Multiple Aspects of Children's Perceptions of Classroom Peer Support and Adjustment
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Current conceptual models of social support generally emphasize the importance of the social environment or one's individual perceptions of support as important in well-being. However, social support research has not sufficiently explored whether outcomes are more closely tied to individual perceptions, aspects of the social environment, or the interaction between the individual and the social environment. Within the classroom context, this study investigated whether children's adjustment is linked to their individual perceptions, the supportiveness of the classroom environment, or the congruence between their individual perceptions and those of their peers in a diverse sample of second and third graders. A qualitative measure was used to explore the types of support children give and receive in the classroom. Children's individual perceptions were examined using a self-report measure of self-concept and sociometric nominations of perceived available peer social support. The supportiveness of the classroom was examined using peer acceptance ratings and sociometric nominations of available classroom peer social support. Reciprocal friendship nominations were used to examine the congruence between children's individual perceptions of support and those of their peers. Using standard multiple regression analyses, these constructs were used to predict teacher-rated externalizing problems, teacher-rated internalizing problems, teacher-rated school problems, and children's reports of negative emotion. As a group, the predictors were related to all adjustment outcomes. However, none of the predictors emerged beyond the others when predicting teacher-rated externalizing problems. Peer acceptance and mutual friendship best predicted teacher-rated internalizing problems; self-concept, peer acceptance, and mutual friendship best predicted teacher-rated school problems; and self-concept best predicted self-reported negative emotions. Therefore, individual perceptions, aspects of the social environment, and the congruence between the perspective of the individual and potential providers of support are important depending on the outcome. Within the classroom context, children primarily described support as academic, followed by social-emotional support, and to a lesser extent, material-physical support. These particular findings have implications for constructing context-specific measures of perceived available peer social support. The use of sociometric nominations to measure perceptions of support is discussed along with implications for theory and practice, and directions for future research.