Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Setting Effects on Friendship Formation among Young Children with and without Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Setting Effects on Friendship Formation among Young Children with and without Disabilities

Article excerpt

Getting along with peers and establishing friendships are major developmental tasks of early childhood that predict later outcomes (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). A recent review on school readiness, for example, concluded that many children who enter kindergarten without the requisite social and emotional skills are often plagued by behavioral, academic, and social problems that can persist into adulthood, if untreated (The Child Mental Health Foundations and Agencies Network [FAN], 2001). Despite the growing awareness of the importance of early peer experiences on children's adjustment, researchers have not reached consensus on a framework for understanding peer relations and the implications of this information for helping children who encounter difficulties in forming and maintaining friendships.

The different ways that are used to define and understand children's peer relations stem from different lines of research and theoretical traditions. Within the social psychology tradition, for example, peer relations have been conceptualized in terms of typologies of children's social acceptance (e.g., popular, neglected, rejected, controversial, average), various types of friendships and social relationships (e.g., acquaintances, unilateral relationships, just friends, good friends, best friends), levels of social structure (e.g., social interactions, mutual friendships, peer networks, or cliques), and the functions that children's friendships serve (e.g., companionship, intimacy and affection, emotional support, social comparison; see for example, Coie, Dodge, & Coppotelli, 1982; Hartup, 1996; Newcomb & Bukowski, 1983). Developmental psychologists generally view friendship as a reflection of a child's level of cognitive and language development, with rudimentary forms of sociability emerging in infancy (e.g., social gazing, social gestures, peer-directed smiling and vocalizations) and more advanced forms of friendship evident during the preschool period (e.g., the ability to name one's best friends and articulate reasons for liking others and selecting them as playmates or friends; Parker, Rubin, Price, & DeRosier, 1995; Price & Ladd, 1986). Within the genre of ethnography, anthropologists generally view friendships as central to children's social lives, primarily because friendships influence the ways in which children negotiate social participation, resolve conflict, struggle to achieve equality and harmony, and construct social meanings and identities among their peers (Corsaro & Miller, 1992; Deegan, 1996).

The different ways of defining and understanding children's peer relations and friendships have led to a variety of methods of assessment in terms of general liking, reciprocal friendship, and playmate preferences. These methods generally have involved observing social interactions and using a behavioral criterion for determining friendship status (Guralnick & Groom, 1988; Hartup, Laursen, Stewart, & Eastenson, 1988), conducting ethnographies to produce in-depth descriptions of friendship processes within the broader social experience of peer culture (Peters, 1990; Preisler, 1993), documenting children's social choices through peer ratings and nominations using sociometric techniques (Asher, Singleton, Tinsley & Hymel, 1979; Musun-Miller, 1990), asking parents and knowledgeable caregivers to report children's friendships and playmate preferences through questionnaires or interviews (Buysse, 1993; Price & Ladd, 1986), as well as combinations of these approaches.

A review of this literature provides little evidence to suggest complete convergence among the various methods of assessing friendship and playmate preferences (Odom et al., 1999). That is, children's peer ratings tend to differ from classroom teachers' ratings of children's playmate preferences and classroom observations of children's social interactions with peers do not correspond to either children's or teachers' ratings of preferred social partners (Parker et al. …

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