Friendship. Academic Success. Marriage. Parenthood. Safety. Good citizenship. Life Success. Parents’ hopes for their children are as diverse as the parents themselves. Still, virtually anything a parent might hope for his or her child is influenced greatly by the child’s ability to develop healthy relationships with others. In classrooms, living rooms, playgrounds and parks, in boardrooms and restaurants and city buses, in exchanges between parents and their children, teachers and students, old friends and new—in short, in a bewildering array of situations—the common thread that shapes a child’s daily experience is the child’s ability to interact effectively with others.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that peer acceptance is associated with positive academic, behavioral, and mental health outcomes. In contrast, social rejection significantly increases risk for later problems including underachievement, school dropout, criminal involvement, and psychiatric problems.
Many of the children at Rush NeuroBehavioral Center—and in classrooms throughout the country—have difficulties making and keeping friends and, in general, earning the positive regard of their peers. In recognition of the critical importance of friendships, and the high prevalence of social difficulties among our patients, we have embarked on a program of research focused on the nature, assessment, and treatment of social impairments in childhood.
RNBC’s Research Mission
We envision a future in which we can assess children’s social-emotional learning strengths and deficits as precisely as we can now assess academic abilities, and in which we can use that information to tailor treatment to the individual needs of each child.
The mission of our research program is to enhance children’s friendships through scientifically-informed practice.
To fulfill this mission, our research projects focus on three topics:
- Understanding. We are working to identify the key thinking, feeling, and regulatory processes that affect children’s peer relationships and to understand how those processes influence children’s friendships.
- Assessment. We are developing and rigorously evaluating improved methods of assessing the skills that contribute to social success when they are present and to social impairment when they are not.
- Intervention. We are developing and rigorously evaluating interventions that help a child make and keep friends.
A guiding principle of all research projects at RNBC is that the goal of enhancing children’s friendships will be served best if we understand how friendship works, if we have ways to assess individual children’s social-emotional strengths and weaknesses, and if we know what kinds of social development interventions work for whom.
Our Contribution to the Community
RNBC is an active participant in the broad discussion among scientists, educators, and clinicians about children’s social relationships. We have presented many of our study findings at national and international conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. In addition, we regularly offer professional development consultation to educators and other professionals in the community.
Our Ethical Commitment
In all of our work, including our research, we take our ethical commitment to children and families very seriously. Our research team adheres to ethical guidelines established by the American Psychological Association (www.apa.org/ethics/). Furthermore, all of our research protocols are reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board of Rush University Medical Center, which is a special committee charged with protecting the welfare of research participants. Interested parents and children are fully informed about the nature, risks, and benefits of participation. Furthermore, to participate in IRB-approved research projects, once informed about a project in which they are interested in participating, parents must actively consent to their child’s participation. In most cases, children must also agree to participate.