Peer Relationships & Influences in Childhood Development

By David B. Ryan
Children learn the fundamentals of making friends early in life.
Children learn the fundamentals of making friends early in life.

Peer relationships help influences the way your child views others and how she sees herself. Your baby interacts with you, but it takes time before older kids learn to play with peers the same age. Children, like adults, have success and disappointments in friendships and interactions, but childhood experiences teach how to deal with the positive and negative aspects of relationships.

Relationship Schedule

The American Academy of Pediatrics developmental benchmarks for childhood relationship skills include bonding between infant and parents for newborns and small babies. Your child learns to parallel play modeling the actions other children sometime between the age of 18 months and 2 years, but he's not directly participating in joint play. By 30 months, your child typically has developed the social skills to play with other children, although sharing is not a feature of the play. The AAP benchmarks note social give and take developing by age 3, when your child enjoys interactive play and can identify at least one friend. By the first grade, according to the AAP, your child has the rudimentary relationships skills to grow later more mature friendships.

Relationship Fundamentals

Children at all ages need to develop and practice relationship fundamentals to make and keep healthy peer relationships. PBS Parents calls these traits "soft skills" and notes how difficult it is for adults to monitor the development of social and emotional traits. Friendships demand emotional development and intellectual skills on the part of both children. Children mastering the qualities of behavior self-regulation and basic communication skills develop positive peer relationships earlier than other kids. Children with the ability to understand social relationships also make friends earlier compared with kids lacking this understanding.

Mentoring and Modeling

Parents and teachers influence childhood understanding of peer relationships. Adults demonstrate and model positive friendships experiences and the way to keep healthy and satisfying peer relationships. Kids can also have exposure to unhealthy peer relationships, and this teaches poor skills. Reading books that focus on friendships teaches kids positive ways to treat peers and explores the meaning of friendship. Adults help shape positive development by talking to children about friends and relationships. Developmental psychologists Lev Semenovich Vygotsky and Barbara Rogoff note the importance of friends for young children and encourage adults to guide and support kids in developing social and communication skills to interact with peers.

Emotional and Social Issues

Shy children and kids with developing social and emotional skills sometimes have trouble with friendships, but parents can help or magnify problems, depending on how they handle the situation. Children experiencing major difficulties in forming peer relationships in the early elementary grades may need professional help to learn important skills. Kids with learning disabilities also benefit from extra professional guidance.

Set reasonable expectations for social relationships based on the age of your child and avoid focusing on your child's popularity with his peers as a measure of his normal social development or happiness. One child may be more introverted, needing more downtime alone, while another may be more extroverted, re-energizing through social contact; both are normal.

About the Author

David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.