Many educationists are in agreement that a positive environment for social, psychological, and moral development is one that promotes peer interaction. In equal measure, children’s behavior in the peer setup has proven to be a reliable pointer of their social competence (Blume & Zember, 2010). Although extensive research has been conducted to prove these assertions in mid-childhood, few studies have being commenced to evaluate the effects of peer interaction in young children.
Towards this objective, Australian researcher Sue Walker undertook a study named ‘Sociometric Stability and the Behavioral Correlates of Peer Acceptance in Early Childhood,’ aiming to broaden understanding about behavioral associations of rejection and neglect on preschool-aged children. In addition, the researcher aimed to evaluate the stability and constancy of social status classification on the children over a period of 6 months (Walker, 2009).
One of the researcher’s main hypotheses was that behaviors that are predictive of neglect or rejection are comparable for both younger and older children. Also, the researcher presupposed that interventions for preschool-aged children that are grounded on a holistic understanding of the aspects contributing to acceptance or rejection by peers are more likely to assist the victims cope with the challenges (Walker, 2009).
The researcher was mainly interested in critically evaluating three factors of social functioning that are closely associated with peer-related social competencies for pre-scholars, namely ability to engage voluntarily and effectively in play; pro-social quality of interactions; and communication competence. In addition, play behavior, emotional expression, verbal communication, and stability of social status among the young children were used as independent variables.
According to the article, the researcher utilized “…10 suburban, community-based preschools serving predominantly Caucasian, middle-class families in Queensland, Australia” to draw a sample of 187 participants ranging in age from 4.5 to 5.5 years (Walker, 2009, p. 343). However, the article makes no mention on the techniques used to sample the population.
The research made use of participatory approach, whereby the researcher spent 6 months interacting and experimenting with the children in a preschool setup. Photographs of the preschool-aged children were taken, and the participants were later asked to select photographs of children with whom they most liked to play with. Also, individual sociometric interviews were done on the subjects after they had spent 3 months in the program with the purpose of rating their interactions.
The study utilized the Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) and descriptive statistics to generate findings. When the ‘play behavior’ variable was analyzed, it was found that, “…children classified as popular were more likely than those classified as rejected or neglected to engage in cooperative play and less likely…to engage in parallel play, onlooker behavior or alone-directed behavior” (Walker, 2009, p. 348). On the contrary, rejected or neglected children neither socialized with their peers nor engaged in any form of play.
In affect, popular children were more likely to show positive affect than rejected or neglected preschoolers. Indeed, according to the findings, rejected and neglected children were more comfortable displaying neutral affect. In verbal communication, popular children engaged in considerably more outgoing and connected conversation than rejected and neglected children, and were more likely to succeed in conversational initiations and responses. Popular children also excelled in stability of social status at the expense of rejected and neglected children.
As such, many of the findings for the stated objectives and variables were largely consistent with the researcher’s expectations. The findings of this study therefore supported preceding studies which revealed that introverted and immature play patterns among preschool-aged children are hallmarks of rejected children, while high levels of play are hallmarks of popular children.
This notwithstanding, more research needs to be undertaken to evaluate factors outside the preschool environment that may affect the quality of children’s peer relationships. Also, the relationship between play behavior on one hand and social acceptance on the other needs further investigation.
Blume, L.B., & Zember, M.J. (2010). Peer Relations in Middle Childhood. Retrieved March 30 201 http://www.education.com/reference/article/peer-relations-middle-childhood/
Walker, S. (2009). Sociometric stability and the behavioral correlates of peer acceptance in early childhood. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, Vol. 170, Issue 4, p. 339-358