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Peer Relationships & Middle Childhood

Expanding on different types of peer relationships, how peers determine ones social status, and the benefits of positive relationships.

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Peer relationships for a school-aged child involve the children directly in his/her social world. These can be classmates, teammates, neighbors, etc. These relationships or acquaintanceships are not necessarily reciprocal, and are not emotionally close. The children "know of" each other, but typically don't voluntarily spend time together. Whereas a friendship requires mutual liking, voluntary time spent together and mutually impacts each person.



As mentioned above, friendships are a more specific type of peer relationship. Classified by mutual liking and voluntary time spent together. Friendships in middle childhood tend to develop in stages associated with stages in social understanding. For children ages 7-8, friendships tend to be unilateral. Children in this stage are likely to see friendships as "reward-cost" (i.e. what their friend can do for them or what they can do for their friend) but they fail to think about what they can do to complement each other. Around 10-11, children begin to understand that friendships are reciprocal, and should be loyal, though these friendships rarely last through difficult arguments. Towards the end of middle childhood, friendships become more collaborative and children begin to understand that friends should be compassionate, supportive, and understanding.

Peer Acceptance/Social Status

Peers also play a major role in determining a child's social status. These are referred to as sociometric ratings in which children are asked to rate their classmates in terms of like or dislike. These children are the categorized into four social statuses: rejected (low like, high dislike), controversial (high like, high dislike), neglected (low like, low dislike) and popular (high like, low dislike). This type of peer acceptance is often distinguished from friendship, as these ratings are not associated with mutual feelings and reciprocated ratings. A child can be neglected by his/her peers, but still have close friendships with individual classmates, teammates, etc. However, peer acceptance can hinder or increase the amount of children one could be friends with. For example, a child may be rated highly rejected by a majority of his/her peers therefore limiting the amount of children who would actually want to befriend this rejected individual.

Benefits of Positive Relationships


Positive peer relationships/friendships have an array of benefits. According to Sullivan's theory of interpersonal relationships, peer relationships and friendships can impact a child's development. Friends and peers can be support systems for children as mentors or tutors if a child is struggling socially or academically. These supportive friendships can promote the development of social skills such as social perspective taking, lower aggression and promote academic achievement.

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