A comparison of maltreated and non-maltreated preschoolers' social skills and play in peer interactions

Diane Darwish, Fordham University


This study investigates the social skills and free-play behaviors of maltreated and non-maltreated preschoolers. Thirty 3- to 5-year-old children participated in the study. Fifteen children with a range of maltreatment experiences drawn from a hospital-based therapeutic nursery treatment program were compared to 15 demographically similar children drawn from a home-based Head Start program. Children's free-play peer interactions were videotaped during the first 3 months of attendance in either program and analyzed along social and cognitive dimensions according to the Play Observation Scale. Teachers and therapists rated children's social skills in peer interactions using the Social Skills Rating System. Maltreated children were found to have significantly poorer skill in initiating interactions with peers and maintaining self-control, as well as a greater number of problem behaviors. No significant difference was found between groups with regard to ability to cooperate. Significant differences were not found between groups with regard to social participation or cognitive level of play. Statistically significant correlations of moderate strength were found between social participation in play and social skills for the sample as a whole: Total social skills score was positively related to interactive play, and negatively related to solitary play. Few instances of aggressive behavior were noted overall; however, play narratives suggested that a greater incidence of aggressive themes were present in the dramatic play of the maltreated children. The results suggest that the experience of maltreatment has a negative impact on children's developing interpersonal skills above and beyond the influence of factors associated with low socioeconomic status and other environmental stressors. The results support the use of peer play activities and interventions focusing on specific areas of need in improving maltreated children's social skills, including: (a) initiating interactions with peers, (b) increasing the range of responses to frustration and conflict, and (c) increasing self-control and inhibiting impulsive and aggressive reactions.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Social psychology|Behaviorial sciences|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Darwish, Diane, "A comparison of maltreated and non-maltreated preschoolers' social skills and play in peer interactions" (1999). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9938902.