Expert Commentary

Kindergarten children’s friendships: Child adjustment in the early school years

2010 study from the University of Illinois in Infant and Child Development on the impact of friendship quality on future social skills and behaviors.

Studies have shown that a young child’s ability to make and maintain friendships is a critical developmental milestone; this early success is typically reflected in subsequent social and behavioral achievements. Less is known, however, about the importance of friendship quality on positive developmental growth.

A 2010 study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign published in Infant and Child Development, “Presence and Quality of Kindergarten Children’s Friendships: Concurrent and Longitudinal Associations with Child Adjustment in the Early School Years,” examined how the quality of a child’s friendships in kindergarten impacts future behavior and social skills in the early grades. Researchers followed more than 500 children in kindergarten, first and third grades, collecting survey data from parent and teachers at each level. From the data, they constructed four categories of friendships: low quality, average quality, high quality and no friends.

Key study findings include:

  • Boys with no friends in the first and third grades were seen as more disruptive than children with friends; girls with no friends were seen as significantly less disruptive than their peers during the same time period.
  • By the third grade, boys with higher-quality friendships were perceived as more socially adept than their peers. By contrast, girls’ social skills did not differ by friendship group by this time.
  • Children in kindergarten with low-quality friendships were rated as more aggressive and/or disruptive than their peers with average or high-quality friendships. Children with no friends had diminished social skills compared to their peers with average or high-quality friends, but were less disruptive and aggressive than those with low-quality friendships.
  • In the first grade, children with no friends withheld their thoughts or feelings much more so than their peers. By the third grade, however, this behavior was no longer directly associated with the quality of a child’s friendships.

Researchers noted that their results indicate the importance, especially for boys, of high-quality friendships in early childhood. They suggest that “being friendless during the transition to kindergarten may have quite different implications for boys and girls…. For friendless boys, it could be that these boys eventually developed friendships, but with deviant peers, which led to increases in externalizing problems.”

Tags: children, gender, bullying, schools

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