Peer Relationships

Peer Relationships

Peer relationships naturally change throughout the course of childhood and teenage years. Below are examples of normal peer relationship development, by age group.

Age Range: Normal Peer Relationship Development:
Toddlers It is typical for young children to participate in parallel play (playing next to one another but not actively engaging) and imaginary play.
School Age Children School age children tend to focus on organized games and activities.
Teenagers Teenagers usually prefer to spend time with a specific peer group, engaging in shared interests.

Although shifts in peer groups are normal, they may be perceived as negative by a child. Children who struggle to adapt to change, and/or have difficulty developing friendships, may have a challenging time with this.

Parents and caregivers can support children and teens by encouraging them to seek friendships with peers who are kind, and who have similar interests as the child. Providing guidance and teaching a child how to be a good friend to others is another useful approach.

When to Seek Help:

Occasional conflict in peer relationships is expected, but regular or ongoing conflict or rejection can be reason for concern. Talking to a child’s healthcare provider may be necessary if the child continues to struggle socially, despite attempts to intervene.

Below are warning signs related to child and teen peer relationships:

  • Bullying.
  • Victimizing other children.
  • Avoiding school.
  • Behavior changes.
  • Sleep changes.
  • Child frequently compares themselves to others.
  • Decreased self-esteem.
  • Lack of social invitations.
  • Lack of response to social cues (reciprocity).
  • Difficulty making and maintaining friendships.
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships.

When consulting a healthcare professional, it is important to share the interventions that have been attempted, as well as the child’s response and the outcome. It is also important to note the frequency, duration, and intensity of behaviors. This will help the healthcare professional assess the child’s development and determine what may be impacting the child’s behavior. The healthcare professional will then make appropriate recommendations and referrals, which may include psychotherapy, social skills training, or further evaluation.