The Impact of Peer Interaction
Did you know that when a child interacts with their peers, they are learning new ways of communicating and developing their speech and language skills? From the moment they are born, they watch and listen to the world around them and the people in it, and so the process of learning begins.
It’s no secret that development in the early years sets the foundation for lifelong learning, health, and behavior and while the brain is still developing and maturing during this period, it’s also the most intensive time for acquiring speech and language skills. A key to speech and language development is opportunities for children to interact with one another where there is exposure to language, communication, and play.
What is peer interaction?
What does it look like for young children?
Peer interactions can take place in any setting and will occur when children play or work with one another, share and take turns, and use verbal and non-verbal cues to communicate. For nonverbal children and babies, it might include cooing, babbling, facial expressions such as smiling, crying, and hand gestures such as waving.
To learn more about how you should expect your child to play based on their age, watch Kayla’s Youtube video titled “How Should My Child Play?”
Why is it so important for speech and language development?
Speech and language skills begin to develop and emerge in social interactions even in the pre-verbal developmental stage such as infancy and right through to adolescence. When children interact with their peers, they are learning more about social behavior, including how to communicate and express themselves, how to take turns, and how to apply empathy when dealing with others.
Psychologist Lev Vygotsky suggested that language develops from social and peer interactions. Over the years, there have been a plethora of research studies that have demonstrated the importance of peer interactions in early childhood development. But one of the most interesting to note is that there are certain aspects of learning in speech and language development that are beneficial for children which happen during peer interactions that don’t always occur with adults, without intentional teaching and scaffolding.
Some language benefits of peer interaction include:
1. More independence and autonomy
Opportunities to interact with peers uninterrupted will promote further language development, independence, and autonomy. When adults consistently scaffold or interrupt interactions to interpret what their child is trying to say, the risk arises of the child becoming too dependent on the adult and avoiding more challenging situations where there is growth potential.
2. Children learn how conversation works
As children grow up and develop, they use a combination of verbal and non-verbal language or communication for a range of reasons such as commenting, questioning, asking, sharing or showing, and more. Through these opportunities to participate in interactions with their peers, children learn how social interactions, language, and conversations work. It enables children able to communicate with others and create enriching learning experiences.
3. Everyone contributes to their language learning and input.
Peer interaction is a platform for co-learning. When children interact with one another, verbally or non-verbally, they will usually receive reactions, gestures, answers, comments, or questions from the other child or children. This back and forth creates opportunities for speech and language development as well as social skills that will support their friendships.
When children are playing with their peers and are engaged in conflict or disagreements, they learn and develop the language and communication skills to resolve disputes or solve problems and compromise.
How can parents support and promote socialization outside of childcare?
Children are unique individuals and may not all feel comfortable being in social settings. Some may feel a little anxious or shy and not all children attend a childcare service where there are many opportunities to engage in play and interact with other children.
You can help your child develop peer relationships and language development in the following ways:
- Follow their interests – Children can begin to open up when they’re doing things they enjoy. Talk to them about an activity they love or have demonstrated an interest in such as sport or dance. Your child may only have one or two close friends they like to play with and that’s okay.
- Organize play dates with cousins or family friends they’re familiar with.
- Join a local playgroup
- Reading time at the library
- Encourage sharing and turn-taking amongst siblings at home
Remember, you know your child best so find the best ways to support and promote their peer interaction that suits you, your child, and your family.
Eggum-Wilkens, D., Fabes, R., Castle, S., Zhang, L., Hanish, L & Martin, L. (2014). Playing with Others: Head Start Children’s Peer Play and Relations with Kindergarten School Competence. Early Child Res Q, 29(3), 345-356. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2014.04.008.
Hay, D. (2005). Early Peer Relations and their Impact on Children’s Development. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. https://www.child-encyclopedia.com/peer-relations/according-experts/early-peer-relations-and-their-impact-childrens-development.
Lourenço, P., & Basto, I., Cunha, C. & Bento, T. (2013). Dialogism in detail: Per Linell’s Rethinking language, mind, and world dialogically and its potentials. Culture & Psychology. 19, 421-430. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354067X12456715.
Washington-Nortey, P.-M., Zhang, F., Xu, Y., Ruiz, A. B., Chen, C.-C., & Spence, C. (2022). The impact of peer interactions on language development among preschool English language learners: A systematic review. Early Childhood Education Journal, 50(1), 49–59. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-020-01126-5
Is the pandemic contributing to a speech delay in your child?
Unfortunately due to the pandemic, many of the “pandemic babies” have been isolated during these crucial developmental years and as a result, have delayed speech and language skills. As a speech-language pathologist, I have received an unprecedented amount of families reaching out to me seeking help for their children born during this time of quarantine and social distancing. This is why I’ve created my online course as a resource for parents to help their children from home. In this program, I share specific advice and activities to help foster peer interaction and socialization for your child.