This study used data from a nationwide survey in Japan to model the developmental course of social skills during early childhood. The goals of this study were to identify longitudinal profiles of social skills between 2 and 5 years of age using a group-based trajectory approach, and to investigate whether and to what extent parenting practices at 2 years of age predicted developmental trajectories of social skills during the preschool period. A relatively large sample of boys and girls (N > 1,000) was assessed on three social skill dimensions (Cooperation, Self-control, and Assertion) at four time points (ages 2, 3, 4, and 5), and on four parenting practices (cognitive and emotional involvement, avoidance of restriction and punishment, social stimulation, and social support for parenting) at age 2. The results indicated that for each social skill dimension, group-based trajectory models identified three distinct trajectories: low, moderate, and high. Multinomial regression analysis revealed that parenting practice variables showed differential contributions to development of child social skills. Specifically, Cooperation and Assertion were promoted by cognitive and emotional involvement, Self-control by social stimulation, and Assertion by avoidance of restriction and punishment. Abundant social support for parenting was not associated with higher child social skills trajectories. We found heterogeneity in developmental profiles of social skills during the preschool ages, and we identified parenting practices that contributed to different patterns of social skills development. We discussed the implications of higher-quality parenting practices on the improvement of child social skills across early childhood.
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