PEER RELATIONSHIPS: Why they are so important to children and how to maintain them during this time of the corona virus

In addition to the usual guidelines of how to originate a child’s social development, in the current situation, declaring a global coronavirus pandemic and following numerous recommendations, by introducing ‘social distance’ measures to reduce human contact, all to help slow the spread of the disease, many parents are wondering about how to continue to originate child development by facilitating interactions with peers. It is important to know that social distance does not mean the same thing as social isolation, especially since in these situations it is important to keep in touch with family members and friends, whose support is extremely important in stressful situations.

So, respecting the protection measures adopted, such as banning public gatherings, closing schools, canceling many events, plays, closing cinemas, playrooms, museums, cafes and nightclubs, it is important to continue to maintain social interactions, but the question is how?

With this situation, the recent view of changing the way of communication between children and young people, their increasing contact through modern technologies and social networks is changing, which in the current situation can give them many creative ideas for everyday social interactions in a safe environment. For example, they can arrange video or conference calls to various applications, organize various social networking games, plan to watch the same television program in parallel. It is more correct to speak of physical distancing than social, because the distance we adhere to in order to suppress the corona virus epidemic does not aim to distance ourselves emotionally from others, but physically.

 

Peer groups are second to children after family

Human is a social being and the social component of health depends on satisfying the social needs of each individual, both adults and children. Peer groups are second to children after family, and interactions with peers are the basis for the development and socialization of children, contributing to their psychosocial and intellectual development. While developing a safe base encourages the development of individuality, the peer group teaches children to obey the rules, teaches them how to cope with defeat and victory, forms their self-image, satisfies the need for belonging, intimacy, teaches them social skills, or teaches them to help, share, collaborate and solve the problem.

Research shows that children who are confronted with a problem in a group are more successful in finding a solution than if they are coping with the problem themselves. Peers are also important for moral development, empathy, as they allow children to enjoy “someone else’s shoes” and understand the feelings and position of others. Peers are also for children role models of new behaviors due to giving “rewards” (acceptance) and “punishments” (rejection) to certain behaviors, and modeled behavior with a view to acceptance in the group. Relationships with peers are a source of self-esteem and emotional security for children in new and potentially dangerous situations.

 

Relationships with peers particularly influence:

  • communication skills
  • development of social skills
  • development of social attitudes and values
  • control of emotions
  • the mental health of the individual
  • development of social identity (sense of who we are derived from belonging to a group)
  • development of self-awareness and confidence
  • tolerance
  • broader worldview

 

Peer relationships gradually develop from birth. Thus, babies respond to the presence and behavior of peers very early, with two months to look at another baby, with three to four months touching and exploring another baby with their hands, with six months there is a positive interest in other children, reciprocal reactions and communication learning occur is important for further relationships with peers, that is, babies begin to make a sound and smile at another baby and interrupt their behavior if the other baby does not respond. With a year, peer interaction include laughter, gesticulation and imitation. Around the age of three, children begin to express a desire to play with peers of the same gender, and this tendency continues throughout childhood. Friendship becomes significant, children begin to socialize with those they like and whose presence they actively seek. At the age of eight to nine, the importance of the group to the children emerges. Through development, the interest to spend more time with peers and less with adults gradually increases.

 

2 years11 years
socializing with peers30% of time60% of time
socializing with adults/parents55% of time10% of time

 

Relationships with peers are especially significant during adolescence. Stronger influence of peers and the weak influence of parents, that is relations between peers become closer, and adult supervision weakens. Peer influence is strong in early adolescence and later weakens and can have a positive and negative effect, which depends on the values of the group. It is great for certain areas, such as dressing, music, choosing a friend, but also for the appearance of behavioral problems.

Children with behavioral problems are more prone to less prosocial friends and are attracted to those who show similar behaviors themselves (showing each other new forms of behavioral problems, being encouraged and thus contributing to the development of behavioral disorders). But parents, there is no room for worry because positive family atmosphere and good adolescent adjustment have been shown to be a good barrier to attaching to groups of socially undesirable values, that is, attachment to the negative values of the group depends on the quality of the relationship with the parents: young people will attach to the values of the group when parents do not show interest in them important values and interests, because their peers support them and parents do not.

There are five „positions“ of a child in a peer group (determined by sociometry):

  • Favorite: Most kids want to play / hang out with them
  • Discarded: Most children do not want to play / hang out with them, most state that they do not like them
  • Controversial: Some kids like to hang out with them and other kids don’t
  • Isolated (neglected) children: children do not express a great desire to play or to hang out with them
  • Average Kids: Kids generally accept them, but generally don’t choose them as their favorite play buddy

 

The disadvantage in the group is related to the occurrence of peer violence. The child’s behavior and position in the group were also shown to be related.

Thus, favorite children approach others confidently and ask if they can join, start a conversation. They show a high degree of sociability and cognitive ability. They are positive, cheerful, willing to share, participate in a collaborative game, have good negotiation skills, are successful leaders and exhibit little aggression.

Discarded peers try to get involved in a disruptive way. Rejected children of aggressive behavior are logically more prone to aggression, violence and delinquency, while rejected extremely withdrawn and inhibited children are more prone to anxiety and depression. They exhibit a lot of disruptive behavior, are prone to quarrels, exhibit dishonesty, provoke and clash, are overly talkative, not ready to share, exhibit little cooperative play and a lot of lonely activity. The more often they achieve lower school success, the earlier they drop out of school. They are often angry and more sensitive to stress because they do not expect peer support given that they do not perceive them as friends.

Isolated children are less social and more passive, rarely selected as a friend, shy and lonely, kept aside. They are rarely aggressive, withdrawing from other people’s aggression, often engaging in solitary activities. They are not prone to dropping out of school and crime, and if there is a feeling of loneliness, they are prone to depression and emotional indifference.

It is important to know that a child’s social resource / competence along with his / her cognitive factors (assessment of social situation, spotting and recognition of social cues …) are influenced by family factors. Too much parental interference with the social relationships of children as early as pre-school age can be a cause of poorly adopted social skills of the child and the child’s experiences in the family may have consequences for their behavior with peers. Thus, safe emotional attachment is found to be associated with greater social competence, parental coldness and rejection are associated with aggression in children, authoritarian parenting style is associated with poorer social skills, while children of permissive (indulgent) parents show a lower degree of control of their peer behavior group.

 

Written by: Tanja Manović, defectologist-social pedagogue and Dora Kralj, defectologist-social educator

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