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Supporting Healthy Friendships Article

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Why are friendships important?

What makes for a healthy friendship?

What can you do to help an individual you support meet others?

What are some tips on how to make friends?

What does it mean to have friends?

What are some additional resources?


Why are friendships important?

Long-lasting friendships are important to all of us. Most of us can name friends who we can -

  • talk to,
  • have fun with, and
  • feel supported by.

Friends are there for each other, hopefully, for a long time. Without a network of friends, a person can feel depressed and lonely.

As support staff, you may develop a close relationship with someone you support. It is important to remember that over time, your job can change. At some point, you may no longer be there for that person. 

An important part of your job is to help the individuals you support make friendships that will last over time. This helps people lead much fuller and more enjoyable lives. When they have friends and family in their lives, everyone wins!

What makes for a healthy friendship?

The first step in helping a person make friends is to talk about what a healthy friendship looks like.

A true friend doesn’t come and go…

They stay,

They listen, and

They are there for you during ups and downs!

Talk about what a real friend looks, sounds, and acts like. For example, friends talk to and listen to each other. They also show sympathy and understanding when needed. In addition, they say nice things to each other. All of these things serve to build trust and strengthen a friendship.

Help the individual understand what a healthy friendship means. It usually means feeling good, feeling safe, and feeling supported. In any friendship, there may be times when there are disagreements. In a healthy friendship, people talk and work things out.

Ongoing feelings of sadness, anger, or fear may be a sign of an unhealthy friendship. Make sure individuals know where to go and who to talk to when they have these feelings.

Watch the video It's Great to Have Friends! and use the companion tip sheet  "Friendship - 10 Things to Know!"  to help start a conversation about healthy friendships.


What can you do to help an individual you support meet others?

There is no set way for starting a friendship. Friendships usually grow out of shared activities and interests. Here are some ideas about how to help an individual meet people who may become friends.

1.   Talk to the individual you support (or with someone who knows them well) about things they like to do. Use the worksheet What Do I Like to Do? to help get ideas. Work together to choose one or two interests or favorite activities.

2.   Connect these choices to opportunities for meeting new people and making friends. For example, someone may have an interest in gardening. Does the local nursery have a gardening class? Is there a neighbor who has a garden? Is there a Master Gardener who can help plan a garden?

3.   Explore your community together. Check out local civic groups, community colleges, adult schools or libraries for activities that match the person’s interests.

4.   Use your community connections. Set aside time at staff meetings to brainstorm all of the community connections you and your co-workers have. One might match the individual’s interest and lead to an opportunity for new friendships.

5.   Offer encouragement and support for attending an activity, especially the first few times. You may need to provide or arrange for transportation. You may also need to help individuals learn how to make friends.


What are some tips on how to make friends?

Many people are shy or unsure of how to approach a new person. They lack confidence because they don’t know what to do or say. You can help by sharing and role-playing these simple tips for meeting people. Here's how you can help the individuals you support meet someone new in a friendly way


1.     Smile! Don’t look bored or disinterested.

2.     Say your name and ask for theirs. Try to remember their name.

3.     The weather is always a place to start a conversation.

“It is really a beautiful sunny day today!”

         Follow up with a question.

“Do you like warm weather?”

        Or make a compliment.

           “I like your jacket. Where did you get it?”

4.     Talk about something you enjoy:

“I like baseball. Do you like baseball?”

5.     Ask questions about the person. Be a good listener.

“What do you like to do?”


If they find out they both like the same thing, they can talk more about it. Maybe there is an opportunity for you to get together. Ask them out for lunch or coffee. That will give them a better opportunity to get to know each other better. A good way is to say:

"Hey, well, I've got to go, but if you ever want to talk over lunch or coffee or anything like that, let me give you my number/e-mail address."

As a support staff, you can help an individual build their confidence. Before you know it, they will have a new friend! You may need to continue to provide some support to help the friendship grow over time.   


What does it mean to have friends?

Listen and learn as one person shares what her friendships mean in her life:

I have lots of friends.

I like friends who are outgoing.

I like friends who are good listeners.

My friends help me have a good life in the community.

I do lots of stuff with my friends. I like go to their house for dinner, do yoga together, drumming, go for coffee, and sharing with their kids.

I feel happy when I am with my friends. I feel joyful when I spend time with my close friends.

I like people and being with people. I talk with new people who are nice and friendly. And then sometimes we become friends.

Karen Lord (Excerpted from Friends and Inclusion, Five Approaches to Building Relationships)


What are some additional resources?

To learn more about connecting people with their communities, go to Friends, Connecting People With Disabilities and Community Members, by Angela Novak Amado, Ph.D., University of Minnesota: Friends, Connecting People With Disabilities and Community Members.

To learn more about building relationships, go to Friends and Inclusion, Five Approaches to Building Relationships, by Peggy Hutchison, John Lord and Karen Lord:

To learn more about the support staff role, go to “You Just Don’t Do That!” Drawing the Line Between Direct Support Staff and People with Disabilities, by Stephanie Ioannou, edited by David Hinsburger, Vita Community Living Services and Angie Nethercott, The Family Help Network.

You can find additional materials on the SafetyNet website. These tip sheets will help you support individuals to develop friendships and community connections:

Get these tip sheets here:


Last updated on Thu, 05/05/2016 - 17:36