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The Friends Programme

The FRIENDS programme is not, as its name suggests, an intervention to support with friendship and social skills. It is actually an intervention to support with anxiety and depression. It is an acronym of;

  • Feelings (talk about your feelings and care about other people’s feelings)
  • Relax (do “milkshake” breathing, have some quiet time)
  • I can try ! (we can all try our best)
  • Encourage (step plans to happy home)
  • Nurture (quality time together doing fun activities)
  • Don’t forget – be brave! (practice skills everyday with friends /family)
  • Stay happy

At Cherry Willingham Primary School we are able to use 3 of the programmes, Fun FRIENDS (4-7 years), FRIENDS for Life (8-11 years) and Special FRIENDS (9-13 years with additional needs). The intervention is completed over 12 sessions lasting approximately 2 hours each.

The Programmes


The Fun FRIENDS Program was developed by Dr Paula Barrett to help guide the social and emotional development of children aged 4 to 7 by using fun, play-based group activities. Fun FRIENDS teaches skills that will nurture a child’s development and resilience during these crucial early years, giving them the ability to excel and smoothly transition into school life. After undertaking Fun FRIENDS parents and teachers notice the following changes in a child:

  • Increased Confidence
  • More able to cope with stress
  • More able to cope with fear
  • Enhanced Social Skills
  • Able to communicate better with adults
  • Boosted Self Esteem
  • Generally happier and more enthusiastic

The secret to the Fun FRIENDS Program is the group activities that help children to learn new skills. There are a number of different play-based activities that are evidence based and help teach the following skills to participants in a way that can be easily grasped, understood and used in everyday life. Fun FRIENDS has been proven to give participants the following skills:

  • Smiling and making eye contact when communicating
  • Speaking with a brave and confident voice
  • Talking about and understanding feelings in themselves and others (empathy development)
  • Helping other people like family, peers and teachers
  • Understanding their body clues, e.g. tense means stressed, butterflies means nervous
  • Relaxation techniques to relax their bodies and minds in stressful situations
  • Approaching groups of peers and making friends
  • Trying new things, and approaches to problem solving
  • Identifying negative thoughts and turning them into positive thoughts


Special FRIENDS, is a specialist version of the FRIENDS programme for use with young people with ASD and attendant learning difficulties (age 9-13 years). Mindful of the high anxiety states associated with ASD, and link to long term issues with mental health Special FRIENDS is an important addition to FRIENDS.

Special FRIENDS builds on the proven strengths of the FRIENDS programme whilst also meeting a more specialist need by provising:

  • additional routine and structure to sessions
  • clear visual materials with age-appropriate illustrations
  • an outline of new vocabulary used in each session
  • tasks offering a clear concept of 'finished'
  • reduced literacy demands
  • activities focusing on teaching empathy, self-regulation, problem solving in the social and emotional world, thinking in positive ways and flexible thinking

FRIENDS for Life

FRIENDS for Life is a social skills and resilience building program that is recognised by the World Heath Organisation for over 12 years of comprehensive research and as an effective means to prevent anxiety for children aged 8-11.

Anxiety is a common disorder, affecting over 20% of children in this age group. If left unattended anxiety can severely impact a child’s development which can create problems later in life. Anxiety can cause constant worry about things close to a child such as homework, attending school camp and even non-local events that appear on the news such as natural disasters or pandemics. This anxiety can detract from learning and have a severe impact on development.

FRIENDS for Life is proven to reduce anxiety and give participants the tools they need to cope in these stressful and challenging situations. Further to anxiety treatment, Friends for Life also improves a participants social skills, ability to focus, confidence, and the ability to relax and regulate emotions.