Relationships: Study Action Areas


Each of the nine MAC themes is divided into four study action areas. This page sets out specimen content for the study action areas that form part of the Relationships theme.

The four study action areas in this theme are:

  1. What children need to know about relationships
  2. Non-verbal relationship skills
  3. Verbal relationship skills
  4. Interaction skills and competencies

This page also includes the following:

MAC brings together disparate National Curriculum materials and adds important material, aiming to organise children’s learning in a focused and determined way.

There is no suggestion that the content set out below is in any sense definitive. It is intended merely for discussion and debate, a starting point for the detailed programmes of learning that will be required for each year group.

Websites contributing ideas and information to the action areas are listed on the links page.

Study Action Area 1: What children need to know about relationships

A key aspect of knowledge of relationships is knowledge of what makes for positive relationships. Children learn not only the variety of relationships they can have with others, but also practice what makes for positive and lasting relationships – positive values, positive attitudes and a strong moral compass to ‘do unto others what you would have done to you’.

Specimen content:

  • Recognise different kinds of relationships: Identify different kinds of relationships – family, peers, adults at school and in the shops, friends outside of school, best friend, neighbours, people who help such as doctors, the postman, and peers with shared interests such as sport team mates, choir, drama, or after school club activities.
  • Know what family is: Recognise family may not just be those closest to you such as parent(s) /carer(s), brothers and sisters, but can be uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents; recognise family is where you are looked after, kept safe and where you share your life with others 24/7.
  •  Recognise what is common and different about families: Families have shared values for children to be protected and looked after.  How families live varies from family to family; there are different expectations of children depending on social and financial background and different expectations depending on parental/carer values and religion background.
  • Know that all people have rights: Marriage is a free commitment between two people; forcing individuals to marry each other is a crime; children have rights not to be abused, physically, mentally or through neglect.
  • Respect the diversity of people in the school and wider community: Respect the richness of differences in people, differences of beliefs, attitudes and values, religion, characteristics, race, culture, background, age, disability and gender.
  • Know what friendship is: Know what to do to be friends and put the knowledge into action in creating and keeping friends.
  • Know not all relationships are positive: Know people can be negative despite your efforts to be positive; know people having a constant down on you (such as bullies, racists and abusers) affects confidence, health and wellbeing; know where to go for help.
  • Recognise negative behaviour hurts people: Explore the different ways in which people can create negative outcomes for others. People’s feelings and bodies can be hurt by others teasing, bullying, being unkind, being racist, sexist or ‘classist’;
  • Recognise negative use of media platforms hurts people: Recognise people can be abusive and spiteful online towards individuals, posting inflammatory and derogatory messages about others and taking over another person’s account for negative purposes; know what to do about it when it happens to you.
  • Know how to be safe: Know acceptable contact with adults and what is not; know how to avoid dangerous places and situations; be confident in yourself, respect yourself
  • Learn about being an adult: Learn what it is like to be an adult and that, sometimes as children we act like adults, other times we act like parents.
  • Adopt positive values: Learn about and adopt values of honesty, truthfulness, trust, reliability, loyalty, respect and gratitude.
  • Develop a moral compass: Know what is fair or unfair, right or wrong, kind or cruel,the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do, what is helpful or what is unhelpful
  • Positive attitudes: Children recognise that positive interaction is based on positive attitudes of praise, respect and compassion for others.

Study Action Area 2: Non-verbal relationship skills

A non-verbal relationship is how the baby starts out in life. As verbal communication develops, the non-verbal develops at the same time. Yet the non-verbal is largely ignored and, at best, misunderstood, in the current education of children. The development of children’s understanding and effective use of non-verbal communication skills is crucial for effective and positive communication.

Specimen content:

  • Paralanguage: Learn effective use of paralanguage skills: tone, volume and pitch of voice and manner of speaking.
  • Body language: Develop positive body language skills: facial expression, body movement and posture, gestures, eye contact, touch and space. Body language is closely linked to paralanguage. The two work together..
  • Dress sense: Recognise how dress defines different social roles such as  nurses, police and soldiers; and how dress can be formal, smart or casual and when each is used according to the social setting.
  • Visual communication: Develop sensitivity to the visual and ability to interpret the visual such as posters, adverts, signs, symbols, photographs and images, including art
  • Interaction awareness: Recognise their own and other people’s non-verbal cues in verbal exchanges with others.

Study Action Area 3: Verbal relationship skills

Historically the National Curriculum has emphasised the written word over the verbal. More recently, verbal communication has been recognised. However, the emphasis is still on the written word. A much stronger curriculum programme needs to be created to ensure verbal communication is properly catered for.

A reason for this is the idea that if you can speak it, you know it. A second reason is the many wordsmiths who make a living through the multi-media outlets of the modern world. A third reason is the increasing number of multi-media outlets used by children involving verbal exchange.

Specimen content:

  • Be polite: Learn how to use polite language to interact effectively with others
  • Express: Put forward a point of view and support the viewpoint with reasons; share what matters to them;
  • Listen well:  Learn to listen to others and how to reflect back in ways that encourage others to express themselves further.   
  • Question: Use questions to obtain information from others, know the difference between and open and closed question
  • Respond: Respond to what others have to say in constructive and supportive ways, whilst not always agreeing.  
  • Defuse conflict: Learn ways to counter negative remarks and comments to avoid increased conflict; bring calmness to conflict situations
  • Talk in groups: Take turns to speak and contribute positively to the discussion; use verbal language effectively when working together.
  • Talk to groups: Develop skills in addressing whole groups, such as the class, whether it be in making shared or solo presentations, taking part in debates, or performing in front of others
  • Voice: Use their voice effectively in interchange with others in different situations.
  • Read out loud: Relate to other through reading out loud a variety of written texts in the manner dictated by the text and the social occasion.        
  • Performance: Recognise and practise the elements of performance as the words spoken, the manner in which they are spoken and accompanying body language
  • Empathize: Take into account other people’s feelings in their actions towards others.
  • Argue coherently: constructively challenge others’ points of view

Study Action Area 4: Interaction skills and competencies

To accompany children’s knowledge of relationships there are a number of competencies to bring to the relationship dynamic.

Specimen content:

  • Develop social competence: Interact with others with care, empathy and respect.
  • Work cooperatively with others: Understand and follow the school rules; work effectively as a team; show respect for other people’s contribution; take turns.
  • Engage other people positively: Have a positive regard for others; recognising not everyone has to be liked, but can still interact positively; experience cooperation and enjoyment with others; give praise, validate others and show gratitude toward others; show appreciation of family by finding ways to give back to those who look after and care for you.
  • Demonstrate empathy for other pupils and adults: Understand and share other people’s feelings; see things from other people’s point of view.
  • Allow for others thinking differently: Recognise that feelings and thoughts others have about an event, or situation may not be the same as your feelings and thoughts.
  • Adapt behaviour to different situations: Develop a growing awareness of the variety of interactions between people; realise that behaviour is mostly as children (having fun., learning through play), sometimes as parent (showing care for others), sometimes as adult (engrossed in learning, taking responsibility).
  • Seek and give help: Seek help from teachers, other adults and peers; share learning tasks with peers – sometimes as teacher, sometimes as learner, other times just sharing together.
  • Keep safe: Resist inappropriate and negative peer pressure; feel confident to raise own concerns, avoid dangerous situations.
  • Learn strategies to manage negative behaviour in others: Learn what to do when you are being bullied, subjected to racism, or mental/physical abuse.
  • Manage conflict: Learn conflict resolution strategies to defuse emotionally heated situations. Children go to an adult when they need help, for example, being bullied.
  • Self responsibility: Learn to develop self-responsibility; understand the consequences of their decisions in relation to their learning; work cooperatively with others; express their own identity but in socially acceptable ways and demonstrate shared attitudes, values and goals.

Children also need to develop awareness of the impact of their emotions on others and the emotional impact of others on themselves.

The Emotions learning domain focuses on children developing self-awareness, self-regulation and self-worth. However, there is no doubt that other people have a huge impact on an individual’s emotions and, similarly, individuals impact hugely on others.

Children need to become aware of the emotions at interplay between people, learning how to protect themselves from the negative emotions from others and the importance of not offloading their own negative feelings onto others.

Specimen content:

  • Feelings create outcomes: Come to recognise their feelings and behaviour from their feelings create negative or positive outcomes in others.
  • Emotional interaction with others:  Learn there is a two way interaction. The child is giving out an emotion. The other person is giving out an emotion. Sometimes the emotion starts with the other person and the pupil reacts. Other times it is the pupil.
  • Emotions and body language: Learn a key part of emotional knowledge of other people is the knowledge that 80% of communication is body language, you see the emotion in the other person’s face and posture before they speak. Children consciously interpret, reflect on and respond appropriately to facial expressions and body posture.
  • Impact of body language on others: Think about their body language and how it can affect others; they can recognise the emotional impact they are having on other people; recognise positive behaviour and action obtains a positive response from others; practise using their emotions effectively and positively in interactions with others.
  • Response of others: Children understand the response of others is not always positive. The pupil learns that negative behaviour from another person is a reflection on the other person, not on the pupil. At other times, the pupil realises their own behaviour was at fault and owns it.
  • Allowing for differences: Children can identify the emotions of others and surmise on the reasons for their expression; pick up on social cues from other people as to their emotional state and respond appropriately;

Teaching notes

The role of the teacher in providing a positive learning environment

The teacher plays a central role in the provision of opportunities for children to verbalise their learning. Positive paralanguage use by the teacher, combined with positive body language, is essential to their role.

Paralanguage is the one respect that holds true in the saying teachers are born, not made because of the difficulty teachers face in changing their paralanguage, arising as it does out of the individual’s emotional dynamic. The single most consistent factor in good teaching is the teacher’s positive paralanguage dynamic.

Further information

Websites contributing ideas and information to the action areas are listed on the links page.

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