Relationship Building with a Child that Doesn’t Want a Relationship

In the healing environment, the relationship is the foundation of the house. The reason for this is that it is fundamental when we are dealing with student behavior. Many students come to us with past hurts and pains that have nothing to do with us. They are trying to figure out if we like them. They are questioning if the adults can manage their behavior and wondering if they can keep them safe. It makes a difference when educators start the day with relationship-building with students, catching them before they misbehave and need discipline strategies. 

We can actively work on building relationships by:

  • Providing positive and loving eye contact
  • Appropriate physical touch (handshakes, pat on the back, touching the shoulder, high-fives, thumb wars, etc.)
  • Smiling: Be genuinely happy to see the students (they read body language and know if you don’t like them).

Eye contact, physical touch, and smiling all support the release of oxytocin in the brain, a vital bonding hormone. When bonded to us, children are more likely to follow our instructions and school rules. In addition, they feel better about themselves as they learn that we like and care about them. It gives students the safety to take thoughtful risks with their learning and friendships. This in turn, helps them learn about themselves and develop self-confidence.

Why do some students push away relationships?

It is important to note that students with significant emotional and behavioral problems often manipulate or push away relationships. Their belief system could be that relationships are unsafe due to being hurt by a primary caregiver. They have developed the belief that they must protect themselves.

Some children with severe behavioral and emotional concerns can read body language better than most people because their brains have been wired for self-protection due to living in chaotic, abusive, and stressful homes. These students will be easily triggered by various situations (facial expressions, body language, voice tone, etc.) and have developed toxic thinking related to themselves.

Some students will more easily feel negative emotions and rejection, thus the need for the educator to show positive emotional energy when things are going well. They need nurturing, support, structure, and honesty about their behavior. Therefore, having boundaries as you develop the relationship is vital, helping the student experience a caring, authentic relationship with an adult. This helps rewire the brain that not all adults or people are unsafe. 

Have you ever had a student be sweeter to you after you set a boundary with them? They see you as a strong adult who can take care of them.

The mistake we see many educators make is they think that relationship building will take care of all of the discipline problems. Wouldn’t that be nice!? 🙂 Or they believe the child is traumatized, so they can’t learn from their mistakes; isn’t that a shame? Part of all relationship building is about honesty and authenticity. 

Utilize the relationship strategies we shared as you implement consistent boundaries and consequences. Remember, children with severe behavioral issues have the same needs as all children regarding relationship building. The only exception is students with behavioral problems need more of it – more smiles, more eye contact, and more appropriate physical touch to help them learn that you care and like them.


*Community Circles are also great ways to build classroom relationships and communities. See for more information

To learn more, watch our podcast Healing Relationships . Take a live course  or an on demand course or purchase our book “Healing Discipline: Bringing Hope to Shattered Lives, A Guide for Educators.” We are also happy to discuss any questions or concerns you might have via phone or email.  You can contact us at 1-888-311-1883 or email us at

Healing Children, LLC.  This blog is copyrighted material used with permission from © (2012-2024) Sharelynn, LLC. All rights reserved. 

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