Most people will have developed friendships with others of similar age and background throughout the course of their lives. These relationships, which frequently entail common experiences such as sports, school, or other activities, can help one develop crucial social skills such as communication, cooperation, and empathy.
Peer relationships continue to be an essential source of social and emotional support as you age, contributing to your overall sense of well-being and connectedness with others.
In this article, you will understand the importance of positive peer relationships and how parents can help children create healthy, supportive friendships.
Understanding peer relationships
Peer relationships are developed and sustained by social interactions between individuals with similar stages of psychological development. These friendships are formed through interpersonal ties formed within a peer group.
These relationships are essential to the healthy development of children, and as they transition from childhood to adolescence, they spend more time with their peers than with their families.
Positive peer relationships can present themselves in various real-life situations, such as in school, after-school programs, sports teams, and other social settings. For instance, when a child is surrounded by a group of friends who support and encourage them, it is a positive peer relationship.
Value of positive peer relationships in a child’s development
Peer relationships are essential since they provide opportunities for social interaction, emotional support, and the development of important social skills such as communication, cooperation, and conflict resolution. Here are some advantages of having positive peer relationships:
Promotes children’s mental health
Positive relationships with peers can act as a shield against the negative impact of depressive symptoms and peer victimization. When children have mutual friendships, it provides a strong protective factor against victimization and helps deal with prior depressive symptoms.
Close friendships become even more valuable during adolescence because they offer companionship, security, emotional and instrumental support, and intimacy. A best friend can offer advice on managing conflicts and dealing with challenging situations with potential aggressors, provide emotional support, and even retaliate against aggressors if needed.
Fosters children’s prosocial behavior
Positive peer relationships are a predictor of increased prosocial behavior, which involves voluntary actions intended to benefit others. Children who are accepted and well-liked by their peers tend to be more trusting and willing to offer help, share, and provide comfort to those in need.
Engaging in these behaviors can result in numerous positive developmental outcomes, including enhanced psychological well-being, academic success, and reduced behavioral and emotional issues.
Repeated positive interactions with peers can shape a child’s beliefs about the honesty, reliability, and trustworthiness of others, leading to a desire to engage in caring and cooperative exchanges to establish and maintain positive social connections.
Boosts children’s sleep quality
Having enough sleep is crucial for maintaining overall well-being, as it can greatly impact one’s behavior, emotions, and ability to focus. When you don’t get enough sleep, it can negatively affect your health and quality of life. Therefore, prioritizing adequate sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.
Having positive peer relationships can lead to fewer sleep problems among children. This is because positive peer experiences can help children manage and reduce arousal, distress, and worries that may otherwise interfere with sleep.
Moreover, better sleep quality may be associated with more positive peer relationships since good sleep enables children to regulate their behavior and emotions better, resulting in a more positive mood and improved interactions with peers.
Enhances children’s school engagement
Close relationships with peers have been found to have a positive correlation with academic achievement, academic motivation, and school engagement. This engagement is a complex and dynamic construct that involves various factors, such as the perceived importance of school, commitment to completing school, and participation in extracurricular activities.
Additionally, school engagement is vital in promoting school completion, which has been associated with multiple positive outcomes later in life, such as improved financial stability, a better quality of life, increased social advantages, better physical health, lower psychopathology, and fewer life stressors.
Tips for parents to foster positive peer relationships
Parents can significantly influence their children’s social lives, even if they do not intend to do so. To better understand how parents manage their children’s social lives, scholars have proposed four distinct “roles” that parents may adopt, namely: parent as a designer, as a mediator, as supervisor, and as advisor or consultant.
Parents may adopt multiple roles simultaneously or adapt their management style depending on the circumstances. Here are the following:
Parent as a designer
As designers, parents control or influence the environments in which their children interact with peers. This can include choices related to the neighborhood in which they live, the type of childcare or early schooling they receive, and the after-school care arrangements that are made for them.
By carefully selecting these settings, parents can provide their children with opportunities to meet and engage with peers in constructive ways, which can facilitate the development of social skills, peer relationships, and interpersonal competence.
For instance, parents can choose a neighborhood that provides safe and accessible places for children to meet and play with their peers.
Children living in densely populated and safer neighborhoods tend to have larger peer networks and more peer contacts than those in rural and dangerous neighborhoods.
Similarly, enrolling children in higher-quality preschool programs and after-school care that is developmentally appropriate and adult-supervised can lead to gains in peer sociability, the development of stable friendships, and the acquisition of sophisticated play skills.
Participation in community and after-school activities, such as clubs, sports, music lessons, and scouting, has also been linked to children’s social competence. The frequency of children’s peer interactions in their neighborhoods and their involvement in extracurricular activities positively predict their social adjustment.
Therefore, parents who act as designers have a crucial role in shaping their children’s social experiences and opportunities for positive peer relationships.
Parent as a mediator
Parents can act as mediators when they create opportunities for their children to meet, interact, and form relationships with peers. This can involve helping children meet peers, arranging play dates, and building a social network.
Children whose parents initiate peer contacts tend to have a larger number of playmates and more consistent play companions in their peer networks. They may display more prosocial behavior and less nonsocial behavior at school.
Parents who take an active role in arranging and organizing their children’s peer relationships can help them develop more harmonious ties with peers, and involving children in arranging informal play activities can lead to children initiating more of their play dates.
Parent as a supervisor
Supervision in the context of children’s peer interactions refers to parents’ efforts to oversee and regulate their children’s activities and relationships with peers. Three basic types of parent supervision can be identified: interactive intervention, directive intervention, and monitoring.
The interactive intervention involves parents proactively supervising their children’s peer interactions from within the play context as active play participants. This type of supervision appears to facilitate children’s competence in initiating and maintaining peer interactions, especially younger children.
Onn the other hand, directive intervention involves parents operating outside the context of children’s play and intervening only sporadically in their interactions. This reactive form of supervision is used by parents to address their children’s social difficulties and tends to benefit younger children more than older ones. Children whose parents rely on directive interventions tend to develop higher levels of peer acceptance.
Finally, monitoring refers to parents’ knowledge or awareness of their children’s whereabouts or activities, which can be assessed directly through observation or talks with teachers or siblings. Monitoring was found to have a negative correlation with friendship conflict and a positive correlation with favorable friendship qualities.
Parent as advisor and consultant
When parents provide children with guidance about peers or peer relationships, they act as advisors or guides. Such conversations can occur with or without peers present and may involve preparing children for future challenges or discussing past or present peer experiences.
Parental guidance has been linked to positive qualities in children’s friendships and assertiveness within peer relationships. Parental advice is positively correlated with adaptive interpersonal outcomes for children, especially when given by supportive, noninterfering parents. In contrast, advice given by intrusive or disengaged parents can lead to interpersonal difficulties and social withdrawal.
On the other hand, parent consulting refers to problem-solving discussions and tends to be more instructional in nature. Parents may provide expert advice or solutions to peer problems or serve as a sounding board by listening to children’s concerns or solutions.
Parent consulting is often in response to a problem the child is experiencing and may involve parents facilitating friendships or arranging opportunities for their child to make new friends. Children’s perception of parental consulting as mediation or friendship facilitation predicts their success at making new friends and attaining certain friendship features like intimacy.
Positive peer relationships are crucial for children’s healthy development, as they provide opportunities for social interaction, emotional support, and the development of important social skills. It also promotes children’s mental health, fosters prosocial behavior, enhances school engagement, and boosts children’s sleep quality.
Parents can support their children in developing healthy, supportive friendships by adopting different roles. By doing so, they can provide their children with opportunities to develop peer relationships that contribute to their overall well-being and connectedness to others.
If you would like to see more resources on peer relationships, visit the Parenting Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Check out the Parenting Science Labs today.
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