Families, Peer relations and Play


Families, Peer relations and Play.

Definitions of Families, Peer relations and Play.

Family, a kinship unit consisting of a group of individuals united by blood or by marital, adoptive, or other intimate ties. Although the family is the fundamental social unit of most human societies, its form and structure vary widely.

Peer relationships provide a unique context in which children learn a range of critical social emotional skills, such as empathy, cooperation, and problem-solving strategies.

Play also involves the mutual, sometimes complex, coordination of goals, actions, and understanding. Let’s study how families, peer relations and play influence early childhood.


    • An infant’s family can provide nearly all the social contact he or she needs. As preschoolers, however, many children, begin to discover the joys of friendship with their peers.
    • Although they may expand their social circles considerably, parents and family nevertheless remain very influential in the lives of preschoolers.
    • For an increasing number of preschool-age children, life does not mirror what we see in reruns of old sitcoms. Many face the realities of an increasingly complicated world. For instance, children are increasingly likely to live with only one parent.
    • In 1960, less than 10 percent of all children under the age of 18 lived with one parent. Three decades later, a single parent heads a quarter of all families. Still, for most children the preschool years are not a time of upheaval and turmoil.
    • Instead, the period encompasses a growing interaction with the world at large.

Parent–Adolescent Relationships:

As young people look more mature, parents give them more freedom to think and decide for themselves. And more opportunities to regulate their own activities, and more responsibility (McElhaney et al., 2009).

Effective Parenting-

  • Effective parenting of adolescents strikes a balance between connection and separation. Autonomy is fostered by warm, supportive parent. Adolescent ties that make appropriate demands for maturity while permitting young people to explore ideas and social roles. Across nationalities, and family structures (including single-parent, two-parent, and stepparent).
  • Parents and teenagers, especially young teenagers differ sharply on the appropriate age for granting certain privileges. Such as control over clothing, school courses, going out with friends, and dating.


  • In cultures that place a high priority on interdependence, autonomy remains a central adolescent motive, but teenagers conceive of it differently.
  • Although immigrant parents from cultures that emphasize obedience to authority have greater difficulty adapting to their teenagers’ push for independent decision making, often reacting strongly to adolescent disagreement.
  • As adolescents acquire the Western host culture’s language and are increasingly exposed to its individualistic values, immigrant parents may become even more critical, prompting teenagers to rely less on the family network for social support and to disclose less about personal feelings, peer relationships, and potentially risky activities.

Family Circumstances

  • Adult life stress can interfere with warm, involved parenting and, in turn, with children’s adjustment during any period of development.
  • But parents who are financially secure, not overloaded with job pressures, and content with their marriages usually find it easier to grant teenagers appropriate autonomy and experience less conflict with them.
  • Among the minority of families with seriously troubled parent–adolescent relationships, most difficulties began in childhood.
  • Teenagers who develop well despite family stressors continue to benefit from factors that fostered resilience in earlier years


  • Like parent–child relationships, sibling interactions adapt to development at adolescence. As younger siblings become more self-sufficient, they accept less direction from their older brothers and sisters.
  • Also, as teenagers become more involved in friendships and romantic relationships, they invest less time and energy in siblings, who are part of the family from which they are trying to establish autonomy. As a result, sibling relationships often become less intense, in both positive and negative feelings.
  • Nevertheless, attachment between siblings remains strong for most young people. Overall, siblings who established a positive bond in early childhood, continue to display greater affection and caring, which contribute to more favorable adolescent adjustment, including increased academic engagement, empathy, and prosocial behavior.
  • In contrast, sibling negativity, frequent conflict, coercive exchanges, and aggression is associated with internalizing symptoms (anxiety and depression) and externalizing difficulties (conduct problems, bullying, and drug use).
  • Finally, culture influences the quality of adolescent sibling ties.


Peer Relations

  • As children become increasingly self-aware and better at communicating and understanding others’ thoughts and feelings, their skill at interacting with peers improves rapidly.
  • Peers provide young children with learning experiences they can get in no other way. Because peers interact on an equal footing, children must keep a conversation going, cooperate, and set goals in play.
  • With peers, children form friendships—special relationships marked by attachment and common interests.

Advances in Peer Sociability

Mildred Parten (1932), one of the first to study peer sociability among 2- to 5-year-olds. He noticed a dramatic rise with age in joint, interactive play. She concluded that social development proceeds in a three-step sequence.

It begins with nonsocial activityunoccupied, onlooker behavior and solitary play. Then it shifts to parallel play, in which a child plays near other children with similar materials but does not try to influence their behavior.

    • In associative play, children engage in separate activities but exchange toys and comment on one another’s behavior.
    • Finally, in cooperative play, a more advanced type of interaction, children orient toward a common goal, such as acting out a make-believe theme.
    • During classroom free-play periods, preschoolers often transition from onlooker to parallel to cooperative play and back again. They seem to use parallel play as a way station, a respite from the demands of complex social interaction and a crossroad to new activities.
    • Although nonsocial activity declines with age, it is still the most frequent form among 3- to 4-year-olds and accounts for one-third of kindergartners’ free-play time.

Peer Relations and School Readiness.

  • The ease with which kindergartners make new friends and are accepted by classmates predicts cooperative participation in classroom activities and self-directed completion of learning tasks.
  • Because social maturity in early childhood contributes to academic performance, readiness for kindergarten must be assessed in terms of not only academic skills but also social skills.
  • Young children’s positive peer interactions occur most often in unstructured situations such as free play, making it important for preschools and kindergartens to provide space, time, materials, and adult scaffolding to support child-directed activities.

Parental Influences on Early Peer Relations

  • Children first acquire skills for interacting with peers within the family.
  • Parents influence children’s peer sociability both directly, through attempts to influence children’s peer relations, and indirectly, through their child-rearing practices and play.

Direct Parental Influences.

  • Preschoolers whose parents frequently arrange informal peer play activities tend to have larger peer networks and to be more socially skilled (Ladd, LeSieur, & Profilet, 1993).
  • In providing play opportunities, parents show children how to initiate peer contacts.
  • And parents’ skillful suggestions for managing conflict, discouraging teasing, and entering a play group are associated with preschoolers’ social competence and peer acceptance.

Indirect Parental Influences.

  • Many parenting behaviors not directly aimed at promoting peer sociability nevertheless influence it. For example, secure attachments to parents are linked to more responsive, harmonious peer interaction, larger peer networks, and warmer, more supportive friendships during the preschool and school years.


  • Number of best friends declines from about four to six in early adolescence to one or two in adulthood (Gomez et al., 2011). At the same time, the nature of the relationship changes.
  • Close friendships help young people deal with the stresses of adolescence.
  • When asked about the meaning of friendship, teenagers stress three characteristics. The most important is intimacy, or psychological closeness, which is supported by mutual understanding of each other’s values, beliefs, and feelings.
  • Close friendships can improve attitudes toward and involvement in school.
  • Teenagers’ strong desire for friendship closeness likely explains why they say friends are their most important sources of social support.
  • Close friendships provide opportunities to explore the self and develop a deep understanding of another.
  • Close friendships provide a foundation for future intimate relationships.

Read about the self, emotional and moral development, here.


  1. Robert. S. Feldman. (2017). Development Across the Lifespan. (8th ed.). Pearson Education.
  2. Laura. E. Berk. (2018). Development Through the Lifespan (7th ed.). Pearson Education.

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