CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Kindergarten-age boys and girls are affected differently in school by the types of friendships they develop, researchers have found.
In their study that appears in a current issue of the journal Child Development, Gary Ladd and colleagues at the University of Illinois report having found that boys who perceive that they have higher levels of conflict (defined as engaging in arguing, bossy, rejecting, or other contentious behavior with a friend) in their school friendships tend to show higher levels of loneliness at school. They also exhibit a variety of adjustment difficulties in school -- including liking school less and not becoming actively involved in it. Girls in the same situation do not show the same tendencies.
"Even though boys and girls experience similar amounts of conflict in their friendships, it may be the case that girls resolve conflicts more quickly or satisfactorily than boys," the researchers wrote in the article titled "Friendship Quality as a Predictor of Young Children's Early School Adjustment."
Ladd is a professor of educational psychology at the U. of I. Co-researchers are Becky Kochenderfer, a graduate student in educational psychology at the U. of I., and Cynthia Coleman, a former U. of I. graduate student in educational psychology. Other findings include:
-- Children who believe their friends give them personal support (with comments such as "you're good in class") and help in problematic social situations tend to view their classroom as more supportive and enjoy being in school more when their friends are there. Also, children with friends who provide help to them like school better as the year progresses. Children in exclusive friendships (in which they prefer each others as playmates over all other children) tend to have lower levels of academic achievement.
-- Children are more satisfied with their friendships when they are perceived to offer higher levels of support and exclusivity and lower levels of conflict. Children who perceive their friendships to be high on support and low on conflict are more likely to maintain their friendships.
"These findings, and others reported in this article, are consistent with the hypothesis that the relational features of children's classroom friendships yield psychological benefits or costs that, in turn, affect their development and adjustment," the researchers wrote. They also note that their findings may help to shed light on the dynamics of early friendships and, in particular, the processes that motivate young children to engage in and maintain these relationships.
The 82 children who took part in the study were chosen because they had a "reciprocated and stable" best friendship in their kindergarten classroom. Forty boys and 42 girls from low- to middle- socio-economic status families participated in the study interviews; their average age was 5.6 years. The other friendship processes that were measured, in addition to aid, conflict, exclusivity and validation, were companionship (engaging in common activities with a friend) and self-disclosure (discussing secrets or negative feelings, such as sadness, with a friend).