Parent Explanations of Peer Interactions Matter
California: Young children are more likely to behave aggressively if they think other children want to hurt them. Researchers investigated whether parents' explanations of how peers interact would help 4- to 6-year-olds interpret others' behavior with less hostility and behave less aggressively. They found that parents' explanations help young children view their peers' behavior with less hostility.
The research, conducted at Utrecht University, is published in Child Development, a journal of the Society for Research in Child Development.
"Young children may feel physically hurt, left out, or frustrated by their peers' actions, the intent of which, at this age, is frequently unclear," explains Anouk van Dijk, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at Utrecht University, who led the research. "While most children interpret ambiguous slights as accidental, some feel they are hostile. By framing social situations in a positive way, parents can help their children perceive less hostility in their social worlds and thus, reduce their likelihood of behaving aggressively."
Young children rely primarily on their parents to help them make sense of their social worlds and many talk to their parents frequently about interactions with peers. In two studies, researchers looked at this practice to see how it affected children's views of their peers.
Children were less hostile in their interpretations when the researchers told parents to interpret the stories on a picture story book positively or discuss norms and values.
"Our results suggest how parents can engage with their children in constructive conversations about peer provocations to help them interpret their interactions with peers less negatively," says Astrid Poorthuis, assistant professor of psychology at Utrecht University, who coauthored the research. "Although we looked at only the short-term effects of discussing peer interactions in stories, it seems plausible that similar effects could be found if we looked at parents' day-to-day discussions about children's actual interactions with their peers."
The studies' authors caution that their findings, based on a group of mostly White and highly educated parents, may not be generalizable to more heterogeneous groups.
(Source: Society for Research in Child Development. )