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4 Ways Peer Relationships Change During Middle Childhood

Though it's common to have relationships with peers during early childhood (through preschool, neighborhood friendships, etc.), these relationships become much more concrete during middle childhood, and there are quite a few changes between the relationships at each of these life stages.

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1. The number of peer relationships that they have drastically increases.

Children are introduced to a large number of peers when starting elementary school. They also start to increase their involvement in extracurricular activities during this time of their life, which expands their social network even more. Children will develop a mutual liking with some of these peers, and those will become their friends. Some will just be peers they're affiliated with, and others may be children they don't get along with too well. But regardless of what their relationship is to these peers, their social world definitely expands.

2. Kids spend more time with their friends.

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While family members still play incredibly important roles in children's development, children start to spend less time with them during middle childhood. The amount of time most kids spend with their peers also increases quite a bit, which is completely normal. In fact, it's actually very important that children have/spend time with playmates during this developmental period, according to Sullivan’s Theory of Interpersonal Relationships. The theory states that these playmates are a stepping stone to developing close relationships in the future.

3. Boys and girls start to develop differences in their peer relationships.

The relationships that boys develop during middle childhood are considered to be more extensive. The groups they play in are larger, and it's much more common for them to be found playing outside. Their relationships also tend to include much more competition than relationships girls have do, and they're more interested in being dominant amongst their friend groups. The relationships girls have with their peers during middle childhood are thought to be more intensive. It's much more common for them to be found playing in pairs or smaller groups, and to be playing indoors. They're also known to develop friendships that are more centered around being able to confide in their peers than boys are. Segregation by gender also becomes much more common.

4. Bullying becomes more prevalent.

While the actual rates of bullying among children of this age group are unknown (studies show that 2 to 27% of children have a "victim of bullying" status depending on the study), researchers know that bullying most certainly happens during middle childhood. The bullying that takes place can be physical (includes hitting, kicking, pushing), verbal (calling names, teasing), relational (spreading rumors, children being purposefully isolated), or cyber (taking place online). Children who are shy, have a low social standing, are anxious or withdrawn, or differ in physical appearance are more likely to be victims of bullying. However, having quality relationships with other peers can be a protective factor against this.

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