmental opportunity!

  • PACE apporach – what is this? – Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy

  • ‘Catch-me’ chart – recognising positives

Relationships with colleagues

In order to provide consistently supportive relationships for the children and young people in our care, adults also need positive relationships with other adults.

Opportunities for reflection and peer mentoring may help to meet our own emotional needs, so that we can support our pupils’ needs (Bombèr, 2007)

Strategies that may support this:

  • Observe practice of class with previous teacher

  • Colleagues – creating opportunities to chat (and eat cake!)

Relationships with families and the wider school community

Research suggests that outside of typical parent-teacher interaction, such as annual parent-teacher evenings, some schools may only be in contact with parents and carers to report concerns around learning or behaviour (Gwernan-Jones et al., 2015).

Maintaining a close circle of communication between home and school ensures that pupil successes can be celebrated, as well as creating opportunities to discuss any queries or concerns.

Promoting positive home-school relationships may also have the following advantages for pupils:

  • Increased motivation

  • Positive behaviour

  • Improved attendance

  • Positive approach to learning

Strategies that may support this:

  • Home/school communication book

  • Positive phone calls home

For more information on building relationships join our 1 hour online session Wednesday 30th June. The session is aimed at teachers and school staff who want to understand the importance of adult or teacher - pupil relationships.

We'll focus on:

  • The psychology underpinning teacher-pupil relationships.

  • Why ‘why?’ questions don’t work!

  • What positive teacher-pupil relationships look like.

  • How to communicate with children in order to build positive relationships.

  • How to ‘build credit’ in your relationship with each pupil you work with.

  • ‘Setting the climate’ within your school for positive teacher-pupil relationships to flourish.

Tickets are £35+VAT. To book, visit our eventbrite page here:

If you want to ask us anything about this article, email


Ainsworth, M. (1978). Patterns of attachment: a pschological study of the strange situation.

Ainsworth, M. (1989). Attachments beyond infancy. American Psychologist, 44(4), 709-716.

Arslan, G., Allen, K., & Ryan, T. (2020). Exploring the Impacts of School Belonging on Youth Wellbeing and Mental Health among Turkish Adolescents. Child Indicators Research, 13(5), 1619-1635.

Bombèr, L. (2007). Inside I'm hurting (2nd ed., pp. 5, 47, 83, 213). Worth Publishing.

Bombèr, L., & Hughes, D. (2013). Setting to Learn - Settling troubled pupils to learn: why relationships matter in school (1st ed., p. 3). Worth Publishing.

Foster, C., Horwitz, A., Thomas, A., Opperman, K., Gipson, P., & Burnside, A. et al. (2017). Connectedness to family, school, peers, and community in socially vulnerable adolescents. Children And Youth Services Review, 81, 321-331.

Gartland, D., Riggs, E., Muyeen, S., Giallo, R., Afifi, T., & MacMillan, H. et al. (2019). What factors are associated with resilient outcomes in children exposed to social adversity? A systematic review. BMJ Open, 9(4), e024870.

Gasser, L., Grütter, J., Buholzer, A., & Wettstein, A. (2018). Emotionally supportive classroom interactions and students' perceptions of their teachers as caring and just. Learning And Instruction, 54, 82-92.

Grotberg, E. (1995). A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit. The International Resilience Project. Retrieved 1 June 2021, from

Gwernan-Jones, R., Moore, D., Garside, R., Richardson, M., Thompson-Coon, J., & Rogers, M. et al. (2015). ADHD, parent perspectives and parent-teacher relationships: grounds for conflict. British Journal Of Special Education, 42(3), 279-300.

Kamza, A. (2019). Attachment to mothers and fathers during middle childhood: an evidence from Polish sample. BMC Psychology, 7(1).

Kerns, K., Mathews, B., Koehn, A., Williams, C., & Siener-Ciesla, S. (2015). Assessing both safe haven and secure base support in parent–child relationships. Attachment & Human Development, 17(4), 337-353.

Kobak, R., & Kerig, P. (2015). Introduction to the special issue: attachment-based treatments for adolescents. Attachment & Human Development, 17(2), 111-118.

Lippard, C., La Paro, K., Rouse, H., & Crosby, D. (2017). A Closer Look at Teacher–Child Relationships and Classroom Emotional Context in Preschool. Child & Youth Care Forum, 47(1), 1-21.

Perry, B., & Szalavitz, M. (2017). The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog (3rd ed.). Basic Books.

Shaver, P., Cassidy, J., Stern, J., Mikulincer, M., & Gross, J. (2016). A Lifespan Perspective on Attachment and Care for Others: Empathy, Altruism and Prosocial Behaviour. In C. Jude & S. Phillip, Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications (3rd ed., pp. 878-916). The Guilford Press.

Williford, A., Carter, L., & Pianta, R. (2016). Attachment and School Readiness. In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver, The Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications (3rd ed., pp. 966-982). The Guilford Press.

132 views0 comments


bottom of page