The role of peer relationships in conferring risk or resilience to children
Boyd, Julie Knott
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The purpose of this two-study dissertation was to explore the relationship between children’s peer relationships and risk for internalizing distress, particularly amongst neglected children, and subsequently, to propose a preventative framework for meeting children’s social and emotional needs within the school. The first study was conducted using data from 541 fourth and fifth grade students attending five suburban elementary schools in the southeastern United States. Results for the entire sample indicated that friendship and clique membership seem to be important for decreased risk of network loneliness, while friendship appears to be the most important type of peer relationship for decreased risk of dyadic loneliness and teacher reported internalizing distress. However, results for sociometrically neglected children in the sample indicate that while withdrawal was a significant predictor of neglected children’s network loneliness, it was not a significant predictor of dyadic loneliness or teacher report of children’s internalizing distress. Further, dyadic friendship and clique membership were not significant predictors of neglected children’s loneliness or internalizing distress. Study two of this dissertation proposes a behavioral response-to-intervention (RtI) framework for social-emotional health promotion for children with poor peer relations and risk for internalizing distress, wherein behaviors leading to and supporting friendships are enhanced through psychosocial education. The recommended framework includes universal screening to detect sub-clinical levels of emotional distress and problematic peer relations, and identifies intensifying levels of support including contextual strategies for teachers and parents, psychoeducation, social skills training, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Together, the two studies supports the existing literature by investigating poor peer relations as a risk factor and identifying a school-wide model for social-emotional support and intervention.