Peer Relationships in Middle Childhood

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  • 0:01 Development
  • 1:10 Friendship
  • 2:50 Conformity
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

As children grow, they become more independent of their parents and turn to their peers more often. In this lesson, we'll examine children's evolving concepts of friendship, peer group norms, social conformity, and social comparison.


Kristy is very excited but very nervous. She's getting ready to go into the sixth grade and that involves moving from the elementary school she's attended for years to a big middle school. She's not sure what to expect, or how to handle the new school.

Kristy is 11-years old and is in middle childhood, which is the time between ages seven and twelve. During middle childhood, children grow and change in new ways. They learn how to use logic to solve problems, which is part of intellectual development. They grow taller and more coordinated as part of physical development.

Their relationships with people change, too. Socioemotional development involves growth and change in relating to others. As part of the socioemotional development that occurs during middle childhood, kids become more independent of their parents and look more and more to their peers for guidance. This is a normal part of growing up. Let's look closer at two aspects of socioemotional development in middle childhood: changing conceptions of friendship and conformity.


When Kristy was a toddler, she was playing one day with a neighbor named Jenni. They had a good time and got along well. Later that night, Kristy's mom told Kristy to tell her dad about playing with her friend. Kristy was confused. What did it mean to be someone's friend?

In early childhood, friendship is associated with the current activity of the child. That is, a friend is someone with whom the child is playing at that moment. When Kristy and Jenni were playing together, she could have understood that Jenni was her friend. But when they were apart, did that mean Jenni was still her friend? To young Kristy, that didn't make sense. Friends played together, so when she and Jenni weren't playing together, they weren't friends, right?

Of course, most of us adults would see the flaw in Kristy's toddler logic. Just because a person is not playing with you at this particular moment does not mean that they have ceased being your friend. And this is exactly the idea of friendship that emerges in middle childhood. At that point, children begin to understand that friendships can last over time. Kristy now understands that when Jenni is away from her they are still friends.

Middle childhood also involves an understanding that friendships can last for years. Children at this age might have friends they've known since they were babies. Many children have friends they've had since kindergarten or first grade. For Kristy and children like her, that's the majority of their lives! And as the idea of friendship as a constant force takes hold, so too does the power of friendship to sway a child's behavior and the way he or she views the world.


As part of the rising importance of friendships, peer group norms are established in middle childhood. Peer group norms are just rules of how to behave that apply to a group of friends. For example, Kristy's friends all like to dot their 'i's with hearts. If one of them writes a note to the other and doesn't do this, they might say something like, 'What's up with your 'i's in that note?'

Peer group norms are a key component of social conformity, which involves being one of the crowd. Conformity, which can involve dressing or talking alike, dotting one's 'i's alike, or a host of other activities, is on the rise in middle childhood because kids realize that conformity will increase their social standing within the group.

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