Temperament and Peer Acceptance in Early Childhood: Sex and Social Status Differences

By Walker, Sue; Berthelsen, Donna et al. | Child Study Journal, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Temperament and Peer Acceptance in Early Childhood: Sex and Social Status Differences


Walker, Sue, Berthelsen, Donna, Irving, Kym, Child Study Journal


The purpose of this study was to investigate the relation between sex, social status and temperament in a sample of preschool-aged children. Sociometric interviews were conducted with 182 children (92 boys and 90 girls). Status groups of popular, rejected, neglected, controversial and average children were identified according to previously established criteria. Teachers rated children's temperament Results indicated that rejected children displayed a more difficult temperament than popular children in terms of higher activity levels, higher distractibility and lower persistence. Both rejected and neglected children were rated as displaying lower adaptability and more negative mood than popular children. Boys were also rated as more active, more distractible and less persistent than girls. Results are discussed in terms of the relevance of particular temperament dimensions to successful social functioning for boys and for girls.

Consideration of the contribution that temperament might make towards children's social competence and social status within the peer group has stemmed from the recognition of particular individual differences that appear, at least in part, to be constitutionally based and that reflect stylistic patterns of behavior. While adaptive or maladjustive outcomes are clearly not dependent on the contribution of temperament alone, there is evidence that individual differences in temperament qualities, such as activity level or approach/withdrawal, may be related to children's social functioning and adjustment within the peer group (Farver & Branstetter, 1994; Mobley & Pullis, 1991; Stocker & Dunn, 1990).

Research with preschoolers has indicated that individual differences in temperamental characteristics may influence the adjustment children make to the preschool setting, the responses they make to their peers and the quality of their relationships with other children (Farver & Branstetter, 1994; Keogh & Burstein, 1988; Mobley & Pullis, 1991; Stocker & Dunn, 1990). In general, children with easy temperaments, defined as approachful, adaptive and positive in mood (Thomas & Chess, 1977) have been found to respond prosocially to peer distress (Farver & Branstetter, 1994), have more positive and interactive relationships with friends and peers (Keogh & Burstein, 1988; Stocker & Dunn, 1990) and be rated as behaviorally adjusted to the preschool environment in terms of cooperation and persistence (Mobley & Pullis, 1991). In contrast, children with difficult temperaments appear to have relationships that are more problematic with their peers and are more likely to exhibit socialization and behavioral problems (Fabes , Shepard, Guthrie, & Martin, 1997; Mobley & Pullis, 1991).

Although there is evidence to suggest that individual temperamental characteristics may be linked to social adjustment and to frequency of socialization problems, the relationship between temperament, sex and social status has not been explored fully with respect to preschool-aged children. While some previous research has revealed clear sex differences in the display of temperamental characteristics identified as difficult (e.g., Farver & Branstetter, 1994; Mobley & Pullis, 1991; Sanson, Prior, Smart, & Oberklaid, 1993), whether temperamental characteristics are differentially related to social status for boys and for girls is unclear. For example, there is some evidence that the temperament dimension of arousability may be negatively related to peer status for girls, whose play tends to be more sedentary than boys, yet positively related to peer status for boys, at least in early adolescence (Bukowski, Gauze, Hoza, & Newcomb, 1993). Thus, the aim of the present study was to examine sex and social status dif ferences in temperamental characteristics for preschool-aged children.

On the basis of present research it was expected that, in contrast to rejected children, popular children would exhibit fewer of those temperamental characteristics identified as difficult such as high activity levels, high distractibility, and negative mood. …

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