Current Research and Future Directions in Social Emotional Learning

"With a Little Help from My Friends - The Importance of Peer Relationships for Social-Emotional Development"

Positive peer relationships make critical contributions to healthy social emotional development

The Issue

Successfully navigating the social world of peers can be challenging. Children and teenagers benefit from the social and emotional support that friends offer, but they can also experience occasional social stressors and peer conflicts.

Key Findings

  • Peer relationships provide a unique context in which children learn a range of critical social emotional skills, such as empathy, cooperation, and problem-solving strategies.

  • Peer relationships can also contribute negatively to social emotional development through bullying, exclusion, and deviant peer processes.

  • Universal, school-based, social emotional learning programs provide a strong foundation for promoting healthy social emotional development and creating positive peer cultures.

  • Children experiencing peer difficulties often need additional, systematic, and intensive social skill coaching.

  • Peers can be powerful forces that facilitate or alternatively undermine group programs.


Research points to the need to not only promote the development of critical social-emotional capacities, but also attend to and create positive peer processes to ensure that every child is able to engage in and benefit from healthy relationships at home, school, peer group, and community.

For more information and to download a copy of this brief, visit the RWJF web site.

People Mentioned in this Article

Mark T. Greenberg Karen L. Bierman