Children's Peer Relationships (page 2)

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

Family Problems

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 Relationships 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 1985).

General Guidelines for Parents

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.


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