Relating individual control, social understanding, and gender to child-friend interaction: A relationships perspective

Nancy L. McElwain, Brenda L. Volling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to a relationships perspective, it is critical to consider how the individual behaviors and characteristics of both partners shape their social interaction. Adopting a relationships approach to the investigation of children s friendships, we examined how preschool children's and their friends' controlling behaviors, social understanding, and gender were related to their dyadic interaction. Child-friend dyads (n = 49) were videotaped in two laboratory play sessions (free play and sharing task), and child interviews assessed understanding of emotions and false beliefs. Both children's indirect control was associated with coordinated play during the free play session, and both children's direct control was associated with conflict during the sharing task. Moreover, dyadic interaction varied as a function of study children's social understanding, friends' social understanding, and play session. An interaction between gender composition and play session also emerged for dyadic conflict. Multiple regression analyses suggested that study children's controlling behaviors accounted for associations between dyadic interaction and more 'distal' individual factors (i.e., social understanding, gender). The findings underscore the need to examine how both children's individual competencies are related to the quality of their dyadic interaction and illuminate how the associations between individual factors and dyadic interaction are moderated by the interactive context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)362-385
Number of pages24
JournalSocial Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Emotion understanding
  • False belief understanding
  • Friendship
  • Relationships

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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