The effects of structured peer praise on the social involvement of 3 socially withdrawn children were examined. Each child's teacher implemented Positive Peer Reporting (PPR), which consisted of rewarding classmates for publicly praising the social behavior of the participant during brief, daily sessions. A multiple baseline design with a reversal phase was used to evaluate the effects of PPR on observed levels of social involvement during recess. Results indicated that PPR was effective for all 3 children. Teacher ratings of the procedure indicated high treatment acceptability. The findings support the use of peers as sources of positive reinforcement for the prosocial behavior of at-risk children.
Everyone experiences loneliness or rejection at times, but persistent social withdrawal or isolation deprives children of opportunities for learning adaptive and appropriate modes of social conduct, placing them at risk for serious difficulties later in life (Oden, 1980; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992). Although the contribution of poor peer relations to maladjustment is not well understood (Parker & Asher, 1987), efforts to increase social involvement and acceptance appear warranted. Gresham, MacMillan, and Bocian (1996) identified being teased, neglected, or avoided by peers as the single most frequent characteristic of children at high risk for developing behavioral and emotional disorders.
Socially withdrawn and isolated youth are of primary interest to educators, parents, and communities, perhaps due in part to recent increases in highly publicized school violence (e.g., Columbine). However, child researchers have been interested in peer relations for some time, and a massive literature has accumulated over the past 70 years (e.g., Dishion, Andrews, & Crosby, 1995; Dishion, Patterson, Stoolmiller, & Skinner, 1991; Parten, 1932, 1933; Patterson et al., 1992). One of the common elements among these studies appears to be the critical influence of peers in the development of deviant behavior. Thus, many approaches to improving the social skills of at-risk children have focused on peers as potential change agents (Sancilio, 1987; Strain, 1982). Examples include teaching peers to initiate contacts with disabled youth (Strain & Odom, 1986), challenge inappropriate behavior (Sandler, Arnold, Gable, & Strain, 1987), and administer or withdraw token points for behavior (Carden-Smith & Fowler, 1984; Dougherty, Fowler, & Paine, 1985).
It is also apparent that this research is influenced by common educational practices. For example, some teachers may use classroom leaders to monitor peers, whereas others may separate or pair students in their discipline plans or teaching accommodations. Ervin, Miller, and Friman (1996) formally evaluated a strategy sometimes used by teachers having neglected or rejected children in their classrooms (i.e., asking other students to "be nice" or show interest in the targeted children). The program, called Positive Peer Reporting (PPR), involved teaching and rewarding classmates for providing descriptive praise to socially isolated youth during structured daily sessions.
Preliminary investigations of PPR have been encouraging. In four studies conducted with adolescents in a residential treatment community (Boys Town, NE), PPR has been shown to decrease negative social interactions and/or increase positive social interactions during general classroom activities (Ervin et al., 1996), cooperative learning tasks (Jones, Young, & Friman, 2000), and home routines (Bowers, McGinnis, Ervin, & Friman, 1999; Bowers, Woods, Carlyon, & Friman, 2000). In addition, Ervin, Johnston, and Friman (1998) demonstrated similar effects for a first grade female in a general education classroom. In most cases, the peer acceptance and status of target students were improved, and treatment acceptability ratings provided by adults were favorable. …