The Importance of Peer Relationships in Early Childhood

As children mature, they encounter greater opportunities to develop social ties outside the home and gradually assert their autonomy from parents or caregivers. While interactions within extra-familial social relationships evolve across early childhood to adolescence, these social bonds contextualize children’s learning experiences by offering what others cannot.

Specifically, children’s friends and peers serve as a “social mirror…different from that provided by supportive adults” (Gifford-Smith & Brownell, 2003). The safety of close-peer dyads or small groups serves to promote socioemotional, as well as cognitive, skill-building and bolster positive self-image (Smith & Hart, 2011).

However, along with more consistent and structured social exposure come increasingly complex challenges for the developing child. While transitioning from preschool or a daycare setting into kindergarten, children face unprecedented demands. Among these are: mandatory school attendance, challenges adjusting to a new classroom environment, and the pressure to perform at a higher level, both academically and socially (Smith & Hart, 2011).

When considering the development of children’s interpersonal skills and peer relationships, it is vital to take on a holistic view of how these factors permeate all spheres of school adjustment. A child may struggle to meet new social expectations while thriving academically, or vice versa. As a parent, being mindful of how your child’s social relationships may change upon school entry can offer insight into their overall school functioning.

Wondering how you can provide meaningful guidance during the transition to kindergarten or preschool?

The first step is to simply talk with your child about his or her experience meeting new friends and classmates. Having regular and supportive conversations about these early relationships will help you identify areas of difficulty for your child (and perhaps ease your own nerves!) during the pivotal adjustment period.

At Georgetown Psychology Associates, we offer a broad range of services that can be tailored to your needs or those of your child. Contact us today to schedule an appointment or learn more.