Peer Influence on Development in Early Childhood

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Early childhood is defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as the period from birth to age 8 years. Children in this age range are most likely to meet peers in their extended family, play groups, childcare, preschool or early elementary school. As with older children, peer influence on your child can be both good or bad, depending upon the situation. Overall, however, peers can boost socialization and learning.

Social Basics

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Babies as young as six months old will smile and babble at each other. By age 2, toddlers will engage in parallel play, sitting by side but playing separately. Preschool children begin to form small social groups and friendships by age 4, although the groups and relationships are likely to be more fluid than those of older children. Your child learns a lot about behavior by imitating others, including members of her playgroup or preschool class.


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Children learn words from the people around them. According to the book "Neurons to Neighborhoods," the more words children hear the greater their vocabulary, which increases their ability to communicate effectively. Some children hear as few as 56 utterances and hour, while others hear over 700. Children who come from homes where there is little conversation benefit from being grouped with children who are more vocal. However,if your child already has a good vocabulary, peers with equal or better abilities will help him increase it.

Communication and Socialization

Children who have a large vocabulary and who are good communicators seem to be more accepted by their peers in a preschool or playgroup setting. Some emerge as leaders who usually have a group of friends who want to play with them. Other factors that influence a child's popularity include her ability to regulate emotional outbursts, pay attention to others and to divide her time between classmates. Silly behavior, admired by classmates, can sometimes create problems for you or her teachers.

School Readiness

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When your child interacts well with other children in a preschool or playgroup setting, he can practice skills shown to him by adults, such as counting out items and writing pretend letters to others. He identifies being at school as a pleasant opportunity to see friends and to have fun. He has learned which behaviors will attract friends to him and which ones are likely to drive her friends away. Regular contact with peers in a group setting reduces the stress for both of you on his first day of kindergarten.