Social Competence, Social Support, and Attachment: Demarcation of Construct Domains, Measurement, and Paths of Influence for Preschool Children Attending Head Start

Kelly K. Bost, Brian E. Vaughn, Wanda Newell Washington, Kerry L. Cielinski, Marilyn R. Bradbard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Two studies designed to (1) explore measurement issues for the construct domains of social competence and social support and (2) test a model relating social competence to social support and to child-parent attachment for low-income (primarily African American) preschool children attending Head Start are reported. In Study 1, the definition, measurement, and structure of the social competence construct are evaluated in 2 samples of children. For Study 1A, 167 4-year-old children were assessed with a battery of observation, interview, and Q-sort measures. Relations among the measures suggested a hierarchical structure that was tested using a structural equation model. Results from the analysis supported the conjecture that social competence should be viewed as a hierarchically organized construct. In Study 1B, the model was tested again for a group of 3-and 4-year-old children (n = 265), using a modified set of measures. The general structure of the model from Study 1A was reproduced in this independent sample, although paths from the second-order factor to lower-order factors were not perfectly coordinated across samples. In Study 2, data for a subset of the children in Study 1B (n = 182), gathered with respect to features of their social networks, were examined to assess the structure of their social support networks. Descriptive and structural equation analyses are reported. Sixty-nine of these children were observed at home with their mothers and described using the Waters Attachment Q-sort. A structural equation model testing relations consistent with causal pathways from attachment security to both social support networks and to social competence and from the social support network variable to social competence with peers fit these data with a high degree of confidence. Subsequent analyses locating social competence as antecedent to attachment security were not significant. We conclude that the construct domains of social competence and social support networks can be meaningfully measured for preschool children and that individual differences with respect to these construct domains are related to child-parent relationship qualities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-218
Number of pages27
JournalChild development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1998


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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