ERIC Identifier: ED345866
Publication Date: 1992-00-00
Author: Kemple, Kristen M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Understanding and Facilitating Preschool Children's Peer
Acceptance. ERIC Digest.
Children's understanding of emotional expressions and situations has been
found to relate to how well peers like or dislike them. A study at George Mason
University suggests that well-liked children are better able than other children
to read and respond to peers' emotions. Disliked children may misinterpret
peers' emotions, leading to difficult interactions and eventual rejection by
In general, positive behaviors, such as cooperation, are associated with
being accepted by peers, and antisocial behaviors, such as aggression, are
associated with being rejected. This is confirmed by recent studies identifying
characteristics and behaviors related to being liked or disliked by peers.
Good communication is a skill important to the continuation of social play.
Well-liked children appear to communicate better than disliked children. In a
study at the University of Texas, well-liked children were more likely than
others to be clear in direct communications by saying the other child's name,
establishing eye contact, or touching the child they intended to address.
Well-liked children more often replied appropriately to children who spoke to
them, rather than ignoring the speaker, changing the subject, or saying
something irrelevant. While well-liked children were not any less prone to
reject peers' communications toward them, they were more likely to offer a
reason for the rejection or suggest alternatives. For example, in rejecting a
peer's suggestion--"let's pretend we are hiding from the witch"--a well-liked
child was more likely to say, "no, we played that yesterday," or, "no, let's be
robbers instead," rather than just saying, "no."
PEER ACCEPTANCE AND SOCIAL REPUTATION
It is important to
recognize the role of the peer group in maintaining a child's level of social
acceptance. Once a child has established a reputation among peers either as
someone with whom it is fun to play or as someone with whom joint play is
unpleasant or dissatisfying, this reputation may influence the way other
children perceive the child's later behavior. If a negative reputation is
developed, helping the child become accepted may require more than a change in
the child's behavior; it may also be necessary to point out to the other
children when the child's behavior changes and to guide them to respond to the
child in positive ways.
HOW CAN TEACHERS AND OTHER ADULTS HELP?
Studies such as
those mentioned above suggest important elements to be considered by those who
wish to understand why a particular child is unpopular and need to decide what
to do to help that child gain social acceptance. To assist a disliked child in
gaining acceptance, careful, informed observation is needed.
Observe behavior and note: Does the child have greater success interacting
with one or two peers than with larger groups? Does the child often seem to
misinterpret the apparent intentions and emotional cues of other children? When
rejecting a playmate's suggestion, does the child provide a reason or an
alternative idea? Do classmates consistently rebuff or ignore the child's
attempts to engage in play, even when the child is using strategies that should
work? There is no recipe for facilitating acceptance. To help a child, it is
essential to identify the child's areas of difficulty.
STRATEGIES TO CONSIDER
Adults who work with groups of
children may feel frustrated in their attempts to help a child achieve social
acceptance. Many approaches can be adapted to particular situations and needs of
individual children. Special play activities can be arranged, such as grouping
children who lack social skills with those who are socially competent and will
thus provide examples for learning effective skills. Planning special play
sessions with a younger child may help the socially isolated child. Research
reports that socially isolated preschoolers exposed to play sessions with pairs
of younger children eventually become more socially involved in the class than
do isolated children who play with children of their own age. The decision to
pair a child with a younger or more socially skilled child should depend on
whether the child's social isolation is due to ineffective social skills or lack
of confidence. Some children have adequate social skills, but are anxious and
inhibited about using them. Opportunities to be the big guy in play with a
younger child may give the inhibited child a needed boost of social confidence.
Sometimes disliked children behave aggressively because they don't know how
to resolve conflicts. Planned activities can help children generate alternative
solutions to difficult social situations. Skits, puppet shows, or group
discussions that present hypothetical situations can encourage a wide range of
ideas for potential solutions. Such methods can increase the number of
appropriate strategies, such as taking turns or sharing, that are available to
the children. However, to effectively implement such newly learned strategies in
the classroom, children must be given on-the-spot guidance when real conflict
situations occur. To help with conflict resolution, the adult can encourage the
children involved to voice their perspectives, generate potential solutions, and
jointly decide on and implement a mutually acceptable solution.
When a child has difficulty entering ongoing play, an adult can steer the
child toward smaller or more accepting groups, or can structure the environment
to include inviting spaces for private small group or one-on-one play. A loft, a
tent, or a large empty box might make an inviting space. When a child asks, "Can
I play?" the teacher can guide the child in observing the ongoing play, figuring
out the group's theme and purpose, and thinking of a role to play or of ways to
contribute to the group.
On-the-spot guidance by adults can facilitate communication, which
contributes to successful play. A child who rejects playmates' ideas without
offering explanations or alternatives could be told, "Ben I don't think Tom
understands why you don't want to play store. Can you tell him why?" or "Can you
tell him what else you could do together?" A disliked child having difficulty
reading others' emotional cues might be given a suggestion--"Look at Mary's
face. Do you think she likes it when you poke her?"
In addition to using techniques that focus on the disliked child, adults may
need to translate for the peer group the unpopular child's behavior and apparent
intentions. For example, an adult might say, "Thomas wants to play with you. If
you don't need another father, who could he be instead?" However, when
intervention focuses on the peer group, adults should not force peers to play
with a disliked child. This may cause resentment and increase rejection of the
The teacher's attempts to help a disliked child find a comfortable niche in
the peer group may prove more successful if the child's family is involved,
either directly or indirectly. After describing to the parent what techniques
are being tried in the classroom, the teacher may suggest how the parent can use
some of the strategies to help the child play with peers at home or interact
with siblings. Children who feel good about themselves and experience loving
family relationships may bring their expectations of acceptance and success to
the peer group. Such expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
For the child whose poor self-concept reflects difficulties in the child's
family, parent conferences in which the teacher can offer support may be
helpful. Literature on such topics as positive discipline and effective
parent-child interaction can be offered on a parent reading shelf or bulletin
board. Parent discussion groups, facilitated by a knowledgeable professional,
can provide information about the importance of social competence and guidance
strategies that can help parents facilitate their child's development.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series of three ERIC/EECE digests that
focus on children's peer relationships as educational contexts. These digests
are adapted from articles that originally appeared in the Fall 1991 (Vol. 19,
No. 1) issue of the EARLY REPORT of the University of Minnesota's Center for
Early Education and Development.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Denham, S.A., McKinley, M., Couchoud,
E.A., and Holt, R. "Emotional and Behavioral Predictors of Preschool Peer
Ratings." CHILD DEVELOPMENT 61 (1990): 1145-1152.
Furman, W., Rahe, D., and Hartup, W.W. "Rehabilitation of Socially Withdrawn
Preschool Children Through Mixed-Age and Same-Age Socialization." CHILD
DEVELOPMENT 50 (1979): 915-922.
Hazen, N.L., and Black, B. "Preschool Peer Communication Skills: The Role of
Social Status and Interaction Context." CHILD DEVELOPMENT 60 (1989): 867-876.
Hazen, N.L., Black, B., and Fleming-Johnson, F. "Social Acceptance:
Strategies Children Use and How Teachers Can Help Children Learn Them." YOUNG
CHILDREN 39 (September 1984): 23-26.
Kemple, K.M., Speranza, H., and Hazen, N.L. "Cohesive Discourse and Peer
Acceptance: Longitudinal Relationships in the Preschool Years." MERRILL-PALMER
QUARTERLY: in press.
Rogers, D.L., and Ross, D.D. "Encouraging Positive Social Interaction Among
Children." YOUNG CHILDREN 41 (March 1986): 12-17.
Spivack, G., and Shure, M. SOCIAL ADJUSTMENT OF YOUNG CHILDREN: A Cognitive
Approach to Solving Real-life Problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1974.
Stein, L.C., and Kostelnik, M.J. "A Practical Problem-solving Model for
Conflict Resolution in the Classroom." CHILD CARE QUARTERLY 13 (1984): 5-20.