Multiethnic girls drawing at table with colorful pencils, spending time together

6 Tips to Support Positive Peer Relations in Early Childhood Development

In this blog post guest writer Angel Monks summarizes information presented by Isabelle Vinet, Executive Director of the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development, and Michel Boivin, Professor of Psychology at Laval University, in the webinar Early Childhood Development in a Time of Pandemic: Peer Relations. This webinar shared 6 ways educators and parents can promote positive peer relations amongst children. Positive peer relations are beneficial skills to support children individually and as a group in social settings.  

With the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, children face increased barriers to accessing and forming peer relations with children outside of the home environment. Social interaction has been affected by school closures, required isolation periods, and social distancing measures that present challenges to facilitating positive peer relations. Peer relations in early childhood are significant to developing social skills, including learning prosocial behaviours, self-control, social norms, and building individual emotional competence skills.   

6 Tips to Support Positive Peer Relations:  

1. Promote Social Competence in a Group Setting  

Instill positive social interaction skills in a group setting to teach children how to be good friends. Teaching social skills to a group is associated with positive and sustainable peer relations. This can be reinforced with individual children who may require additional support.  

2. Model Behaviours  

Actively and enthusiastically demonstrate good social competence skills and incorporate this within a daily routine. This can be further supported through books, stories, posters, or puppets to illustrate expected behaviours clearly. This encourages children to feel excited to demonstrate these behaviours when interacting with their peers.   

3. Offer Graduated Support   

Graduated support refers to slowly building a child’s independence in social interactions. This includes modelling desired behaviours, encouraging imitation of these behaviours, providing guidance from a distance, and supporting independent social interactions. This occurs over time and allows children to develop confidence in their social skills.  

4. Positive Reinforcement   

Provide different forms of positive reinforcement such as verbal recognition, a smile, or material reinforcement like a sticker when they demonstrate positive social skills. These strategies can be adjusted to each child depending on their responsiveness to the reinforcement.   

5. Direct the Spotlight on Hidden Talents   

Create opportunities for a child to feel valued by highlighting their special skills and talents. Emphasizing hidden talents to be noticed by all children in a group promotes positive peer perceptions and encourages the formation of friendships. 

6. Peer Pairing  

Proximity has a strong influence on the formation of friendships. For instance, encouraging a shy child to be within proximity to a prosocial child can lead to mutually beneficial relationships. It is essential to supervise peer pairing to avoid any environment that is conducive to peer victimization. 

Use these 6 tips to help children transition from the home environment to social settings. Promoting social competence through positive interactions will give children the skills to feel comfort, excitement and confidence when forming friendships!  

For more tips on supporting early childhood development in a time of pandemic, check out the webinar series on Families Canada’s YouTube channel

Angel Monks 

Carleton University Student in Childhood and Youth Studies  

Families Canada