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CHILDREN WITHOUT FRIENDS, PART 1: THEIR PROBLEMS

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Gladys A. Williams, M.P.H.
Doctoral Student, Clinical Psychology
Department of Psychology
University of Illinois – Urbana
Steven R. Asher, Ph.D.
Director
Bureau of Educational Research
University of Illinois – Urbana
Part 2: The reasons for peer rejection

 

Part 3: Learning about a child’s strengths and weaknesses

Part 4: Improving social skills

 

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– “He is my very best friend because he tells me things and I tell him things. He shows me a basketball move and I show him too, and he never makes me sad.”

– “Me and Diana can count on trusting one another. Yesterday me and Diana talked about how our parents got a divorce and how the world is going to end.”

– “Me and Lemar makes each other laugh and we play kick soccer.”

– “Angie is very special to me. If we get in a fight we always say sorry. And if she says she would play with me, she plays with me.”

(Parker & Asher, 1993)

Peer relationships are important to children’s development. Friends not only provide companionship and recreation, but meet other needs as well. Through interactions with peers, children learn valuable social skills. They learn how to do things like join groups, make new friends, participate in group problem solving, and manage competition and conflict. Friendships also provide a supportive context in which self-exploration, emotional growth, and moral development can occur. Of course, learning and social support also result from relationships with parents, teachers, and other adults. But it is among other children that children learn how to interact with equals. Also, it is with peers that children spend a very high proportion of their waking hours.

Given the significance of friendships to children, imagine what it would be like to spend over 40 hours a week in school and after-school programs with lots of other people your own age, but to have few of them like you or want to be with you. This is the reality for many children. Indeed, about ten percent of school-age children have no friends in their classes and are disliked by a majority of their classmates.

Peer rejection in childhood often brings with it serious emotional difficulties. Rejected children are frequently discontent with themselves and with their relationships with other children. Many of these children experience strong feelings of loneliness and social dissatisfaction. Rejected children also report lower self-esteem and may be more depressed than other children. Peer rejection is also predictive of later life problems, such as dropping out of school, juvenile delinquency, and mental health problems. Dropping out of school seems to be a particularly frequent outcome. Results from research indicate that, on average, about 25 percent of low-accepted children drop out of school compared to eight percent of other children (Parker & Asher, 1987).

It is easy to think of reasons why having difficulties with peers could lead children to do worse in school and to later drop out. Because students often study with their friends, help each other with homework, and even informally tutor one another, a student who lacks friends is likely to miss out on opportunities to learn school material. Furthermore, a child who is having problems getting along with others may be more upset and distracted and therefore, find it harder to concentrate. Even if a child’s academic work is respectable, a child with serious peer relationship problems might drop out because school is not an enjoyable place. Indeed, being at school may be quite stressful.

The academic benefits of having friends show up very early in a child’s school career. Consider, for example, research by Ladd (1990) on children who are making the transition from preschool programs to kindergarten. This research suggests that those who start kindergarten with a friend in their class make a better adjustment to school than those who do not start with a friend. Furthermore, children who maintain their friendships as the school year progresses like school better, and children who make new friends make greater gains in school performance.

The quality of a child’s peer relationships should be taken seriously. In the next issues of this newsletter, we will discuss the kinds of behavior problems and social skill deficits that lead to peer rejection. We will describe some ways that adults can help children who are having problems to get along better with their peers. The child care setting is an important place to help foster positive peer relations and the development of social skills.


REFERENCES

Ladd, G. W. (1990). Having friends, keeping friends, making friends, and being liked by peers in the classroom: Predictors of children’s early adjustment? *Child Development*, 61, 1081-1100.

Parker, J. G., & Asher, S. R. (1987). Peer relations and later personal adjustment: Are low-accepted children at risk? *Psychological Bulletin*, 102, 357-389.

Parker, J. G., & Asher, S. R. (1993). Beyond group acceptance: Friendship and friendship quality as distinct dimensions of peer adjustment. In W. H. Jones & D. Perlman (Eds.), *Advances In Personal Relationships* (Vol. 4). London: Kingley.

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