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Children's Peer Relationships

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Oct 22, 2010

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 self-confidence.

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 Relationships 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.

Social Behavior

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 press).

Differentness

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 others 1982).

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