Infancy (Birth–2)

What You Might Observe:

  • Growing interest in other infants in the same child care setting
  • Beginning attempts to make contact with familiar infants, such as looking at their faces and smiling at them
  • In second year, side-by-side play with awareness of one another’s actions

Diversity:

  • Some infants have not had social experiences with other children in their families or in child care; they may need time to adjust to the presence of other children.
  • Security of attachment to caregivers may affect children’s interaction style with peers.
  • Infants who are temperamentally inclined to be shy, fearful, or inhibited may be wary of other children.

Implications:

  • Place small babies side by side when they are calm and alert.
  • Talk about what children are doing (e.g., “Look at Willonda shaking that toy; let’s go watch how she makes the beads spin”).
  • Supervise small children to prevent them from hurting one another. When they accidentally bump into others, redirect them to a different path (e.g., “Come this way, Tammy. Chloe doesn’t like it when you bump into her.”).

Early Childhood (2–6)

What You Might Observe:

  • Increasing frequency and complexity of interactions with familiar peers
  • Developing preference for play activities with particular peers
  • Formation of rudimentary friendships based on proximity and easy access (e.g., formation of friendships with neighbors and preschool classmates)
  • Involved conversations and imaginative fantasies with friends

Diversity:

  • Children with prior social experiences may find it easier to make friends in a new preschool or child care center.
  • Children with sociable and easy-going temperaments tend to form and keep friends more easily than children who are shy, aggressive, anxious, or high-strung.

Implications:

  • Help shy children gain entry into groups, especially if they have previously had limited social experiences.
  • When necessary, help children resolve conflicts with friends, but encourage them to identify solutions that benefit everyone and let them do as much of the negotiation as possible.

Middle Childhood (6–10)

What You Might Observe:

  • Concern about being accepted by peers
  • Tendency to assemble in larger groups than in early childhood
  • Less need for adult supervision than in early childhood
  • Outdoor peer groups structured with games and sports
  • Increase in gossip as children show concern over friends and enemies
  • Some social exclusiveness, with friends being reluctant to have others join in their activities
  • Predominance of same-gender friendships (especially after age 7)

Diversity:

  • Boys tend to play in larger groups than girls do.
  • Some children are temperamentally cautious and timid; they may stand at the periphery of groups and show little social initiative.
  • Some children are actively rejected by peers, perhaps because they are perceived as odd or have poor social skills.

Implications:

  • Supervise children’s peer relationships from a distance; intervene when needed to defuse an escalating situation.
  • Tactfully facilitate the entry of isolated and rejected children into ongoing games, cooperative learning groups, and informal lunch groups.
  • Teach rejected children how to interact pleasantly with peers.

Early Adolescence (10–14)

What You Might Observe:

  • Variety of contexts (e.g., competitive sports, extracurricular activities, parties) in which to interact with peers
  • Heightened concern about acceptance and popularity among peers
  • Fads and conformity in dress and communication styles in peer groups
  • Same-gender cliques, often restricted to members of a single ethnic group
  • Increasing intimacy, self-disclosure, and loyalty among friends
  • New interest in members of the opposite sex; for gay and lesbian youths, new dimensions of interest in the same sex
  • For some, initiation of dating, often within the context of group activities

Diversity:

  • Some young adolescents are very socially minded; others are more quiet and reserved.
  • Some young adolescents become involved in gangs and other delinquent social activities.
  • A few young adolescents are sexually active.
  • A small percentage begin to construct an identity as a gay or lesbian individual.
  • Gossiping and social exclusion may continue in some groups.

Implications:

  • Make classrooms, schools, and other settings friendly, affirming places for all adolescents. Create an atmosphere of acceptance and respect for diverse kinds of students. Do not tolerate name calling, insensitive remarks, or sexual harassment.
  • Provide appropriate places for adolescents to hang out before and after school.
  • Identify mechanisms (e.g., cooperative learning groups, public service projects) through which teenagers can fraternize productively as they work toward academic or prosocial goals.
  • On some occasions decide which youngsters will work together in groups; on other occasions let them choose their work partners.
  • Sponsor after-school activities (e.g., in sports, music, or academic interest areas).

Late Adolescence (14–18)

What You Might Observe:

  • Emerging understanding that relationships with numerous peers do not necessarily threaten close friendships
  • Increasing dependence on friends for advice and emotional support, with adults remaining important in such matters as educational choices and career goals
  • Less cliquishness toward the end of high school; greater tendency to affiliate with larger, less exclusive crowds
  • Increasing amount of time spent in mixed-gender groups
  • Many social activities unsupervised by adults
  • Emergence of committed romantic couples, especially in the last two years of high school

Diversity:

  • Some teenagers have parents who continue to monitor their whereabouts; others have little adult supervision.
  • Adolescents’ choices of friends and social groups affect their leisure activities, risk-taking behaviors, and attitudes about schoolwork. Some adolescents, known as thrill-seekers, actively seek out risky activities.
  • Teens who find themselves attracted to same-gender peers face additional challenges in constructing their adult identities, especially if others are not accepting.

Implications:

  • In literature and history, assign readings with themes of psychological interest to adolescents (e.g., loyalty among friends, self-disclosure of feelings, and vulnerability).
  • Encourage adolescents to join extracurricular activities, and in other ways make them feel an integral part of their school.
  • Sponsor dances and other supervised social events that give adolescents opportunities to socialize.