Social Competence with Peers in Third Grade: Associations with Earlier Peer Experiences in Childcare


  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network

Celia Brownell, Department of Psychology, 3137 Sennott Square, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Email:


The early developmental antecedents of individual differences in children's social functioning with peers in third grade were examined using longitudinal data from the large-scale National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) study of early child care. In a sample of 1,364 children, with family and child factors controlled, the frequency of positive and negative peer interactions in childcare between 24 and 54 months and the number of hours spent in childcare peer groups of different sizes (alone, dyad, small, medium, large) predicted third graders' peer competence at three levels of analysis: individual social skills, dyadic friendships, and peer-group acceptance. Children who had more positive experiences with peers in childcare had better social and communicative skills with peers in third grade, were more sociable and co-operative and less aggressive, had more close friends, and were more accepted and popular. Children with more frequent negative experiences with peers in childcare were more aggressive in third grade, had lower social and communicative skills, and reported having fewer friends. When children spent more time in small-sized peer groups in childcare (four or fewer children at 24 months of age up to seven or fewer at 54 months), they were more sociable and co-operative in third grade, but their teachers rated them as more aggressive, suggesting that such children may be more socially outgoing and active both positively and negatively. Like those who spent more time in small peer groups, children who spent more hours in medium-sized groups received higher ratings for peer aggression by their third-grade teachers. Children who spent more time with one other child in childcare or in small peer groups had fewer classroom friends in third grade as reported by the teacher but not according to maternal report or self-report. There were no significant associations between the amount of time children spent in large childcare-based peer groups and third-grade peer social competence.