Negative Interactions and Social Competence for Preschool Children in Two Samples: Reconsidering the Interpretation of Aggressive Behavior for Young Children

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Child and Family Studies


Two samples of preschool children (471 attending Head Start, 472 in a community sample) were observed with regard to their initiations of negative interactions. Scores for three dimensions of aggression viewed as salient by pre-school teachers were also derived from observational data. Observation and sociometric assessments were used to characterize children's social competence. Normative declines in negative behavior and aggression scales were observed for some measures. Children attending Head Start programs tended to have higher scores for negative initiations and for one aggression scale, but these results are qualified by significant gender by sample interactions. Further analyses revealed coherence among the negative behavior and aggression variables; however, for the most part, aggression and negative behavior measures were positive predictors of social competence in both samples. We conclude that aggression and negative interactions per se need not be construed as evidence of low social competence for preschool children and that, to the extent that conflicts among preschoolers may be a source of social cognitive growth, such behaviors may have a positive impact on social development at these ages.

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Merrill-Palmer Quarterly-Journal of Developmental Psychology





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