Early Social-Emotional Competence: Preschool and Kindergarten Predictors

Sara Kalb

Advisor: Susanne A Denham, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Timothy Curby, Pamela Garner

David J. King Hall, #1024
October 02, 2012, 10:00 AM to 08:00 AM


Early emotional competencies--emotion expression, emotion understanding, and emotion regulation--are believed to be the foundation of social success. There are few studies, however, that have considered how early emotional competencies co-develop and interrelate, and how they predict social competence within and across time for diverse samples. Further, analyses often fail account for group-level variance. The current study addresses these shortcomings with a sample of children who attended either a Head Start or a private preschool. Specifically, correlations were conducted to assess the nature of relations among emotional competencies across in the fall (Time 1) and spring (Time 2) of one academic year for 3- and 4- year-old preschool children; two-level hierarchical models were used to predict preschool social competence in the spring from sex, age, and emotional competencies in both the fall and spring; hierarchical regressions were also conducted in the prediction of kindergarten social competence from preschool emotional competence; and finally the overall model from each time in preschool were fit separately to children attending Head Start versus children attending private preschool.  Interrelations among emotional competences were inconsistent from fall to spring. Across the preschool and kindergarten models, emotion knowledge and negative expressions of emotion were implicated as important predictors of social competence. Less clear was the role of emotion regulation. Additionally, the final models predicting social competence in preschool fit both sub-samples, suggesting that children from diverse backgrounds follow similar social-emotional trajectories in preschool. Results also imply that bolstering emotion knowledge and lessening the degree to which children express negative emotions and behavior in preschool children may have beneficial short-term social outcomes. Additional educational implications are discussed.