Cand.psychol. Terje Nærland
Social Status and Communicative competence in Preschool Years. An observation-based approach.
The dissertation is based on an observational study of social behaviour, communication, and use of language in preschool children. Free child-child interactions were focused upon. The thesis deals with social status and role among preschool children and how such role is related to the social behaviours, dialogue skills and formal language competence of the children involved. An important aim of the study was to generate observation-based and valid measurements of social status, social behaviour, and various aspects of language development.
It was found that only few of the preschool children are in the focus of other children’s attention. Mostly they are ignored or overlooked by their peers, and some children are almost never attended to. The frequency of positive and neutral contacts from other children (‘Social focus’) was positively related to age. ‘Social focus’ among preschool children was positively related to the social behaviour of the children. Generally, being positively focused upon was linked with clear and friendly communication with other children. Each of the three language measures were found to be positively correlated with ‘Social focus’. In combination with age, the resulting models significantly predicted ‘social focus’. However, only the measure of the children’s dialogue skills independently predicted ‘Social focus’, i.e. when age was controlled for. It thus seems that competence as a dialogue partner – i.e. pragmatic language skills – are of more importance than formal language skills, with regard to being focused positively upon by other children in a preschool group.
Knowledge about the social life of preschool children and the normal development of social skills, social behaviours and use of language in real life settings are important for professionals conducting clinical observations of preschool children. Furthermore, when it comes to designing interventions for children with social problems, information about which child characteristics that are influential on social role is required.
The work is conducted at the Department of Special Needs Education UIO, and at the Institute of Psychology, NTNU.