ERIC Identifier: ED265936
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Burton, Christine B.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Children's Peer Relationships.
Children's friendships have inevitable ups and downs. Yet the feelings of
satisfaction and security that most children derive from interacting with peers
outweigh periodic problems. For a number of children, however, peer relations
are persistently problematic. Some children are actively rejected by peers.
Others are simply ignored, or neglected. It even appears that some popular
children have many friends but nevertheless feel alone and unhappy.
WHY ARE PEER RELATIONSHIPS IMPORTANT?
Children who are unable to form close or satisfying relationships with peers
should be of concern to parents and teachers alike. For one thing, these
children miss out on opportunities to learn social skills that will be important
throughout their lives. Especially critical are the skills needed to initiate
and maintain social relationships and to resolve social conflicts, including
communication, compromise, and tact (Asher and others 1982). Children who lack
ongoing peer involvements also may miss opportunities to build a sense of social
These children may develop little faith in their own abilities to achieve
interpersonal goals and, thus, are easily overwhelmed by the normal ups and
downs of social interaction. Implications for the children's future social and
professional adjustments are obvious.
Finally, children without satisfying friendships may suffer from painful
feelings of isolation (Asher and others 1984). School may be an unpleasant place
for the children. They may ultimately become truant or drop out altogether
(Kupersmidt 1983). Or, in their search for a sense of group belonging, the
children may become vulnerable to the influence of delinquent or drug-abusing
peers (Isaacs 1985).
WHAT FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO PEER RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS?
As adults become aware of children with significant peer relationship
problems, their concern should focus on why such problems are occurring.
Fortunately, recent research has expanded insight into the following factors
that contribute to children's peer relationship problems.
Some children behave in an aggressive or disruptive manner and, hence, are
rejected by peers. Other children withdraw from peer interactions and, in this
way, limit their ability to gain acceptance and friendship (Coie and Kupersmidt
1983; Dodge 1983). Each type of ineffective social behavioral pattern can stem
from different root causes. One possible cause is a lack of knowledge about
effective interaction strategies. Another potential cause relates to the
children's emotional states.
Children who are anxious or fearful about peer relations are unlikely to
behave in an effective manner. Academic problems also can contribute to
ineffective social behavior. Children who cannot engage themselves with
classroom work assignments often disrupt and irritate their peers (Burton in
Similarity fosters social acceptance. Conversely, children tend to encounter
social rejection when they are perceived to be dissimilar from their peers. This
may occur when children are of a different ethnic group or sex, are physically
unattractive or handicapped, or are newcomers to their classrooms (Asher and
Family problems can have damaging effects on children's peer relations. For
example, children of divorcing parents may act out feelings of anger at school,
eliciting rejection from peers in the process. Children with family problems,
such as parental alcoholism, may be reluctant to bring friends home, avoiding
close friendships as a result.
Even if children overcome the circumstances that originally led them to
experience peer problems, a reputation as a social outcast is extremely
difficult to change.
HOW CAN CHILDREN OVERCOME PEER RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS?
Children require help from adults if they are to overcome serious peer
relationship problems. The most successful helping strategies are matched to the
specific needs of the children involved.
Social Skills Training
Children whose behavior leads to social rejection often need to learn new
interpersonal skills. In such cases, specific instruction on ways to make peer
interactions mutually satisfying and productive can be effective in improving
the children's peer relations (Asher and others 1982).
Intervention for Related Problems
When peer problems co-occur with serious academic problems, children may need
intensive academic intervention if they are to become accepted members of their
classroom groups (Coie and Krehbiel 1984). Similarly, children should be given
school support for dealing with family problems, when possible, to minimize
potential adverse effects on the children's peer relations.
Nonthreatening Social Experiences
Large groups can be threatening to children who lack self-confidence. Shy
children may therefore benefit from opportunities to interact with peers in
small groups. Parents can encourage shy children to invite classmates over one
at a time for special activities. Or shy children can be encouraged to develop
outside interests, like music or art, that will provide a natural basis for
interacting with other children. Both of these approaches can boost shy
children's self-confidence and may help them start friendships in the process.
Cooperative Classroom Projects
Cooperative group projects can foster peer acceptance of children who are
trying to improve their social reputations, including children who are seen as
different by their classmates. Under this scheme, teachers assign interesting
tasks to small work groups. The group members must work cooperatively to achieve
the tasks. In so doing, they must interact with peers they would typically avoid
and often discover new bases for liking them (Bierman and Furman 1984; Isaacs
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR ADULTS
Beyond intervention for specific peer problems, there are several general
strategies that may help all children maintain a healthy outlook on their own
social lives (Burton in press):
--Give children explicit opportunities to share any peer-related concerns
they might have. Show respect for the children's unique social needs. Some
children may be contented with few friends. Some popular children may have such
high expectations that they never feel socially successful.
--Create social options for children without creating pressures. Take care
not to communicate the expectation that children should be liked by "all of the
people all of the time."
In sum, the message regarding children's peer relationships is a clear one.
Peer relationships are important contributors to the quality of both children's
current lives and their future development. Children who have difficulty in
relating to peers can be helped. Such intervention is most effective when it is
tailored to fit the specific nature of the children's peer problems.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Asher, S. R., S. Hymel, and P. D. Renshaw. "Loneliness in Children." CHILD
DEVELOPMENT 55 (1984):1456-1464.
Asher, S. R., P. D. Renshaw, and S. Hymel. "Peer Relations and the
Development of Social Skills." In THE YOUNG CHILD: REVIEWS OF RESEARCH. VOLUME
3, edited by S. G. Moore and C. R. Cooper. Washington, D.C.: National
Association for the Education of Young Children, 1982.
Bierman, K. L., and W. Furman. "The Effects of Social Skills Training and
Peer Involvement on the Social Adjustment of Preadolescents. CHILD DEVELOPMENT
Burton, C. B. "Problems in Children's Peer Relations: A Broadening
Perspective." In CURRENT TOPICS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. VOLUME 7, edited
by L. G. Katz. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, in press.
Coie, J. D., and G. Krehbiel. "Effects of Academic Tutoring on the Social
Status of Low-achieving, Socially Rejected Children." CHILD DEVELOPMENT 55
Coie, J. D., and J. B. Kupersmidt. "A Behavioral Analysis of Emerging Social
Status in Boy's Groups." CHILD DEVELOPMENT 54 (1983):1400-1416.
Dodge, K. "Behavioral Antecedents of Peer Social Status." CHILD DEVELOPMENT
Isaacs, S. "Popularity." PARENTS' MAGAZINE (August 1985):58-62.
Kupersmidt, J. B. "Predicting Delinquency and Academic Problems from
Childhood Peer Status." Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society
for Research in Child Development, Detroit, Michigan, April 21-24, 1983.