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Developmental Trends: Peer Relationships at Different Age Levels

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

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.
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