Early peer play: the roles of temperament and socio-emotional understanding in young children’s social competence

Mathieson, Kay Helen (2011) Early peer play: the roles of temperament and socio-emotional understanding in young children’s social competence. Doctoral thesis (DPhil), University of Sussex.

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Peer interactions are recognised as playing a key role in the development of
children, but we lack detailed analysis of individual differences in the early peer play
of preschoolers. Five data sets are used to explore aspects of children’s developing
social competence between the ages of 2 and 5 years. Four of the five research
investigations were carried out in day nurseries, and the remaining study was
conducted in a reception class (children aged 5 years), all in a London Local

The first paper explores core elements of peer play which can be identified
through direct observation. It serves the dual purpose of highlighting children’s real
life experience of making social connections through peer interactions and exploring
the key dimensions of verbal and nonverbal behaviour that support such connections.
Papers 2 and 3 are mainly focused on exploring the different perspectives of parents
and practitioners in their views of children’s current social adjustment, with
additional reports on child temperament from parents and reports on peer play from
practitioners. Finally, Papers 4 and 5 explore in greater depth a range of potential
predictors of young children’s social competence, including temperament and socioemotional

Being able to recognise individual differences in patterns of play specifically
in terms of levels of interaction and disconnection led to the use of the Penn
Interactive Peer Play Scale throughout the remaining studies. The notable differences
in levels of successful interactivity underlined the need to measure children’s
effectiveness in using a range of abilities to establish and maintain engagement with
play partners. The further studies involved a total of 516 practitioner reports and 179
parent reports on children’s behaviour, social competencies and temperament, as well as 123 direct assessments of children’s socio-emotional understanding. Matched
parent and practitioner questionnaires were used to examine similarities and
differences in adult perceptions and interpretations of children’s peer play. Levels of
convergence between parent and practitioner views of children’s socio-behavioural
functioning were found to change as children get older, from an early convergence
on prosocial behaviours to a later convergence on problem behaviours.

The results also highlighted the particular roles of temperament and socioemotional
understanding in peer play. Effortful control was found to be a significant
predictor of positive, interactive play. Furthermore, socio-emotional understanding –
as assessed through the use of simple structured tasks and hypothetical scenarios –
was found to predict patterns of interactive play, thereby evidencing the sociocognitive
factors involved in effective peer interactions. Gender differences were
also evident, suggesting that girls and boys may rely on different attributes and skills
to forge social connections.

The key findings are discussed with attention to their implications for
effective practice in early years provision, developing our understanding of early
social competence from different perspectives. Directions for further research are

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0712 Developmental psychology Including infant psychology, child psychology, adolescence, adulthood
Q Science > QZ Psychology
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 21 Dec 2011 09:29
Last Modified: 21 Aug 2015 14:02
URI: http://srodev.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/7466

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