Assessing Young Children's Social Competence.
by McClellan, Diane E. - Katz, Lilian G.
During the past two decades, a convincing body of evidence has accumulated
to indicate that unless children achieve minimal social competence by about
the age of 6 years, they have a high probability of being at risk into
adulthood in several ways (Ladd, 2000; Parker & Asher, 1987). Recent
research (Hartup & Moore, 1990; Kinsey, 2000; Ladd & Profilet,
1996; McClellan & Kinsey, 1999; Parker & Asher, 1987; Rogoff, 1990)
suggests that a child's long-term social and emotional adaptation, academic
and cognitive development, and citizenship are enhanced by frequent opportunities
to strengthen social competence during childhood.
Hartup (1992) notes that peer relationships in particular contribute
a great deal to both social and cognitive development and to the effectiveness
with which we function as adults. He states that "the single best childhood
predictor of adult adaptation is not school grades, and not classroom behavior,
but rather, the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children.
Children who are generally disliked, who are aggressive and disruptive,
who are unable to sustain close relationships with other children, and
who cannot establish a place for themselves in the peer culture are seriously
at risk" (Hartup, 1992, p. 1). The risks are many: poor mental health,
dropping out of school, low achievement and other school difficulties,
and poor employment history (Katz & McClellan, 1997).
Because social development begins at birth and progresses rapidly during
the preschool years, it is clear that early childhood programs should include
regular opportunities for spontaneous child-initiated social play. Berk
and Winsler (1995) suggest that it is through symbolic/pretend play that
young children are most likely to develop both socially and intellectually.
Thus, periodic assessment of children's progress in the acquisition of
social competence is appropriate.
The set of items presented below is based on research on elements of
social competence in young children and on studies in which the behavior
of well-liked children has been compared with that of less-liked children
(Katz & McClellan, 1997; Ladd & Profilet, 1996; McClellan &
THE SOCIAL ATTRIBUTES CHECKLIST
The checklist provided in this Digest includes attributes of a child's
social behavior that teachers are encouraged to examine every three or
four months. Consultations with parents and other caregivers help to provide
a validity check. In using the checklist, teachers are advised to note
whether the attributes are typical of the child. Any child can have a few
really bad days, for a variety of reasons; if assessments are to be reasonably
reliable, judgments of the overall pattern of functioning over a period
of at least three or four weeks are required. The checklist is intended
as one of a variety of ways the social well-being of children can be assessed.
How children act toward and are treated by their classmates (cooperatively
or aggressively, helpfully or demandingly, etc.) appears to have a substantial
impact on the relationships they develop (Ladd, 2000). However, healthy
social development does not require that a child be a "social butterfly."
The most important index to note is the quality rather than the quantity
of a child's friendships. Children (even rejected children) who develop
a close friend increase the degree to which they feel positively about
school over time (Ladd, 1999). There is evidence (Rothbart & Bates,
1998; Kagan, 1992) that some children are simply more shy or more inhibited
than others, and it may be counterproductive to push such children into
social relations that make them uncomfortable (Katz & McClellan, 1997).
Furthermore, unless that shyness is severe enough to prevent a child from
enjoying most of the "good things of life," such as birthday parties, picnics,
and family outings, it is reasonable to assume that, when handled sensitively,
the shyness will be spontaneously outgrown.
Many of the attributes listed in the checklist below indicate adequate
social growth if they characterize the child's usual behavior. This qualifier
is included to ensure that occasional fluctuations do not lead to over-interpretation
of children's temporary difficulties. On the basis of frequent direct contact
with the child, observation in a variety of situations, and information
obtained from parents and other caregivers, a teacher or caregiver can
use the checklist as an informal research-based means of assessing each
child's social and emotional well-being. It is intended to provide a guideline
for teachers and parents and is based on several teacher rating scales
(all demonstrating high internal reliability) used by researchers to measure
children's social behavior. Most of these scales (Ladd, 2000; Ladd &
Profilet, 1996; McClellan & Kinsey, 1999) have also been replicated
on more than one occasion and have demonstrated high reliability over time.
Teachers can observe and monitor interactions among children and let
children who rarely have difficulties attempt to solve conflicts by themselves
before intervening. If a child appears to be doing well on most of the
attributes and characteristics in the checklist, then it is reasonable
to assume that occasional social difficulties will be outgrown without
intervention. It is also reasonable to assume that children will strengthen
their social skills, confidence, and independence by being entrusted to
solve their social difficulties without adult assistance. However, if a
child seems to be doing poorly on many of the items listed, the responsible
adults can implement strategies that will help the child to overcome and
outgrow the social difficulties. The checklist is not a prescription for
"correct social behavior"; rather it is an aid to help teachers observe,
understand, and support children as they grow in social skillfulness. If
a child seems to be doing poorly on many of the items on the list, strategies
can be implemented to help the child to establish more satisfying relationships
with other children (Katz & McClellan, 1997).
Children's current and long-term social-emotional development, as well
as cognitive and academic (Kinsey, 2000) development, are clearly affected
by the child's social experiences with peers and adults. It is important
to keep in mind that children vary in social behavior for a variety of
reasons. Research indicates that children have distinct personalities and
temperaments from birth (Rothbart & Bates, 1998; Kagan, 1992). In addition,
nuclear and extended family relationships and cultural contexts also affect
social behavior. What is appropriate or effective social behavior in one
culture may not be in another. Many children thus may need help in bridging
their differences and in finding ways to learn from and enjoy the company
of one another. Teachers have a responsibility to be proactive in creating
a classroom community that accepts and supports all children.
THE SOCIAL ATTRIBUTES CHECKLIST
I. Individual Attributes
1. Is usually in a positive mood.
2. Is not excessively dependent on adults.
3. Usually comes to the program willingly.
4. Usually copes with rebuffs adequately.
5. Shows the capacity to empathize.
6. Has positive relationships with one or two peers; shows the capacity
to really care about them and miss them if they are absent.
7. Displays the capacity for humor.
8. Does not seem to be acutely lonely.
II. Social Skills Attributes
The child usually:
1. Approaches others positively.
2. Expresses wishes and preferences clearly; gives reasons for actions
3. Asserts own rights and needs appropriately.
4. Is not easily intimidated by bullies.
5. Expresses frustrations and anger effectively and without escalating
disagreements or harming others.
6. Gains access to ongoing groups at play and work.
7. Enters ongoing discussion on the subject; makes relevant contributions
to ongoing activities.
8. Takes turns fairly easily.
9. Shows interest in others; exchanges information with and requests
information from others appropriately.
10. Negotiates and compromises with others appropriately.
11. Does not draw inappropriate attention to self.
12. Accepts and enjoys peers and adults of ethnic groups other than
his or her own.
13. Interacts nonverbally with other children with smiles, waves, nods,
III. Peer Relationship Attributes
1. Is usually accepted versus neglected or rejected by other children.
2. Is sometimes invited by other children to join them in play, friendship,
3. Is named by other children as someone they are friends with or like
to play and work with.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Berk, L., & Winsler, A. (1995). SCAFFOLDING CHILDREN'S LEARNING:
VYGOTSKY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. Washington, DC: National Association
for the Education of Young Children. ED 384 443.
Halberstadt, A. G., Denham, S. A., & Dunsmore, J. C. (2001). Affective
social competence. SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT, 10(1), 79-119.
Hartup, W. W. (1992). HAVING FRIENDS, MAKING FRIENDS, AND KEEPING FRIENDS:
RELATIONSHIPS AS EDUCATIONAL CONTEXTS. ERIC Digest. Champaign, IL: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. ED 345 854.
Hartup, W. W., & Moore, S. G. (1990). Early peer relations: Developmental
significance and prognostic implications. EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY,
5(1), 1-18. EJ 405 887.
Kagan, J. (1992). Yesterday's premises, tomorrow's promises. DEVELOPMENTAL
PSYCHOLOGY, 28(6), 990-997. EJ 454 898.
Katz, L. G., & McClellan, D. E. (1997). FOSTERING CHILDREN'S SOCIAL
COMPETENCE: THE TEACHER'S ROLE. Washington, DC: National Association for
the Education of Young Children. ED 413 073.
Kinsey, S. J. (2000). THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PROSOCIAL BEHAVIORS AND
ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT IN THE PRIMARY MULTIAGE CLASSROOM. Unpublished doctoral
dissertation, Loyola University, Chicago.
Ladd, G. W. (1999). Peer relationships and social competence during
early and middle childhood. ANNUAL REVIEW OF PSYCHOLOGY, 50, 333-359.
Ladd, G. W. (2000). The fourth R: Relationships as risks and resources
following children's transition to school. AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH
ASSOCIATION DIVISION E NEWSLETTER, 19(1), 7, 9-11.
Ladd, G. W., & Profilet, S. M. (1996). The child behavior scale:
A teacher-report measure of young children's aggressive, withdrawn, and
pro-social behaviors. DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 32(6), 1008-1024. EJ 543
McClellan, D. E., & Kinsey, S. (1999) Children's social behavior
in relation to participation in mixed-age or same-age classrooms. Early
Childhood Research & Practice [Online], 1(1). Available: http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v1n1/v1n1.html.
Parker, J. G., & Asher, S. R. (1987). Peer relations and later personal
adjustment: Are low-accepted children at risk? PSYCHOLOGICAL BULLETIN,
Rogoff, B. M. (1990). APPRENTICESHIP IN THINKING: COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT
IN SOCIAL CONTEXT. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rothbart, M., & Bates, J. (1998). Temperament. In W. Damon (Series
Ed.) & N. Eisenberg (Vol. Ed.), HANDBOOK OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGY: VOL.
3. SOCIAL, EMOTIONAL, AND PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT (5th ed., pp. 105-176).
New York: Wiley.