Socially Competent Preschoolers
Ben is sitting inside a large innertube, wearing a firefighter helmet, when Jiin walks up and gives the innertube a nudge with his foot. "Hurry and get in the truck," Ben shouts excitedly. There's a fire and we gotta go put it out!" Jim gives the innertube another listless nudge with his foot and com- plains, "I don't wanna be a fireman, I wanna be a policeman." "I know,' offers Ben, "let's both be policemen and get the bad guys who started the fire." Ben removes his firefighter helmet and tosses it aside. Suddenly animated, Jim scrambles into the innertube with him. "I'll drive," he states. "Rrrrrrrrrrr," Ben replies, imitating the sound of a police siren.
Elizabeth and Rachel are playing inside a cardboard playhouse. They have dolls which they periodically hold up to the cut-out windows and then, squealing, quickly pull down. Sarah walks over hoping to join in. "Can I play house?' she asks, "cause I have a doll, too." "We're not playing house!" Rachel in- forms her. "We're playing ghosts!" 'Yeah," Elizabeth chimes in. "It's Halloween and there's ghosts outside scaring us.""Anyway it's too crowded in here" adds Rachel. "Oh. Well, I could be a ghost," Sarah offers. 'No you can't," objects Rachel. "Ghosts are invisible." 'I know what," Sarah says, retrieving a nearby broom. "I'm the wicked witch." Sarah straddles the broom and circles the playhouse, cackling. "Eeeeeiaaiiil" Rachel and Elizabeth squeal excitedly. "There's a witch flying around our house!"
Emma and Nadia, dressed in hats, jewelry and high heels, and sitting on two chairs behind an old steering wheel are "driving" to McDonalds. Robert approaches and says, "Hey, I wanna drive!" "No, we're driving!" shouts Nadia. "Yea, the moms are driving," Emma answers, "you can ride in the back.' Like many competent preschoolers, Emma responded contingently to Robert's initiation, and even though she rejected his request to drive, she offered an alternative and an explanation. Observations of competent preschoolers indicate that they are more likely than their less competent peers to acknowledge and respond to others, and to offer an alternative or reinitiate even if they must reject a peer's play suggestion (Hazen & Black, 1989). Less competent children more often ignore others and have difficulty maintaining long, positive interactions. This sensitive responsivity helps competent children maintain longer play bouts without getting into disruptive disagreements.
Parental influence on children's social development
Specific steps parents can take to enhance children's social skills
Parent: Did you see these blocks?
Child: Oh, blocks!
Parent: What could we do?
Child: I know! We could make like, a, uh, a big pen.
Parent: A pen! O.K. Here, I'll start here, O.K.?
Child: No, no. We gotta start way over here. Move it over here.
Parent: Alright, I see, so it won't run into the sofa. Oh, but if I turn the block like this, the pen will be longer. Or should we have it taller?
Child: Well, it's gotta be tall, so T-Rex can't jump it.
Parent: (Picks up dinosaur: 'lopes' it along floor toward fence.) (In gruff voice) RRRRR.... I'm gonna jump the fence.
Child: (Picks up another dinosaur figure, pushes it toward parents dinosaur.) But I'm T-Rex and I've got sharp teeth, so you better not stomp the fence. Here, here's a cow you can eat! (Throws small farm animal toward other dinosaur.)
Parent: Chomp, chomp, chomp. Thank you Mr. T-REX.
Mom: Hmmm, gosh, what if he grabs your truck again, what do you think
Child: I'd probably just whap him upside his head!
Mom: You would? What'd he do, do you think, if you whapped him?
Child: He'd give it back and never take it again!
Mom: You think so? You don't think he'd just whap you back, and ya'll 'd get in a big ol' fight and then he wouldn't want to play with you again?
Child: Oh, yea.
Mom: What else could you try?
Child: Say, "please?"
Mom: That'd be a nice thing to try. Do you think it’d work?
Mom: Well, maybe not. It might, but it might not, huh?
Child: I could say, "I'll come get you when I'm done."
Mom: Hey, that's an idea. That works sometimes with your sister, doesn't it?
Child: I'd say, "Could I cook, too, please."
Mom: That'd be nice. But what if they want to keep cooking?
Child: Uh, I would just go play by myself.
Mom: Sure, you could do that. But, there's a table and some dishes. What happens when you go to a restaurant? When you want something to eat?
Child: You say, "Bring me a hamburger!"
Mom: Yeah! Maybe you could be a customer and order dinner?
Child: Oh, yea.
1. Many of the following suggestions and descriptions of parenting come from a series of studies we and our colleagues have conducted on how parents help children learn social skills. In these studies, we have observed parents and children playing together (Lindsey, Mize, & Pettit, (in press); Brown, Pettit, Mize & Lindsey, 1995) and we have watched as parents supervise the play of their own children and one or more peers (Brown et Al., 1995; Mize, Pettit, & Brown, 1995; Pettit & Mize, 1993). We have also conducted interviews with parents (Laird, Pettit, Mize, & Lindsey, 1994) and we have observed parents as they talk to their children about social problem dilemmas presented in videotape vignettes (Brown et al., 1995; Mize & Pettit, 1994; Pettit & Mize, 1993).
Jacquelyn Mize, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Family and Child Development at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.
Ellen Abell, Ph.D., is an extension family and child development specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Famfly and Chfld Development at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.
The writing of this paper was partially supported by grants to the first author from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH49869) and Project Grant AIA 10-004 from the Agricultural Experiment Station.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to the first author, Department of Family and Child Development, Auburn, Alabama 36849-5604.
From Dimensions of Early Childhood, Volume 24, Number 3, Summer 1996. Reprinted with permission of the Southern Early Childhood Association, P.O. Box 55930, Little Rock, AR, 72215-5930,1-800-305-SECA.