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A naturalistic observation of social behaviors during preschool drop-off.

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A naturalistic observation of social behaviors during preschool drop-off.
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  This article was downloaded by: [West Virginia University], [Tracy L. Morris]On: 06 February 2012, At: 14:37Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Early Child Development and Care Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/gecd20 A naturalistic observation of socialbehaviours during preschool drop-off  Jessica S. Grady a  , Chelsea M. Ale a  & Tracy L. Morris aa  Department of Psychology, West Virginia University, 1124 LifeSciences Bldg, 53 Campus Drive, PO Box 6040, Morgantown, WV,26506-6040, USAAvailable online: 31 Jan 2012 To cite this article:  Jessica S. Grady, Chelsea M. Ale & Tracy L. Morris (2012): A naturalisticobservation of social behaviours during preschool drop-off, Early Child Development and Care,DOI:10.1080/03004430.2011.649266 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2011.649266 PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionsThis article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representationthat the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of anyinstructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primarysources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings,demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly orindirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.  A naturalistic observation of social behaviours during preschooldrop-off  Jessica S. Grady, Chelsea M. Ale and Tracy L. Morris ∗  Department of Psychology, West Virginia University, 1124 Life Sciences Bldg, 53 Campus Drive, PO Box 6040, Morgantown, WV 26506-6040, USA (  Received 26 September 2011; final version received 9 December 2011 )The present study utilised naturalistic observation to assess the impact of parentaldeparture during daily drop-off at preschool on children’s settling into daily preschool routines. Forty-six 3–5-year-old children and their parents/caregiverswere observed during morning drop-off at preschool. Longer latencies of parent/ caregiver leaving were associated with less child–peer engagement, solitaryactive play, and onlooking and were associated with more child–caregiver  proximity-seeking, hugging and kissing, and picking up and holding. Mothersand other female caregivers were slightly more likely to pick up and hold their children during drop-off than fathers and other male caregivers. Findings suggest that continued parental involvement may initially hinder children’s daily settlinginto the preschool classroom environment through facilitation of escape or avoidance. Additional research is needed to better understand individualdifferences that may serve as protective factors or vulnerabilities affectingchildren’s daily adaptation to the preschool environment. Keywords:  parenting; peer interaction; social behaviour; preschool drop-off;naturalistic observation Early childhood has been well established as an important period for the development of social and emotional skills (e.g. Denham et al., 2003). A large body of research out-lines how children may obtain social and emotional skills through daily experienceswith their peers, such as in a preschool environment (e.g. Denham et al., 2001), and with their parents and other close adult caregivers, through social learning (e.g. Patter-son & Dishion, 1988) and attachment relationships (e.g. Ainsworth & Bell, 1970;Diener, Mengelsdorf, McHale, & Frosch, 2002). However, relatively few studieshave evaluated social responses of children to the preschool environment duringand immediately following parental drop-off.From the early days in the child’s life, parents are a source of social information totheir children, and children look to their parents for guidance when deciding how torespond to an unfamiliar situation (i.e. social referencing; Stenberg & Hagekull,1997). The continued presence of parents is one factor that impacts the transitioninto the preschool environment (Petrie & Davidson, 1995). For example, the continued  presence of parents in the preschool environment may set the environment for the child  ISSN 0300-4430 print/ISSN 1476-8275 online # 2012 Taylor & Francishttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2011.649266http://www.tandfonline.com ∗ Corresponding author. Email: tracy.morris@mail.wvu.edu  Early Child Development and Care 2012, 1–12, iFirst Article    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   W  e  s   t   V   i  r  g   i  n   i  a   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   ] ,   [   T  r  a  c  y   L .   M  o  r  r   i  s   ]  a   t   1   4  :   3   7   0   6   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   2  to interact with his or her parents rather than with peers. Research examining the devel-opment of anxiety suggests that excessive parental involvement may actually hinder children’s social success through facilitation of social escape and reinforcement of avoidance of novel stimuli (Pomerantz & Eaton, 2001; Wood, Kiff, Jacobs, Ifekwu-nigwe, & Piacentini, 2007). Other research has shown that parental involvement inchild–peer interactions may facilitate social skills development, as parents maymodel and encourage children’s interactions with others (Patterson & Dishion,1988). The present study assesses whether the behaviours of parents and caregiversduring daily drop-off at preschool facilitate or hinder their children’s daily adaptationand social behaviours with peers. Entrance into preschool  Nearly 80% of children in the USA experience some form of regular nonmaternal care by age one-year-old (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development EarlyChild Care Research Network [NICHD ECCRN], 2001). By age 3, approximately half of the child population is in a centre-based care (NICHD ECCRN, 2001). Given thehigh rate of preschool attendance, many parent–child care experiencing daily separ-ation at preschool drop-off.After beginning preschool for the first time (i.e. the first two weeks following entryinto preschool), the solitary behaviour of children has been shown to increase whiletheir interactive behaviours decrease. This trend changes, however, by the sixthweek of preschool and children typically increase in interactive behaviours and decrease in solitary behaviours (Fox & Field, 1989). Together, these findings suggest that some adjustment to the social environment of the preschool can be expected when attending preschool for the first time, but after approximately two months of  beginning preschool, most children are active socially. One determinant of young chil-dren’s adjustment to the school setting is the ability to separate from parents and toengage with peers (Rimm-Kaufman & Pianta, 2000).  Parent–child separation during drop-off   Many parents report mixed feelings about their young child entering preschool and kin-dergarten. Perhaps due to their own anxiety, many parents may have difficulty leavingtheir children. It is unclear, however, if the continued presence of parents impacts thetransition into the preschool environment.Petrie and Davidson (1995) observed seven three-year-old children across their first year of preschool. They identified an outgoing group of children who readily adapted tothe daily separations from their mothers anda shy groupof childrenwho tended to hang back and not engage in activities following parental separation. When mothers were present in the preschool environment, however, many of the shy children were activeand involved in play. Although limited by a small sample, such findings suggest that some children may benefit socially from parental involvement, whereas other childrenseemed to not depend upon the continued presence of their parents each day. In a quali-tative study, Xu (2006) observed that parents who stayed at the preschool for a fewminutes during drop-off had children who quickly became engaged in the preschoolclassroom; for example, children would introduce their parents to their peers withinminutes of arrival. This general observation suggests that parental lingering in the pre-school environment during child drop-off may facilitate children’s social adjustment to 2  J.S. Grady  et al.    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   W  e  s   t   V   i  r  g   i  n   i  a   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   ] ,   [   T  r  a  c  y   L .   M  o  r  r   i  s   ]  a   t   1   4  :   3   7   0   6   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   2  the classroom environment each day. However, when asked to comment on their experiences with young children during drop-off, preschool teachers suggested that  parents should come and go quickly to facilitate their children’s prompt adjustment to the classroom environment each day (Xu, 2006). Such contradictory qualitativedata suggest additional observational data are needed to better understand the role of  parental involvement on children’s social behaviours following daily parent drop-off.Whereas the parents’ behaviours may play a soothing role during the initial tran-sition to preschool, other evidence suggest that parents’ extended presence may ulti-mately impede children’s social behaviours and adaptation to nonparental careenvironments. Relatively few studies have evaluated children’s social responses tothe preschool environment during and immediately following parental drop-off   after  the initial adjustment to the nonparental care environment. As an exception, Field et al. (1984) recorded infant, toddler, and preschool children’s and parents’ behavioursupon separation and pickup at nursery school and reported age differences in children’sand parents’ behaviours during separation. Toddlers maintained closer proximity totheir parents, looked at their parents more, and upon separation, cried more thanolder and younger children. Parents of toddlers tended to maintain their proximity totheir toddlers also and, when departing, often ‘snuck out’ of the room (Field et al.,1984). However, Field et al. (1984) did not examine the impact of the duration of  parents leaving as a predictor of child responses to separation and child social beha-viours because parental latency to leave was confounded with the age of the child (i.e. parents spent more time in the infant classroom because they needed to restock infants’ supplies).Some mixed findings may be influenced by a differential impact of extended mother versus father presence in the care environment on the social behaviours of boys and girls. Field et al. (1984) found different patterns of classroom interaction dependingon the sex of the child, such that girls tended to approach teachers upon entry intothe classroom, whereas boys tended to approach an activity. Pettit, Brown, Mize,and Lindsey (1998) found that mothers’ involvement in peer–child play was negativelyassociated with peer acceptance. In contrast, fathers’ involvement in peer–child playwas positively associated with peer involvement, but only for boys, suggesting that the impact of extended parental presence in the care environment on children’ssocial behaviours may differ by parents and the sex of the child. A similar pattern of findings may be demonstrated in the everyday preschool environment during parent drop-off. Field et al. (1984) found that mothers talked to the child, approached thechild’s activity, and attempted to divert the child’s attention away from them morethan fathers. Mothers also took longer to leave than fathers. Interestingly, childrentended to cry and seek parental attention more frequently when dropped off bymothers than when dropped off by fathers. These findings suggest that mothers’ beha-viours may have elicited different responses from their children than fathers’ beha-viours and parent sex may be an important construct impacting drop-off behaviours. The present study Very few studies (e.g. Field et al., 1984) discuss children’s and parents’ reactions todaily separations and only one of the reviewed studies was relatively recent (i.e. Xu,2006). The current study seeks to extend previous findings by examining parental behaviour, the duration of the child and parent separation period, and child to peer engagement in order to examine the impact of parental lingering on children settling  Early Child Development and Care  3    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   W  e  s   t   V   i  r  g   i  n   i  a   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   ] ,   [   T  r  a  c  y   L .   M  o  r  r   i  s   ]  a   t   1   4  :   3   7   0   6   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   2  into the preschool social environment. It was hypothesised that higher rates of parentallingering would be negatively related to the child’s peer engagement following theseparation.The study also sought to evaluate what behaviours parents were engaging in whenthey stayed in the classroom for longer periods of time. It was hypothesised that when parents stayed longer in the classroom, they would spend more time holding, kissingand hugging, and hovering over their children. Recognising the reciprocal relationsdriving parent–child interactions, an associated question is  why  parents are lingering.Children may be demonstrating proximity-seeking behaviours to delay the separationfrom their parents. It was further hypothesised that parents would stay longer in the pre-school setting when their children maintained proximity to them.Finally, based on previous findings, we evaluated if any of the above associationsvaried by parent or the sex of the child. Consistent with previous findings (i.e. Field et al., 1984), it was hypothesised that children would maintain proximity more tomothers than to fathers. It was also hypothesised that mothers would demonstrate alonger latency to leave, give more hugs and kisses, and hover around their childrenmore than fathers. No hypotheses regarding child sex were made. Method  Participants Data collection took place during morning drop-off (i.e. between 6:30 a.m. and 9:00a.m.) at a local preschool in a small city in the Appalachian region of the USA. Thestudy was given ‘exempt’ Institutional Review Board status, as no identifying datawere collected and children were observed within their routine educational practices.Because the data were collected via naturalistic observation and no additional demo-graphic information was collected to verify that the adult dropping off the child wasa parent and not another caregiver (e.g. grandparent, au-pair), the observed adult waslabelled ‘parent/caregiver’.Forty-six parents/caregivers and their 3–5-year-old children were observed in thenaturalistic preschool environment. Twelve (26.1%) parents/caregivers and 31 children(67.4%) were male. The majority (69.0%) of the drop-offs observed occurred between7:15 a.m. and 8:15 a.m., with an additional 7.1% occurring between 6:30 a.m. and 7:15a.m. and 23.9% occurring after 8:15 a.m. Data for time of drop-off were not recorded for four participants. In a previous study, including participants from the preschoolwhere these data were collected, participants were highly educated (79.3% held acollege or graduate degree) and predominately non-Hispanic Caucasian (90%) (Ale,Chorney, Brice, & Morris, 2010). These demographics are typical for the area inwhich the data were collected.  Procedure and measures The following behaviours were coded using an ‘observe-and-record’ data collectionmethod which allows coders to record all observed intervals, rather than sampling behaviour from the observation period and risking missing lower base-rate behaviours(Repp, Roberts, Slack,Repp, & Berkler, 1976).Behaviours wererecorded in 10-second intervals. Two young adult coders arrived at the preschool at 6:30 a.m. on weekdaymornings. The preschool children, their parents/caregivers, and their peers were 4  J.S. Grady  et al.    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   W  e  s   t   V   i  r  g   i  n   i  a   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   ] ,   [   T  r  a  c  y   L .   M  o  r  r   i  s   ]  a   t   1   4  :   3   7   0   6   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   2
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