Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

THE DEVELOPMENT OF PSYCHOSOCIAL MATURITY IN YOUNG CHILDREN: A Measure for Evaluating Character Education Programs

Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

THE DEVELOPMENT OF PSYCHOSOCIAL MATURITY IN YOUNG CHILDREN: A Measure for Evaluating Character Education Programs

Article excerpt

This article uses a measure of psychosocial maturity for children in kindergarten (age 5) through third grade (age 8)-the relationship questionnaire (Rel-Q)-to illustrate the growth of social competence in young children. Social competence on the Rel-Q is defined according to maturity levels of three psychosocial competencies-understanding about, skills in, and personal meaning of social relationships, which depend on the degree to which the social perspectives of self and other are coordinated. Results on the Rel-Q from 4,076 kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade children from urban public school systems in 2 different geographic areas show strong developmental trends and gender differences: there were significant differences in mean level between each grade from kindergarten through 3rd grade, and, beginning in 2nd grade, girls consistently scored higher than boys. The Rel-Q also showed theoretically predicted associations with a teacher rating scale of social skills. Confirmatory factor analyses suggest that the hypothesized structure of the measure fit the data.

Social competence is a complex construct, and its assessment in children, especially young children, is challenging. Yet the assessment of social competence is crucial for prevention and intervention efforts in children at risk for-or already displaying-negative life outcomes (e.g, Selman, Watts, & Schultz, 1997; Weissberg, Caplan, & Sivo, 1989), as well as for character education in general (Selman, 2003). Deficits in social functioning, particularly with peers, are predictive of academic failure, antisocial behavior, and psychopathology in adolescence and adulthood (e.g., Cowen, Pederson, Babigian, Isso, & Tost, 1973; Gesten, Flores de Apodaca, Rains, Weissberg, & Cowen, 1979; Roff, Sells, & Golden, 1973; Rubin & Ross, 1982; Spivack, Platt, & Shure, 1976). Promoting competent, caring, and respectful social interaction is fundamental to effective character education programs (Berkowitz, 2002).

A number of researchers distinguish between social competence defined as (a) an integrative, summary, and more abstract construct (e.g., "effectiveness") versus (b) specific skills or beliefs used to deal with social situations (e.g., Dodge, 1985; Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998; Weissberg, Caplan, & Sivo, 1989). Waters and Sroufe (1983) point out that the construct of social competence, with its intuitively abstract nature but discrete manifestations, presents problems for both conceptualization and assessment: if it is defined in terms of specific capacities or skills, the integrative potential of the concept is forfeited, yet the more molar definitions lack specific guidance for measurement. Waters and Sroufe suggest that a developmental perspective on social competence provides a way around this dilemma by "formulating assessment procedures [that] are specifically appropriate to each age period and, yet, retain common core features" (p. 84).

This article describes a measure of psychosocial maturity-the Relationship Questionnaire (Rel-Q)-designed to assess one developmental component of social competence that is useful for evaluating character education programs. The construct of psychosocial maturity used in the Rel-Q derives from developmental theory that identifies the social-cognitive capacity to differentiate and coordinate the social perspectives of self and other as central to character development and education (Selman, 2003; Selman & Schultz, 1990). The assessment of social skills and social competence tends almost without exception to be assessed by external observers' ratings of social behavior, particularly for young children, rather than on the subject's own expression of their social competencies. This has been due in part to the difficulty of developing valid methods for this kind of assessment, and in part to limitations of existing theoretical frameworks. This study, in presenting a measure of young children's interpretation of social experience-the phenomenology of social competence or relationship awareness-addresses both those issues. …

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