The relationship between toddler temperament and social competence: The moderating role of emotion regulation

Open Access
Dollar, Jessica
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
May 22, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Cynthia Stifter, Thesis Advisor
  • emotion regulation
  • social competence
  • temperament
This longitudinal study examined how children’s ability to regulate emotions moderated the relationship between toddler temperament and children’s social competence. The current study consisted of 126 toddlers at 24/25 months, 70 preschoolers at 4.5 years, and 60 children at the peer visit (mean age 77 months). Toddler temperament groups were created by observing positive and negative affect and approach/withdrawal behavior in a series of high and low intensity tasks. Three groups, inhibited, exuberant, and low reactive, were formed taking a person-centered approach. At 4.5 years, two tasks designed to elicit the emotions of frustration/anger and disappointment was used to measure children’s putative regulatory behaviors. When the children were 6-7 years of age, their social behaviors were observed while interacting with 2-3 same-sex, same-aged peers in two free plays. Results revealed direct relations between toddler temperament and later social behaviors with exuberant and inhibited children more likely to exhibit negative peer behaviors than low reactive children. Direct relations were also found between toddler temperament and types of putative regulatory behaviors used. Exuberant and low reactive children were more likely to show goal-directed behavior than inhibited children in a frustrating situation. Several significant interactions with regulatory behaviors in the Disappointment task as the moderating variable emerged when predicting social competence. As low reactive children increase in their negative vocalizations when disappointed they are more likely to show low levels of solitary passive behaviors. Also, exuberant children who showed higher levels of internally-directed behaviors when disappointed were more likely to show higher levels of solitary passive behaviors in the peer context. These same exuberant children were also found to show lower levels of social play with peers. This study provides support that children’s abilities to regulate their emotions differentially affect children’s later social behaviors depending on children’s temperament.