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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development 7 Making Friends and Getting Along with Peers Establishing relationships with other children is one of the major developmental tasks of early childhood (see Rubin et al., 1998, for an excellent review). How well children fare at this task appears to matter. It matters to the children themselves, creating a context in which they evaluate their self-worth, competence, and view of the world as pleasant or hostile (Harter, 1982; Ladd and Price, 1986). It matters to their future, as the patterns of peer interaction in early childhood increasingly predict whether children will walk pathways to competence or deviance in the tasks of middle childhood and adolescence (Barclay, 1966; Kupersmidt and Coie, 1990; Ollendick et al., 1992). And it matters to the other children a child comes into contact with, as the experience of children in peer groups depends in good measure on the nature of the other children with whom they interact (Wright et al., 1986). Yet playing nicely, making friends, and being a good friend are not all that easy for young children. These tasks confront them with increasing demands on their developing cognitive and emotional capacities (Howes and Matheson, 1992). Developmental psychologists use a variety of techniques to understand the landscape of early peer relations. Teachers and parents have often been used as informants. However, their ratings correlate only modestly (Achenbach et al., 1987). Teacher and parent ratings reflect how adults, not children, think about what it means to be competent, nice, or fun to play with (Rubin et al., 1998). Direct observation helps get beyond problems of adult interpretation, and it has been a staple of research on early peer relations. Several observational instruments have been used fairly
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development widely, and these include measures of the type (e.g., solitary, parallel, coordinated) and complexity (e.g., exploring things, constructing things, pretending things) of play (see Ladd and Price, 1993, for a review), as well as assessments of how well children appear to be getting along (e.g., prosocial exchanges, aggressive exchanges, withdrawn behavior) and the emotions they are expressing (e.g., positive, angry, sad). Observational measures are not appropriate, however, for the study of enduring relationships since they capture only brief episodes of interaction. Researchers have also asked groups of children whom they like and dislike, which can be done effectively with children as young as age 3 (Coie and Dodge, 1983; Newcomb and Bukowski, 1983). Children are classified as popular (many “like” and few “dislike” nominations from their peers), rejected (many dislike and few like nominations), neglected (few of either kind of nominations), controversial (many of both kinds of nominations), or average. These classifications and the continuous measurement of liking and disliking can be used to explore the emotional, behavioral, and cognitive competencies that influence peer acceptance. These ratings may not generalize, however, beyond the group tested. For example, a child who isn't popular at preschool may be popular in her neighborhood. Unfortunately, we know little about how variation in acceptance across different peer groups affects children. Peer status is not written in stone, even when assessments are focused on a child's standing in the same group over time. Among preschool children, the number of liking and disliking nominations a child receives at one time accounts for only about 25 percent of the variation in the number of nominations she receives even a short time (3 weeks) later (Olson and Lifren, 1988). Classifications based on such measures are also only modestly stable, with popular, rejected, and average classifications typically being more stable than controversial and neglected classifications (Newcomb and Bukowski, 1984). These methods are also probably culturally bound. Making decisions about who you like and don't like may make sense to children in cultures in which common topics are deciding who does and doesn't get to come to one 's birthday party, who does and doesn't get invited over to play, and who can and cannot be “my friend today.” For children from cultures that encourage them to like all the children in a group, however, asking such questions may make little sense. Despite these limitations, these so-called sociometric measures have yielded important findings. This is especially true with regard to children who end up in the rejected classification. Most of the work on peer rejection comes from studies of school-age children, so extrapolation from these studies must be done with caution when considering younger children. By the early school years, peer rejection is clearly a risk factor. Rejected children are overrepresented among adults with psychiatric problems (Cowen et al., 1973), among children who do poorly at school (Coie et al.,
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development 1992; Ollendick et al., 1992; Wentzel and Asher, 1995), and among those who come into contact with the law (Kupersmidt and Coie, 1990). Whether it is the rejection that causes the later problems or the behaviors that get the child rejected that cause these problems is difficult to disentangle. Both are likely to be true. Importantly, however, not all, nor even most, children who are rejected by other children at some time in their childhood have difficulties of this sort (Parker et al., 1995). In addition, rejected children are not all cut from the same cloth. At least two bases for rejection appear to be important by middle childhood (Cillessen et al., 1992; French, 1988). Some children are rejected because they are mean and aggressive, others because they are shy and withdrawn. The trajectories for these two kinds of rejected children differ. The most is known about rejected aggressive children, who appear to be at risk for all types of externalizing behavioral and emotional problems. Less is known about rejected withdrawn children, although they may be at greater risk for psychiatric problems of the internalizing type (i.e., anxiety, depression) (Hymel et al., 1990; Rubin and Mills, 1988). Efforts to improve the quality of peer relations have focused largely on school-age children, with few exceptions (Webster-Stratton, 1990). Yet problematic patterns of social interaction can be discerned well before school entry. To facilitate efforts to design appropriate interventions for young children, it is important to understand how their interactions and play with one another change over the early years of life, and why some children negotiate this changing landscape more easily than others. PLAY AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF PEER RELATIONS Views about the development of peer relations have changed over the past half-century or so (Rubin et al., 1998). A report based on what was known in the 1950s would begin by stating that babies really aren't interested in one another, and when they do interact, they treat each other more like objects than like people. It would state that from 24 months onward, while children could have playmates, the development of friendships is beyond their capabilities. Thousands of hours of observation have modified these views, leading to a much richer appreciation of the interest, capacity, and skills young children bring to their relations with other children, including their friends. Observations have also led to a richer appreciation of the challenges that face children when they try to join into and sustain play with other children of similar age. This increased awareness of the landscape of early peer relations has developed over a period in U.S. society when the amount of time children spend with other unrelated children has increased significantly. For example, as recently as the 1980s, researchers estimated that
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development only 10 percent of a 2-year-old's interactions involved peers. Today, given that approximately 40 percent of children under age 3 are in part- or full-time child care with other children, this is probably an underestimate (Capizzano et al., 2000; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1996). The increasing salience of the peer group must also be placed in the context of the large decrease in family size that has characterized recent decades. In 1965, the average family in the United States had 2.44 children under 18. By 1998, the average family had 1.85 children—a 25 percent decline (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). Young children today are thus more likely to grow up as “onlies” or with only one sibling. Siblings provide daily opportunities for children to practice social interaction (although not necessarily positive interaction—see Buhrmester, 1992; Dunn and Kendrick, 1982), can play a protective role for each other under highly stressful circumstances (Anderson et al., 1999), can be an important source of child care (see Chapter 11), and, in general, are an important influence on children's emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development (Dunn, J., 1993; Dunn and Kendrick, 1982). We don't really know whether and to what extent unrelated peers fulfill some of these functions for young children with few or no siblings. Babies are interested in one another from at least as early as 2 months of age. Young infants get excited by the sight of other infants and, when given the opportunity, they will stare avidly at one another (Eckerman, 1979). By 6 to 9 months, babies seem to try to get the attention of other babies. By this age, they will smile and babble at other babies, sometimes initiating and sometimes returning social bids (Hay et al., 1982; Vandell et al., 1980). By 9 to 12 months, babies begin to imitate each other, and this imitation seems to serve as the coin of the infant realm of play (“see, I know what you are doing, let's do it together”) (Mueller and Silverman, 1989). From ages 1 to 2 years, there are tremendous strides in what children can do with one another. Bouts of interaction get longer and more complex (“see, I know you are doing what I am doing, so I'll do it again—now you do it.”). Bouts of reciprocal imitation indicate that toddlers are aware, at least on some level, of the intent of others consistent with their emerging theory of mind (DiLalla and Watson, 1988). Reciprocity (“you do it, I do it, you do it”) reveals their developing turn-taking abilities. These very simple abilities to share meaning, be aware of another's intent, and take on reciprocal roles probably lay the groundwork for coordinated play (Howes, 1992). In establishing these early play routines, language certainly helps. Indeed, throughout the preschool years, children who speak more clearly and communicate their ideas better have an easier time getting and keeping play going (Mueller, 1972). For toddlers, social play is hard, and play bouts are fragile experiences.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development A brief distraction, someone bumbling into your play area, a few miscues, and the pattern is broken. For these reasons and others, how well adults structure play environments for toddlers makes a difference in how much and how well they can play together (Howes and Unger, 1989). Cognitive development also facilitates the growth of early peer skills. Interactional skill depends, for example, on the child's capacity to distinguish her actions from events and actions in the world and to plan and execute sequences of behavior, both of which develop rapidly during the second and third years of life as major strides are made in peer relations (Brownell, 1988; Brownell and Carriger, 1990). Importantly, toddlers seem to find it easier to play with the children they play with often (Howes, 1996). Experience playing together seems to expand what two toddlers can do together, perhaps explaining why they show their most mature play when playing with someone they know well. Just putting two toddlers together on a regular basis does not ensure that play will happen. They find it easier to play with others who are emotionally and cognitively compatible and who share their play preferences (Rubin et al., 1994). The importance of familiarity and compatibility to toddler play suggests that some form of at least rudimentary friendship may be as critical to toddlers as it is to older children. Toddlers are readily capable of establishing relationships (not just encounters) with age mates (Rubin et al., 1998). They are more likely to initiate play, direct positive affect to, and engage in complex interactions with familiar than with unfamiliar playmates (Howes, 1988a). Beyond mere familiarity, they develop reciprocal relationships in which positive interactions beget other positive interactions in a manner that distinguishes specific pairs of children and not others (Ross et al., 1992). Toddler friendships are not ephemeral. When asked, many parents of 4-year-olds say that their child is currently friends with children he met as a toddler. Although these early friendships are unlikely to carry the same emotional significance as do later friendships, they provide children with their earliest lessons about how to establish and maintain relationships. Toddler play and friendships, of course, are not all sunshine and light. Conflict happens. Indeed, conflict and aggression initially increase as children try to play together, peaking between years 2 and 3 before they decline (Brown and Brownell, 1990; Hay and Ross, 1982). It may come as some relief to parents that in the toddler and early preschool period, moderately aggressive children are often the most socially outgoing; they are the children who try more to play with other children (Brown and Brownell, 1990). Furthermore, while aggression seems to be a correlate of peer rejection beginning as early as it has been studied, this does not mean that children who are completely nonaggressive are well liked. In fact, observa-
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development tions of withdrawn, submissive children show that peers rebuff them more than they do socially outgoing children (Rubin, 1985). Both cognitive and social theories of peer relations argue that conflict (at least a certain amount of it) is often benign and may play a positive role in children's development (Azmitia, 1988; Hartup, 1996; Piaget, 1932; Roy and Howe, 1990; Vygotsky, 1978). Conflict, arguments, and outright physical aggression disrupt the flow of play, indicate that something is wrong, and challenge children to figure out what needs to happen to get play back on track. When conflict happens, younger children, like older children and adults, can walk away, slug it out, give in, argue and negotiate, or appeal to higher powers. Researchers who have observed what toddlers and preschool children actually do during conflicts find that most often play dissolves, either because the children stop trying to be together or an adult intervenes (Hartup et al., 1988). However, when conflict happens among friends, the rules seem to change. Friends are more likely to try to stick it out, negotiate, compromise, and continue to play (Hartup and Laursen, 1993). Friendship, as distinct from familiarity, is again seen to support competent social behavior. However, conflict of the “beat ‘em up, drag ‘em down” variety is not good for anyone involved, and a young child who engages frequently in highly aggressive peer interactions warrants concern. As children move into the preschool years, their social skills expand dramatically. Play among preschoolers increasingly involves pretense, and pretense increasingly includes playing with things that don' t depend on the props available (Howes, 1992). By age 5, most children can quickly set up elaborate pretend play, making almost anything stand for almost anything else (Göncü, 1993). The number of children who can be included in play at one time also expands. At age 2 and 3, working out play themes with just one other child is challenging. Indeed, as noted by one savvy 3-year-old, “Hunter, me, Juliet (pointing to each). That's three. I can't do three.” By age 5, children can often do three and more at a time, keeping track of what roles all are playing, how their roles fit the overall theme, and negotiating conflicts to decide together what is and isn't supposed to happen next (Garvey, 1990). Certainly children's developing cognitive and language abilities play a role in the increasing complexity of play, as does their developing ability to regulate their emotions. However, experience with peers may also be important. It seems unlikely that a 5-year-old who has not spent time with age mates would fare well, at least initially, if suddenly dropped into a room full of other 5-year-olds. In line with this reasoning, greater experience in adult-supervised play groups is associated with more frequent and more complex peer interactions among toddlers (Holmberg, 1980; Howes, 1988a; Mueller and Brenner, 1977).
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development As distinct from play groups, however, efforts to examine the role of early child care experience in young children's social competence has produced contradictory findings (see Chapter 11 for a fuller discussion). On one hand, preschool children with prior experience with peers in child care have been found to be more involved, positive, and cooperative with peers than preschoolers without such experience (Harper and Huie, 1985; Lamb et al., 1988; Volling and Feagans, 1995) and to engage in more complex forms of play (Rubenstein and Howes, 1983). This is especially the case when children remain with the same group of peers over time (Galluzzo et al., 1990). Indeed, toddlers who establish friendships in child care tend to remain friends right up to school entry, even when the two youngsters are of the opposite sex (Howes, 1983, 1988a; Howes and Phillipsen, 1992). On the other hand, extensive child care in the first two years of life has been associated with lower social competence and heightened aggression in preschool and beyond (Bates et al., 1994; Haskins, 1985; Schwartz et al., 1974; Vandell and Corasaniti, 1990). The clue to these contradictory findings seems to lie in the quality of care that is provided and, in particular, in the sensitivity of the relationships that caregivers establish with their young charges. Higher-quality child care is generally related to more competent peer relationships during early childhood and into the school years (Holloway and Reichart-Erickson, 1989; Howes, 1990; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, submitted; Phillips et al., 1987a). This is consistent with evidence that infants ' attachments to their caregivers are important correlates of emerging peer relations (Goossens and van IJzendoorn, 1990; Oppenheim et al., 1988). HOW DO ADULTS HELP? Arguably, the more that is learned about the complexity of the peer landscape in early childhood, the less surprising it is that some children have problems with it, and the more amazing it is that so many children do so well. What helps them? Researchers have paid the most attention to what parents, especially mothers, do to help their children negotiate the early peer environment and to how the child's own personality or temperament helps or hinders them. Secure attachment relationships with parents (see Chapter 9) certainly seem to help. Secure attachment in infancy is associated with social competence for toddlers (Pastor, 1981) and preschoolers (Booth et al., 1991; Erickson et al., 1985). Secure attachment relationships in infancy also predict greater popularity with peers during the preschool years (LaFreniere and Sroufe, 1985) and more harmonious, supportive friendships with other preschool children (Park and Waters, 1989). Insecure attachment, in contrast, seems to limit children 's social competence, yet the problems of insecurely attached children are not all
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development alike. Infants who avoid contact with their parents in the moderately stressful circumstances in which attachment is assessed later tend to be more hostile, angry, and aggressive with other children in preschool settings that do their secure counterparts (LaFreniere and Sroufe, 1985; Troy and Sroufe, 1987). Infants who display more ambivalent attachments, appearing to be both preoccupied and angry with their mother, tend to develop into whiny, easily frustrated, and easily rebuffed toddlers and preschoolers (Erickson et al., 1985; Fox and Calkins, 1993). Presumably, these associations between the security of attachment and behaviors with peers reflect the ways that young children's experiences in their primary attachment relationships affect the ideas they develop about themselves and others (i.e., so-called inner working models of relationships), the skills they bring with them to the peer group, and their emotional state. Angry children who feel unloved and unlovable, not surprisingly, make poor playmates, as do whiny, easily frustrated children. Unfortunately, although a number of interventions have been designed to improve the mother-infant attachment relationship in high-risk samples, few studies have examined effects on children 's peer relationships (see Stams et al., in press, for an exception in which an isolated effect was found for 7-year-old girls' peer competence). Thus, while these correlations abound and they are consistent with theories about the ways that parent-infant attachment should affect how children get along with other children, it cannot yet be proved that they are causal. Beyond attachment security, parents do many other things that support or impede their children's relations with other children. Parents of socially competent toddlers and preschoolers believe that helping their children learn to play well is part of their role as parents (Goodnow et al., 1985). In the context of the United States, this translates into arranging chances for their children to play with others and socializing their children in competent play behavior (Rubin et al., 1989). In other parts of the world, this translates into honing the child's observational skills (Briggs, 1991; Ellis and Gauvain, 1992; Ochs, 1988). Interestingly, parents of socially adroit children attribute their children's social gaffes to transitory, fixable factors (e.g., she's tired, we let them play too long, the group is too large) (Goodnow et al., 1985). In contrast, parents of socially maladroit children see social competence or its lack as more inherent (i.e., aggressive children are born that way), devalue the importance of social skills, and argue that teaching social skills is the job of the schools or others with formal training in teaching such skills (Rubin et al., 1989). Of course, parents of socially incompetent children may form beliefs in response to their history with that child, their failures in previous attempts to improve the child's social behavior, and their feelings of embarrassment (Bugenthal, 1992). This, in turn, may lead parents to respond punitively,
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development setting up circular patterns of hostility that can feed children's aggressive and angry behavior (Hart et al., 1992; Rubin and Mills, 1990). Indeed, highly aggressive, poorly regulated behavior with peers has repeatedly been found to correlate with parental rejection, the use of power-assertive and inconsistent discipline, permissiveness, indulgence, and a lack of supervision, at least in the Westernized cultures that have been studied (see Rubin et al., 1995a for a review). Parents of popular children, in contrast, are more feelings-oriented, warmer, and more likely to use reasoning and explanations to encourage compliance (Hart et al., 1990; MacDonald and Parke, 1984; Putallaz, 1987). Less well understood are parental reactions to shyness and social wariness, although, among preschoolers, there is interest in parents who are both overcontrolling and overprotective (East, 1991; Hart et al., 1992; LaFreniere and Dumas, 1992). Parents also influence the development of their children's social behavior through direct interventions in their lives. They provide opportunities for peer interactions, monitor their children 's encounters with peers, coach their children to deal competently with peers, and sanction unacceptable peer-related behaviors (see Bhavnagri and Parke, 1991; Ladd et al., 1992; Pettit and Mize, 1993). In one study, for example, mothers who were moderately involved in arranging and monitoring the peer contacts of their preschool sons fostered their son's growing popularity with peers over time, in contrast to mothers who were either over- or underinvolved (Ladd and Hart, 1992). The intriguing possibility that training parents in these peer monitoring and coaching skills could be an effective intervention for young children who appear to be getting off to a poor start in peer relations is suggested by Webster-Stratton's work. In a small-scale intervention that was subjected to a randomized trial, she effectively trained parents of preschoolers who were displaying serious conduct problems to modify their children's behavior (Webster-Stratton, 1990; Webster-Stratton et al., 1989). Persistent effects on the children 's social behavior were found at a one-year follow-up assessment and, three years after the intervention, parents who participated in the intervention continued to report more favorable perceptions of their children's behavior, particularly if they were in a variation of the intervention that was staffed by a professionally trained therapist. THE CONTRIBUTION OF TEMPERAMENT So fixing the parent will fix the child? Perhaps. But that ignores the possibility that some parents and some children face greater challenges in getting to the point at which the child can easily get along with other children. Only recently have researchers begun to examine how a child's temperament influences peer relations and friendships. Most of the attention has been paid to the small group of extremely anxious, inhibited
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development children—discussed earlier in relation to regulatory capacities—who do find it a real struggle to feel comfortable with other children (Fox et al., in press; Kagan et al., 1987). When children characterized by this temperamental pattern are followed into the preschool and early elementary years, a sizable share remain cautious and vigilant during interactions with peers, which appears to be part of an overall tendency to display wariness and fear when presented with unpredictable and unfamiliar situations (Kagan et al., 1987). Because these children 's inhibition tends to be elicited more by social encounters than by novel and unfamiliar objects as they get older, the term “social reticence” has been coined to describe their behavior (Fox et al., 1996; Rubin et al., 1995b). Their reticence tends to be accompanied by signs of anxiety and, as we described with regard to regulatory capacities, by patterns of brain activity that suggest a tendency to react to mild stress with negative affect, such as sadness and anger. Many initially inhibited children, however, do not remain so (Fox et al., in press). Specifically, about one in four infants who display highly negative responses to novel stimuli early in the first year continue to show highly inhibited behavior as preschoolers. This raises the question of what accounts for the divergent pathways of children who display consistent versus declining inhibition as they move through the preschool years. As toddlers, before their social behavior diverged, the continuously inhibited children were more likely to display the unique pattern of brain activity described above and to be described as socially fearful by their mothers compared with the children who went on to become less shy and more sociable. It is not known if the differing maternal perceptions of the children reflected earlier changes in behavior seen at home and on the playground (but not in the research laboratory), or if they contributed in some way to the direction of change in the children's behavior over time. There is some evidence that when parents overprotect these children, they seem to learn to lean on adults in ways that can sustain their inhibited behavior and interfere with their acceptance by other children (Arcus et al., 1992; Park et al., 1997). However, many shy children do quite well when they have plenty of time to develop relationships (Asendorpf, 1989). They may not be social butterflies, but they can develop close, often supportive relationships with other children. Recently, rambunctious and highly active children who relish new and slightly scary things have received attention from researchers (Rubin et al., 1995b). These children have characteristics that are valued in the majority culture, especially among boys. Such children can be identified as early as 4 months of age by their happy, exuberant reactions to novel stimulation. Perhaps because this behavior is valued, about half of them tend to remain exuberant throughout infancy and the preschool years (Fox et al., in press).
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development Although exuberant, these children are not hard to manage, nor are they rated as having behavior problems of either the internalizing or externalizing variety. Children on the far extremes of this temperament dimension, however, face additional challenges in getting along with other children. Their exuberance, while sometimes attractive to other children, can also be overwhelming. Not surprisingly, teachers sometimes note that these children are slightly more aggressive than other children in the early preschool years, perhaps because they are usually smack in the middle of whatever is going on socially (Gunnar et al., 1997). Children who approach other children readily and seem to have little anxiety about new or novel experiences are more likely to score higher on externalizing or “acting out” kinds of behavior problems, but only if they also have trouble with self-control (Rubin et al., 1995b). Thus, although exuberance is sometimes valuable in children, highly exuberant children may create challenges for themselves and for others. The real issue may not be whether children are shy and anxious or overwhelmingly outgoing, but how they learn to regulate how they express who they are. Temperament may play a role here as well. It has proven useful in research to distinguish among three dimensions of temperament during the preschool years (Rothbart and Bates, 1998). One is the dimension of shy to extroverted, just discussed. Another includes how readily children show negative emotions (e.g., fearful, anxious, sad). The third, which becomes increasingly obvious from about 18 months onward, is how well the child can sustain focused attention and inhibit certain actions. We discussed this dimension of self-regulation, which is often called “inhibitory” or “effortful control,” earlier in the context of how temperament affects the young child's emerging capacity for emotion regulation (see Chapter 5). At least within the range that is typically seen among children, this dimension of temperament supports children in their attempts to play nicely and make friends (Fabes et al., 1999). Furthermore, this dimension seems to temper and even reverse the influence of other aspects of the child's temperament. Exuberant children who can control and modulate expression of their exuberance seem to be valued as playmates; indeed, they can be a lot of fun (Rubin et al., 1995b). Those who cannot receive mixed reviews from playmates. Children who tend to feel things more intensely than others, especially angry, sad, or fearful emotions, but who can control them don't have many problems with other children, while those who cannot control those emotions end up doing things that get them disliked and rejected (Fabes et al., 1999).
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development IMPACT OF DISABILITY ON PEER INTERACTIONS Children with developmental disabilities are often the least preferred play partners of typically developing children. This is reflected both on sociometric measures and in direct observations of children 's interaction patterns. Although outright rejection of children with disabilities is uncommon, a pattern of exclusion is most evident (Guralnick, 1999). While they may not be so disliked that they fall into the rejected category, they do consistently score as less preferred (fewer “liked” and more “disliked” nominations) on sociometric measures. Even children with only mild delays tend to participate less in sustained play in preschool classes, spend more time alone or off to the side when other children are playing, express more sadness and negativity when playing (or not being allowed to play) with other children, get angry more, and use less effective strategies when conflicts arise. Children with language delays have more trouble communicating with other children, and this impedes their ability to participate in the flow of activities with other children in preschool classrooms (Craig and Washington, 1993; Gertner et al., 1994; Guralnick et al., 1996; Hadley and Schuele, 1998). Children born with very low birthweight also have difficulties with social skills and are disproportionately rated as exhibiting both internalizing (depressive-anxious) and externalizing (hyperactive-aggressive) behaviors independent of IQ and social class (Breslau et al., 1988). For children with obvious disabilities, such as those with sensory or physical impairments, exclusion may be partly a consequence of negative attitudes toward people with disabilities and the absence of a framework for interpreting developmental differences (Stoneman, 1993). For the most part, however, even for the large group of young children with mild developmental delays, it appears that the pattern of exclusion relates to their unusual difficulties related to peer-related social competence—problems that go beyond those expected based on their developmental levels. In particular, children with disabilities have special difficulty mastering the social tasks of gaining entry into peer groups, maintaining play, and resolving conflicts. Friendship formation is similarly affected and the overall pattern of social interaction with peers is highly fragile. As a consequence, social isolation and negativity follow. Given what is now understood about how complex and challenging social exchanges can be for any young child, the fact that children with disabilities get off track is hardly surprising. What is surprising, however, is the unusual nature of these problems and their magnitude. An array of social-cognitive and emotional regulation processes are implicated in these children's diminished ability to support the generation of appropriate and effective social strategies. Concerns about these processes can be partly traced to intrinsic child characteristics such as those related to attention,
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development working memory, and temperament. External factors also contribute to peer competence problems among children with disabilities and include more limited peer social networks and parent-child interactions stressed by a variety of factors (Guralnick and Neville, 1997). Knowing what to do to support these children's social skills is highly challenging and undoubtedly requires knowing more about where and how children with different types of developmental challenges need help. For typically developing children who appear to need more help, targeted interventions focused on training social-cognitive skills have had some modest success (Mize and Ladd, 1990). Likewise, with typically developing children, efforts to improve peer social competence by making changes in parent-child interactions have also shown some success (LaFreniere and Capuano, 1997). For young children with disabilities, however, programs to improve social skills, while showing some promise, often fail to produce substantive or sustained gains or improvements that generalize beyond the therapeutic setting. Changes in the ecology of early childhood programs to remove physical or structural barriers to social interaction, to select toys and materials that encourage social exchanges, and to design activities that enhance the social focus of a program have been valuable for children with disabilities, as have structured programs directed by teachers, even those enlisting the assistance of more socially skillful peers (Chandler et al., 1992; Grubbs and Niemeyer, 1999). But as noted, despite the many creative approaches, the absence of sustained and generalizable effects remains a significant issue. More comprehensive, developmentally oriented, and intensive approaches, involving both a family and community intervention component in conjunction with more child-focused interventions, may be needed. As we acknowledged with respect to young children who display problems with self-regulation, children who may look like they are headed for long-term problems often are not. This should make us cautious about rushing in to fix children who may not be broken. We do not know if this is as true for children who are developmentally delayed or have other disabilities as it is for their typically developing peers. Finding settings in which children play competently with others, monitoring play to avert disasters, coaching children in what works, attributing their failures to situations and not to flaws in the children themselves, and searching for creative solutions that build on what they can do well seem to build social competence for most children. Good child care and preschool programs do these things, effectively providing universal interventions for all children who attend them. Some children, however, may need more.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development EARLY CONDUCT PROBLEMS Interest in understanding and addressing serious behavior problems in young children has increased substantially in light of growing evidence that recidivist offending in adolescence and adulthood, as well as persistent patterns of aggression and peer rejection during the early and middle school years, have their roots in disruptive behavior that can be detected as early as age 3 (Campbell et al., 1986a; Olson and Hoza, 1993; Rutter et al., 1998). Some scientists who study this issue point to evidence that antisocial behavior with a very early age of onset, compared with antisocial behavior that arises in the adolescent years, is more likely to persist into adolescence and adulthood (Caspi and Moffitt, 1995; Maughan and Rutter, 1998; Moffitt, 1997). For boys, early-onset conduct problems are moderately predictive of such adolescent outcomes as drug abuse, depression, juvenile delinquency, and school dropout (Campbell, 1991; Campbell et al., 1986b; Egeland et al., 1990; Rose et al., 1989; Wadsworth, 1976; White et al., 1990). The evidence on early-onset delinquency is, however, a matter of active debate within the field (see Loeber and Hay, 1997). Deciding when to worry and who to worry about is not a simple matter. It is much easier to look back and say “he was always getting in trouble” or “he's always been a loner” than to predict the future trajectories of children who always seem to be getting in trouble. It is uncertain whether serious and enduring conduct problems can be predicted during the preschool years, and with what reliability. As soon as children begin to interact with one another, they begin to dislike children who hurt them. But we don't know whether or when the factors that get very young children in trouble with their peers begin to constrain the pathways they walk on the way to adulthood. What is fairly clear is that beginning in the preschool years, the social reasoning of rejected children, the skill or lack of it they display in social interaction, their ability to control their behaviors and emotional outbursts, and the nature of their interactions and relationships with adults (in particular parents) do differ from their peers in ways that are similar to differences noted for older children (Rubin et al., 1998). Thus, even if prediction from the preschool years may be tenuous, rejected-aggressive children seem to have a toehold on the pathway to later problems. Furthermore, although rejected-aggressive children are just as likely as popular children to tell researchers that they are competent, they view others as mean, unkind, and hostile (Crick and Dodge, 1994; Dodge and Frame, 1982). This may explain why, in a recent study (Megan Gunnar, University of Minnesota, unpublished data), all of the rejected-aggressive 3-to 5-year-olds who were examined had stress hormone levels in the top third of those shown by children in the classroom. On many days the
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development hormone levels of these children spiked to a stress range. Thus, even if one can't predict that they will go on to experience problems later, rejected children appear to be struggling in the here-and-now. Thus, a focus on serious conduct and interpersonal problems in the years prior to school entry is warranted for reasons of understanding developmental pathways but, more importantly, for the prevention opportunities that it may identify. Nevertheless, because most young children who display serious behavior problems do not turn into deviant school children or adult criminals, concerns about overlabeling young children and perhaps creating self-fulfilling prophecies are also well warranted. Indeed, one of the major challenges facing those who study these issues is to distinguish the conditions that contribute to the emergence of early conduct problems from the conditions under which they persist. The numbers of young children involved are far from trivial. Various studies have reported rates of serious conduct problems ranging from 5 to 10 percent of school-age children (Kaiser and Hester, 1997), with perhaps even higher rates among preschool children (Offord et al., 1986, 1987). These difficulties are strongly associated with early academic competencies (Arnold, 1997; Hinshaw, 1992; Morrison et al., 1989). Children with conduct problems and problems with hyperactivity do poorly in school, and poor academic performance, in turn, appears to exacerbate these problems. These reciprocal relationships can be seen in children as young as 3 and 4 years of age (Arnold, 1997). Children who display disruptive behavior in preschool have been found to pay less attention to academic tasks, which, in turn, undermines learning. Sometimes teachers contribute to the problem by calling on children with conduct problems less often, asking fewer questions of them, providing less information to them, and thus providing them with fewer learning opportunities. More is known at this point about the factors that are associated with the early emergence of these problems than about the factors that promote or prevent their persistence, although the peer group seems to play an important role in older children (Rowe et al., 1994; Rutter et al., in press; Thornberry and Krohn, 1997). This is a complex story that illustrates the extent to which individual differences among children interact with their early environments in and out of the home to produce adaptive or maladaptive behavior patterns. It is quite clear that young children who have failed to master the early regulatory tasks of learning to manage interpersonal conflict and modulate aggressive and disruptive impulses are more likely than their self-regulated peers to display early conduct problems. Rejection by peers is likely to be both a cause and an effect of conduct problems. Children with serious behavior problems have a higher probability than other children of coming from families in which there is a family history of psychiatric illness, such as depression and bipolar disorders, adult criminal-
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development ity, and substance abuse, suggesting a genetic component (Rutter et al., in press; Webster-Stratton, 1990). These children also appear to process information from social encounters in ways that are less common among children without behavior problems. Specifically, when they are presented with possible scenarios in the form of hypothetical stories followed by a series of questions, children with conduct problems tend to overattribute hostile intent to other children, more readily provide aggressive rather than socially competent responses to “What would you do?” queries, and place a high value on gaining dominance over peers as a desirable outcome (Dodge et al., 1986, 1990; Sancilio et al., 1989; Slaby and Guerra, 1988). Finally, early-onset conduct disorders combined with early signs of hyper-activity may be especially problematic (Hinshaw and Anderson, 1996; Hinshaw et al., 1993). The settings and social interactions of children with serious behavior problems, which they undoubtedly contribute to eliciting, appear to play an instrumental role in turning their difficult and disruptive behavior into more serious problems. In other words, characteristics that make a child susceptible to conduct disorders become highly problematic in interactions with adults and peers that amplify these characteristics and, in turn, are exacerbated by the negative exchanges that ensue. Family factors matter as well: exposure to physical abuse is a strong predictor of early behavior problems (Dodge et al., 1990), as are other forms of family conflict and coercion seen under conditions of marital discord, spousal violence, and extremely hostile and inconsistent parenting (Campbell and Ewing, 1990; Campbell et al., 1986a; Cummings and Davies, 1994a; Egeland et al., 1990; Richman et al., 1982; Shaw et al., 1996). Extreme forms of disengagement and very lax monitoring also predict conduct problems (Coie et al., 1992, 1995; Hawkins et al., 1992; Dishion and McMahon, 1998). If, in addition to these other factors, a child is growing up in poverty (Sameroff et al., 1987) or in a crime-ridden neighborhood (Rutter, 1981a), the likelihood that he will engage in highly aggressive and disruptive behavior as a preschooler is amplified. Any of these factors in isolation from the others is unlikely to contribute to either the initial appearance or the persistence of these behaviors. Rather, it is the number of so-called risk factors operating in concert with each other that produces behavior problems and probably plays a critical role in their stability. The question, then, is not which of the individual and genetic variables (family, peer, and community factors) are the most important influences, but rather how these factors interact and either amplify or dampen each other. As stated by Rutter, “How is the child who is born with a tendency to be rather overactive, oppositional, and impulsive subsequently trained by the world to behave well or, alternatively, coerced into behaving badly?” (Rutter et al., 1998, pg. 379).
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development What can be done? Fortunately, some promising inroads have been made toward helping these children. Interventions with children in the early elementary grades have been very effective in reducing children 's negative social attributions and aggressive interactions with peers (see Asher, 1985; Asher et al., 1996; Bond and Compas, 1989; Eisenstadt et al., 1993; Forehand et al., 1982; Kazdin, 1993; Olweus, 1991, 1993). Work with preschoolers, such as that of Webster-Stratton and others (Kaiser and Hester, 1997; Odom et al., 1994), which is generally focused on parenting but is increasingly moving into child care environments, is also emerging (see Box 7-1) and should be a high priority for future intervention research. Interventions that focus on multiple early environments and multiple peer groups may be more promising than those that are directed at only one setting. Moreover, different manifestations of antisocial behavior in the early years (e.g., isolated conduct disorder, conduct disorder accompanied by hyperactivity) may require different approaches. Growing recognition that young children can engage in relatively sophisticated thinking about BOX 7-1 Mental Health Research Initiative Within Head Start In 1997, the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) created a research consortium on the prevention, identification, and treatment of children 's mental health disorders in a Head Start context. The initial five studies are exploring: The validity of an early screening project for a diverse group of families, including African-American, European-, Hispanic-, and Native Americans. The efficacy and the effectiveness of an intervention designed to both prevent and address severe behavior problems in preschool children. The effectiveness of an early detection and prevention intervention designed to improve the mental health of Head Start children and their families. The frequency, in Head Start 3-year-olds, of behavioral and communication problems that place these children at risk of developing conduct disorders, and the effectiveness of an intervention designed to improve children's social and communication skills. How external influences, such as type of neighborhood, exposure to violence, and child care and family characteristics, affect the emotional health of children. SOURCE: ACYF/NIMH Collaborative Mental Health Research Initiative(2000).
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development others' emotional states and intentions (see the discussion of theory of mind in the previous chapter) suggests that interventions that help children make constructive attributions about others' behavior may also be beneficial in the early years. In addition to efforts focused on the reduction of conduct disorders, parallel efforts are needed to create early childhood environments that foster caring, emotionally responsive interactions among all children (see Asher et al., 2000). SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS Establishing relationships with other children is a central task of the early childhood years. The success with which young children accomplish this objective can affect whether they will walk pathways to competence or deviance as they move into the middle childhood and adolescent years. Learning to play nicely, make friends, and sustain friendships are not easy tasks, and children who do them well tend to have well-structured experiences with peer interactions starting in toddlerhood and preschool, and, in particular, opportunities to play with familiar and compatible peers. They are also more likely to have secure relationships with their parents who, in turn, believe they have an instrumental role to play in fostering their children 's social relationships, deliberately creating opportunities for peer interactions, encouraging keen observational skills, and coaching their young children in constructive attitudes and skills. Temperament also plays a role. For example, shy children, compared with those who are rambunctious and highly active, tend to have different patterns of relationships with other children. As American culture becomes ever more diverse, a higher priority needs to be granted to research on cultural issues in peer acceptance, rejection, and friendship and their effects on the social development of young children who are increasingly experiencing culturally diverse groups of peers in their child care and early education settings. Finally, it is vitally important to recognize that children with developmental disabilities face major hurdles with peer relations. They tend to be excluded from peer activities by typically developing children and to lack friends. Moreover, their more limited peer networks and often stressed parents can contribute unwittingly to their poor peer relations. These children warrant much greater attention in both research and intervention in the area of peer relationships. Peer rejection is a risk factor for an array of subsequent problems ranging from conduct disorders to depression. Beginning in the preschool years, the social reasoning of rejected children, their lack of skill in social interactions, and their difficulty with controlling emotional outbursts set them apart from other children. Yet there is a serious dilemma. On one hand, the fact that early signs of serious adolescent and adult behavioral
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development problems and criminality can be traced back to the preschool years provides a tantalizing opportunity for preventive interventions. On the other hand, many children who display early warning signs of high levels of peer aggression and hostility, persistent noncompliance, and callousness to other's distress, for example, become perfectly normal school-age children who go on to productive adult lives. Shifting from group-level associations to individual prediction, in other words, is a very risky business. It is a difficult task to understand what mix of conditions contributes to stabilizing early conduct disorders for which children. Judging from what is known about other problematic conditions early in life, the answer is likely to involve the juxtaposition of the child's inherited predispositions, early peer encounters, performance in school, family environment and parental monitoring, neighborhood environment, and association with productive or deviant peer groups over time. Without good prediction, the appropriate perspective to adopt for early intervention may be one of fostering prosocial behavior for all children rather than trying to prevent delinquency for a few. Along these lines, approaches that involve all children in a setting, work simultaneously on eliminating disruptive child behaviors and developing prosocial behaviors, and give serious attention to creating early environments that reduce barriers to positive peer interactions will avoid stigmatizing some children, ignoring others who might also be in trouble, and have reasonably good odds of success.
Representative terms from entire chapter: