Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Friendship Expectations and Children's Friendship-Related Behavior and Adjustment

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Friendship Expectations and Children's Friendship-Related Behavior and Adjustment

Article excerpt

The expectations that individuals hold of their relationship partners are thought to affect almost every aspect of social interaction (Argyle & Henderson, 1984; Fitzpatrick & Sollie, 1999; Hamilton & Garcia-Marques, 2003; Vangelisti & Daly, 1997; Wiseman, 1986). The roots of such relationship expectations begin early in life with the first signs of expectations emerging around 4-5 months of age when distressed babies display an expectation that they will be picked up and soothed by their caretakers (Lamb & Malkin, 1986). By preschool, children express expectations not only of their caretakers but also of their friends (see Hartup & Abecassis, 2002). Friendship expectations have been defined as "cognitive conceptualizations about attributes that individuals would like their friends to possess and behaviors that individuals would like their friends to enact" (Hall, Larson, & Watts, 2011, p. 529) and are thought to be shaped by a number of factors, such as children's experiences with parents and peers, their observations of other children's friendships, and societal messages about what friendships entail (Azmitia, Lippman, & Ittel, 1999; Clark & Bittle, 1992; also see Baldwin, 1992; Fehr, 2004). With age, children come to express increasingly more sophisticated expectations of their friends such that, during elementary school, they convey expectations that their friends will help them, share secrets, accept them, and be trustworthy and understanding (Bigelow, 1977; Bigelow & LaGaipa, 1975; Clark & Bittle, 1992; Furman & Bierman, 1984).

The kinds of expectations that children form of their friends and the extent to which they hold these expectations are speculated to play a critical role in children's concurrent and long-term relationship functioning (La Gaipa, 1987). In particular, it is thought that children's friendship expectations influence how they act toward their friends and ultimately impact the success of their friendships (Clark & Bittle, 1992; Hall, 2011; Hall et al., 2011). To date, though, no research has explored whether the degree to which children hold their friends to core friendship expectations is related to their behavior within their friendships or with either objective or subjective indices of their social and emotional functioning, such as the number of friends they have, their friendship satisfaction, and their feelings of loneliness and social anxiety. However, establishing whether friendship expectations are associated with children's friendship-related behavior and adjustment has critical implications for determining how to intervene with children who have friendship difficulties and associated socioemotional problems. For example, if friendship expectations are related to how children act toward their friends, it would suggest that, in order to be effective, friendship interventions need to help children modify the standards to which they hold their friends because altering their friendship expectations may change their friendship behaviors, which in turn may influence their friendship adjustment and socioemotional functioning. The present research, therefore, examined whether the degree to which children hold their friends to core friendship expectations is associated with various aspects of their social, behavioral, and emotional functioning.

The Potentially Adaptive Role of High Friendship Expectations

The literature on children's perceptions of the functions that friendship serve suggests that children with high friendship expectations are likely better adjusted than children with lower friendship expectations. As Ladd (2005) discussed, children's conceptualizations of the features that friendships entail reflect their understanding of the social rules that underlie friendship. These social rules govern how children expect their friends to behave toward them in that children who conceptualize friendship as involving certain features, such as companionship, loyalty, and trust, will expect their friends to behave in a manner consistent with these features (see Bagwell & Schmidt, 2011). …

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