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Children’s Social Emotional Competence: Advances in assessment and practice


Sara Thomas har undersökt samband mellan barns relationella kompetenser, sociala medvetenhet, självreglering och empati.


Sara Thomas


Associate Professor Laura Ferrer-Wreder, Stockholms universitet. Associate Professor Lilianne Eninger Stockholms univerisitet Professor Petra Lindfors, Stockholms universitet. Professor Kyle Eichas, Tarleton State University


Professor Kim Schonert-Reichl, University of Illinois at Chicago

Disputerat vid

Stockholms universitet



Titel (eng)

Children’s Social Emotional Competence: Advances in assessment and practice


Psykologiska institutionen

Children’s Social Emotional Competence: Advances in assessment and practice

The overall aim of this dissertation was to examine associations between different facets of children’s social emotional competence in culturally diverse samples. Specifically, I explored associations between relationship skills (i.e., cooperation, listening skills, turn-taking, seeking help), social awareness (i.e., understanding emotions and empathy), self-management (i.e., expressing needs and feelings, controling impulses), and empathy; and examined how these competencies relate to one another whilst considering the associations with internalising behaviours (e.g., anxiety, social withdrawal). Accurately understanding and assessing children’s social emotional competencies, using psychometrically sound instruments, are essential to global efforts to support children’s social emotional learning, academic achievements, and health.

The results are related to developmental theories of specificity (Bornstein, 2017), contemporary research in the fields of SEL and moral development, as well as Berry’s (2015) ecocultural model. Furthermore, the interpretation of the findings is guided by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL; Weissberg et al., 2015) model for social emotional competence.

Study I reviewed theory and research literature relevant to child and moral development, within the context of early childhood care and education (ECEC), from a Swedish standpoint as part of the Nordic welfare model. This study discusses how particular ethics within moral development are reflected in the design, goals, and practice of the Swedish ECEC context; further how Swedish ECEC settings may support aspects of children’s moral development.

Study II investigated the psychometric properties and factor structure of the Preschool and Kindergarten Behavior Scales (PKBS) and an index of empathy in a Swedish sample of four to six-year olds (N = 115). Results indicated a good fitting five-factor model PKBS and one-factor empathy model (posterior predictive p-value = .246), with good internal consistency (ω .73 to .92) in line with the CASEL model and prior research. Relationship skills were positively associated with empathy and negatively associated with internalising problems. Results provided support for the use of the PKBS as well as the empathy scale in Swedish preschools.

Study III examined the psychometric properties of a teacher-reported measure of young children’s social emotional competence, the Social Competence Scale – Teacher edition (SCS-T), in two samples of preschool aged children growing up with varied economic resources/ conditions, cultural norms, and educational experiences, specifically, from Pakistan (N = 396) and Sweden (N = 309). Using structural equation modelling (SEM), bi-factor confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) models implying shared variance, resulted in good fitting models in each respective sample.

Invariance testing across samples revealed a subset of items from each factor structure with partial scalar invariance, whereby five items had equal thresholds and could be comparable across the two samples. The results of Z-tests showed significant (p <.001) latent mean differences between the samples. Compared to the Swedish sample, the Pakistani sample was 1.80 units lower on social competence (z = -6.41, p < .001) and 1.86 units lower on academic skills (z = -7.87, p < .001). The implications of these findings considering efforts to promote positive child development in diverse parts of the world are considered.

Key conclusions from this dissertation include the importance and need for more research in core developmental settings such as early childhood education and care settings, because such efforts will expand and deepen what is known about child development. Bridging constructs that unite the fields and theory about social emotional and moral development are also valuable and explored in the studies in this dissertation. A fundamental conclusion is that establishing a sound psychometric evidence base for social emotional learning instruments across diverse children growing up varied circumstances is essential work that is carried out in this dissertation and is likely to advance developmental and intervention science, including interventions that aim to support children’s social emotional learning.

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