Nina Rye, Connections Counselling Ltd
07050 694775
Peer relationships and friendships in middle
childhood: A literature review
Nina Rye, BSc (hons), PGCE, MA
Play Therapist, Connections Counselling Ltd, King’s Lynn, UK
Play Therapist, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, King’s
Lynn, UK
A review is presented of some of the child development research on children’s
peer relationships and friendships between the ages of 5 and 12 years old.
The emphasis is on styles of interaction. Three dimensions of permanence,
power and gender are examined. The ways in which each dimension is
negotiated by children in different contexts are compared and contrasted.
Gender is seen to have a marked influence on children’s styles of interactions
pertaining to the dimensions of permanence and power in relationships.
The literature concerning the development of children’s prosocial behaviour,
social skills, and social relationships is extensive. The focus of this review is
on the characteristics and styles of
children exhibit within
relationships with one another. An attempt is made to encompass the scope
and complexity of children’s social relationships by including friendships, peer
relationships and others that might fall outside of these terms. Styles of
interaction and characteristics of girl-to-girl, boy-to-boy, and cross gender
interactions are considered. I have coined the term “child-to-child
relationships” in order to cover the whole range and allow comparisons and
generalisations to be made using different fields of research.
The focus on interactional styles has been chosen as one that is of interest to
practitioners of child therapy and counselling. Where possible, studies based
on naturalistic or semi-naturalistic settings are referenced, since these aim to
capture the flexibility, spontaneity, and context-sensitive nature of children’s
interactions “in the field”. This focus is in contrast to other research on peer
relationships using interviews, questionnaires, sociometric instruments, and
observations in “laboratory” settings, where the components of friendship and
other relationships are often abstracted and thus fail to capture the dynamics
of this developmental process.
A conceptual framework for child-to-child relationships
It is well established that children moving into middle childhood normally
experience widening opportunities for social relationships, at school and in
leisure time, and that these become increasingly important to the participants.