Importance of Peer Relationships in Early Childhood

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

This lesson provides information for those interested in the importance peer relationships play in early childhood development. Peer relationships such as friendships and peer acceptance rituals become very important as children grow up and learn how to interact with others.

Early Childhood and Peer Relationships Skills

Social scientists who study child development have long examined the relationship between peer relationships and early childhood development. The Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development has completed several research studies on the importance of peer relationships in early childhood.

Children develop the ability to relate to other children their age almost immediately. Studies have shown that even infants can communicate with each other verbally and physically in a positive way. This interaction can take place as early in infancy as six months. By age two, toddlers can begin to exhibit aggressive behavior toward their peers, and it is thought that negative peer relations can begin at this early stage of development.

Certain skills can promote early peer relations, and children lacking some of these may deal with issues later on in child development. For example, children with attention disorders are thought to have difficulty relating to their peers early in childhood and may potentially have more serious issues later on in adolescence. Children who have trouble communicating verbally may also have more issues with social acceptance. Young children who can learn to control their emotions and impulses are more likely to experience high levels of social acceptance.

Peer Acceptance and Child Development

There are many reasons why some children are less likely to be accepted by their peers than others. Unfortunately, being liked or disliked is an issue with which even young children must deal. Peer acceptance can determine a young child's ability to gain social inclusion among counterparts.

Certain personality traits are typically more acceptable than others, and young children who possess these traits have an edge when developing relationships with peers. For example, shyness in early childhood has been shown to be a deterrent to peer acceptance. As with most things in childhood development, being shy and withdrawn begins with interactions within the family but have a far-reaching impact outside the home as well. Young children who aren't socially supported at home may also have trouble achieving peer acceptance, especially those whose mothers have had trouble with social fears outside of the norm.

Early peer relations have a long term impact on a child's development. Studies have also shown that the earlier children develop the ability to make positive peer relationships the better, and that this skill travels with them as they grow older. The converse is true as well; children who cannot develop positive peer relationships early in life continue to have difficulty in this area as they grow older.

Aggression and Deviancy Training

Aggressive behaviors can be both physical and verbal as long as the intent is to cause harm to another person or to cause harm another person's social interactions within a group. Aggressive behaviors have been shown to have the most negative impact on a child's ability to develop positive peer relationships. Despite this fact, aggressive behaviors can sometimes have a positive impact on developing peer relations and may even earn children a certain level of popularity among their peers; this is mainly true among young boys.

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