Efforts to identify children at risk for social and academic difficulties at an early age have begun to apply conceptualizations of social competence with peers from childhood to infancy and toddlerhood. These attempts have had limited success, in part because social behaviors studied in later childhood such as negative or aggressive acts may not capture relevant dimensions of social competence with peers during the infant and toddler years. The present study conducted an exploratory factor analysis to begin developing a conceptualization of social competence with peers that is appropriate for use with infants and toddlers, and that captures individual differences capable of predicting later social functioning. Results indicate three dimensions of infant and toddler social competence with peers: peer sociability, active peer refusal, and passive peer avoidance. Negative and aggressive behaviors loaded on each of the three factors rather than emerging as a unique dimension of social competence. Each factor demonstrated both convergent and predictive validity, indicating that early identification of social skills remains a reasonable goal for practitioners and researchers alike. Finally, antecedents within children, families, and out-of-home child care environments helped to explain individual variability in each of these three factors of social competence with peers.
- Social competence