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Young children’s preference for solitary play: Implications for socio-emotional and school adjustment

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to provide additional psychometric support for the Preference for Solitary Play Interview (PSPI) and to examine the associations between self-reported preference for solitary play and indices of adjustment in early childhood. Participants were N = 340 children attending kindergarten and grade 1. Children completed the PSPI, and teachers provided assessments of children’s socio-emotional and school adjustment. In support of the validity of the PSPI, preference for solitary play was positively associated with asocial behaviours. Further, preference for solitary play displayed an indirect (but not direct) association with peer exclusion via asocial behaviours. Findings are discussed in terms of the social and behavioural implications of preference for solitary play in early childhood.
British Journal of Developmental Psychology (2018), 36, 501–507
©2018 The British Psychological Society
www.wileyonlinelibrary.com
Brief report
Young children’s preference for solitary play:
Implications for socio-emotional and school
adjustment
Laura L. Ooi
1
*, Danielle Baldwin
1
, Robert J. Coplan
1
and
Linda Rose-Krasnor
2
1
Department of Psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
2
Department of Psychology, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada
The purpose of this study was to provide additional psychometric support for the
Preference for Solitary Play Interview (PSPI) and to examine the associations between
self-reported preference for solitary play and indices of adjustment in early childhood.
Participants were N=340 children attending kindergarten and grade 1. Children
completed the PSPI, and teachers provided assessments of children’s socio-emotional and
school adjustment. In support of the validity of the PSPI, preference for solitary play was
positively associated with asocial behaviours. Further, preference for solitary play
displayed an indirect (but not direct) association with peer exclusion via asocial
behaviours. Findings are discussed in terms of the social and behavioural implications of
preference for solitary play in early childhood.
Statement of contribution
What is already known on this subject?
Children who spend more time alone are at increased risk of adjustment difficulties.
However, some individuals desire to spend time alone because of an appreciation for solitude.
Apreference for solitude is not associated with negative adjustment in adults and older youth.
What does this study add?
This study is among the first to examine self-reported preference for solitary in early childhood.
Preference for solitude may not be related to emotional or school difficulties in young children.
However, a heightened display of solitary behaviours may still evoke negative responses from peers.
Children who spend comparatively more time alone are often considered to be at
increased risk for a host of social, emotional, and school difficulties (Rubin, Coplan, &
Bowker, 2009). However, not all withdrawn children display maladjustment (Coplan &
Weeks, 2010), underscoring the importance of considering why children spend more
time alone. Burger (1995) described the preference for solitude (PFS) as a desire to
spend time alone because of an appreciation for solitude, as opposed to an avoidance of
social interactions. Among adults, such an autonomous PFS is not generally associated
with negative indices of subjective well-being (Chua & Koestner, 2008). In
*Correspondence should be addressed to Laura L. Ooi, Department of Psychology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1S 5B6 (email: lauraooi@cmail.carleton.ca).
DOI:10.1111/bjdp.12236
501
adolescence, characteristics akin to a non-fearful PFS (e.g., unsociability, affinity for
aloneness) are also largely unrelated to socio-emotional difficulties (Goossens, 2014). In
middle childhood, parental ratings of unsociability predict socially withdrawn
behaviours, but are not concurrently related to internalizing problems or other school
difficulties (Coplan & Weeks, 2010). Together, these findings suggest that children who
spend more time alone due to a PFS may not necessarily be at risk for emotional or
school difficulties.
Notwithstanding, children who prefer to play alone may still elicit negative peer
responses (e.g., exclusion), perhaps because they are viewed as undesirable playmates
due to their reduced prosocial behaviours (e.g., social initiations) and heightened solitary
play (Coplan, Prakash, O’Neil, & Armer, 2004). Indeed, in a sample of 9- to 12-year-old
children, Coplan et al. (2013) reported that the link between PFS and peer difficulties was
mediated by socially withdrawn behaviours. However, this conceptual mechanism has
yet to be tested in early childhood, in part because of the lack of age-appropriate
assessments of young children’s social preferences.
Asking others to infer children’s internal social motivations may be problematic. Yet,
few studies have explored self-reported preferences for solitary play in early childhood.
The use of age-appropriate methodological protocols (e.g., one-on-one interviews, visual
aids, simplified content) can assist young children in expressing their internal thoughts
and characteristics (e.g., Harter & Pike, 1984). Applying these techniques, Coplan, Ooi,
Rose-Krasnor, and Nocita (2014) developed the Preference for Solitary Play Interview
(PSPI) and provided initial evidence to suggest that 3- to 7-year-old children are capable of
reliably (a=.71) reporting their preferences for solitary play. As expected, preference for
solitary play displayed significant (albeit modest) positive associations with time alone
(i.e., social withdrawal), as well as negative relations with prosocial behaviours and
perceived peer acceptance.
In this study, we sought to provide additional evidence for the validity of the PSPI and
to further explore the concomitants of self-reported preference for solitary play in early
childhood. Consistent with adolescents and older children, preference for solitary play
was not expected to be associated with behavioural (internalizing, externalizing) or
school (academic competence, teacher attention) difficulties. However, it was predicted
that preference for solitary play would be positively associated with asocial behaviours
and peer problems, and negatively related to prosocial behaviours (Coplan et al., 2014). It
was further speculated that socially withdrawn behaviours would account for (i.e.,
mediate) the association between preference for solitary play and peer exclusion. Finally,
it was expected that PFS would be more strongly associated with adjustment difficulties
among boys as compared to girls because it violates male gender norms (e.g., social
assertion) (Coplan et al., 2013).
Method
Participants
Ethics approval was obtained from university research ethics boards and participating
school boards, and parental consent was obtained for all participating children.
Participants were N=340 4- to 7-year-olds (173 boys; M
age
=68.54 months, SD =10.67)
attending kindergarten and grade one in 10 public schools in Ontario, Canada. Collection
of socio-economic status and child ethnicity was not permitted by the participating school
boards. However, approximately 6% of parents had not attended high school, 24% had
502 Laura L. Ooi et al.
completed high school, 64% had completed college or university, and 6% had graduate
training. Based on census data of the geographic area where data collection took place, the
current sample was drawn from a medium-to-high median income population (Statistics
Canada, 2017). The population from which the sample was drawn consists primarily of
Canadians of European descent (approximately 75%), with numerous visible minorities
also represented, including Black (~6%), Chinese (4%), South Asian (~4%), and Arab
Canadians (4%) (Statistics Canada, 2013).
Measures
Children completed the PSPI (Coplan et al., 2014) during individual interviews. Children
were shown 11 black-and-white cartoon images (in random order) depicting a structural
range of traditionally solitary (e.g., drawing) and group (e.g., board games) activities,
including constructive (e.g., blocks), sensorimotor (e.g., slide), and dramatic (e.g., dress-
up) play. People are not depicted in the activit y images. Children were asked whether they
would want to play each activity ‘alone’ or ‘with another child’ (alternating response
options) by pointing to a cartoon drawing of either one child or two sex-neutral children.
The measure demonstrated acceptable internal reliability (a=.66). PFS was computed as
the proportion of times a child indicated they would want to play alone, with higher values
reflecting a greater preference for solitary play.
Teachers completed items from the Child Behavior Scale (Ladd & Profilet, 1996)
assessing asocial (i.e., withdrawn, six items), prosocial (seven items), aggressive (seven
items), anxious behaviours with peers (four items), and peer exclusion (seven items) on a
3-point scale (as=.78.92). To assess children’s school adjustment, teachers also
reported on children’s academic competence (Coplan, Gavinski-Moli na, Lagac
e-S
eguin, &
Wichmann, 2001) by rating (on a 5-point scale) their performance on various academic
skills (e.g., language, math, reasoning) (nine items, a=.94), as well as how much teacher
attention (Coplan & Armer, 2005) each child required (two items, ‘special attention’,
‘extra help/assistance’, r=.91, p<.001).
Due to a labour dispute at the time of data collection, teacher ratings were missing for
48.5% of participants. Full information maximum likelihood in Mplus 7.4 (Muth
en &
Muth
en, 19982015) was used to handle missing data, as it yields unbiased parameter
estimates and standard errors (Dong & Peng, 2013).
Results
Preference for solitude was not significantly correlated with child age (r=.06, p=.26)
or parental education (r=.06, p=.27) and did not differ by child sex, t(290.99) =.27,
p=.79. Intraclass correlations for all study variables were low (.00.05), indicating little
to no variance due to school grouping. Descriptive statistics and zero-order correlations
for all study variables are displayed in Table 1. PFS was significantly and positively
associated with asocial behaviours and peer exclusion, but not significantly related to
other indices of maladjustment. Fisher r-to-ztransformations indicated significant
differences across child sex in the associations between PFS and teacher attention
(z=4.33, p<.001; r
girls
=.39, p<.001; r
boys
=.07, p=.58), and prosocial
behaviours (z=1.99, p=.05; r
girls
=.04, p=.70; r
boys
=.17, p=.11).
A mediation model (n=335) was tested using maximum likelihood estimation
(Figure 1). PFS was significantly and positively associated with asocial behaviour, which
in turn was significantly and positively associated with peer exclusion. Moreover, PFS
Preference for solitary play 503
Table 1. Descriptive statistics and correlations for all study variables (N=340)
12345678
1. Preference for Solitary Play
Interview
2. Aggressive .04
3. Academic competence .00 .12
4. Teacher attention .12 .20* .30***
5. Anxious .13 .18* .16* .29***
6. Prosocial .08 .51*** .36*** .25** .16*
7. Asocial .17* .22** .11 .31*** .39*** .25***
8. Peer exclusion .20* .54*** .23** .32*** .34*** .40*** .56***
M0.29 1.25 3.23 2.53 1.32 2.22 1.21 1.15
SD 0.21 0.38 0.76 1.12 0.41 0.51 0.35 0.32
Min/Max 0.001.00 1.003.00 1.444.89 1.005.00 1.003.00 1.003.00 1.002.83 1.002.71
Note.***p<.001; **p<.01; *p<.05.
504 Laura L. Ooi et al.
demonstrated a significant indirect (but not direct) effect on peer exclusion via asocial
behaviours (R
2
=.09, SE =.04, p=.04). Results from a series of Wald chi-square tests of
parameter equalities (using Bonferroni family-wise error correction) indicated no
significant sex differences in the model (v
2
s=0.001.17, dfs=1, ps=.28.99).
Discussion
As support for the validity of the PSPI, responses were significantly and positively
associated with teacher-rated asocial behaviours. Aside from a correlation with peer
exclusion, PFS was not significantly associated with any other teacher-rated outcomes
(including prosocial behaviours). Although we should be cautiou s about over-interpreting
such findings, this pattern of results is consistent with previous studies of older children,
adolescents, and adults, suggesting that a PFS in early childhood may not be directly
associated with socio-emotional and academic difficulties. Contrary to expectations, few
sex differences emerged in the current findings, suggesting that additional examination of
the implications of PFS across sex is needed in early childhood.
Consistent with findings among older children (Coplan et al., 2013), results from the
mediation analysis suggest that children who prefer to play alone may experience peer
difficulties due to their increased propensity to engage in withdrawn behaviours.
However, given the cross-sectional design of the current study, it is possible that children
report a greater PFS (and spend more time alone) in response to negative peer
experiences (Ren, Wesselmann, & Williams, 2016). Thus, longitudinal research (which
includes additional potential intermediary factors) is needed to examine the complex
nature of these associations.
It also remains to be seen whether heightened preferences for solitude in early
childhood have later implications for adjustment. For example, Wang, Rubin, Laursen,
Booth-LaForce, and Rose-Krasnor (2013) found that PFS was associated with various
indices of socio-emotional maladjustment in a sample of adolescents. However, their
broad measure of PFS also likely assessed an active avoidance of social interactions,
which may carry greater risk of adjustment difficulties (Coplan et al., 2013). In this
regard, it would be of value for future researchers to further delineate the underlying
motivations of young children’s preferences for solitary play by asking them why they
want to play alone. Notwithstanding, the current findings provide an important step
towards advancing our knowledge of what it means to spend time alone in early
childhood.
Asocial
with peers
.11
.54***
.17*
Preference
for solitary
play
Peer
exclusion
Figure 1. Standardized path coefficients depicting direct paths between preference for solitary play,
asocial behaviours, and peer exclusion. The indirect path coefficient is not shown. Note: ***p<.001;
*p<.05.
Preference for solitary play 505
Acknowledgements
This research was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada grant (435-2012-1173) to authors Coplan and Rose-Krasnor. The authors wish to
thank Kristen Archbell, Mandana Armer, Alexa Baird, Alicia Bartlett, Julie Dick, Katie
Dubeau, Sarah Gardiner, Narges Khazraei, Alison Kirkpatrick, Gabriella Nocita, Jessica
Paul, Noelle Strickland, and Emily Thomas for their help in the collection and coding of
data.
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Preference for solitary play 507
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Loneliness is a significant problem that predicts immediate and long-term negative outcomes for young children. This study examines the mediating effect of children's play disconnection on the relationship between their shyness and loneliness, as well as the moderating effect of children's perceived child-teacher intimate relationship on the relationships between child shyness, play disconnection, and loneliness. Participants include 171 4 to 6 year old South Korean children and their teachers and mothers. Children's teachers were asked to respond to the questions measuring child shyness and play disconnection, and the mothers assisted their children to answer the questions measuring child loneliness and child-teacher intimate relationship. The results of the study are as follows. First, child shyness affected loneliness via play disconnection. Second, child-teacher intimate relationship moderated the relationships between child shyness and loneliness and between child shyness and play disconnection. However, the association between play disconnection and loneliness was not moderated by child-teacher intimate relationship. The findings of the study suggest that teachers not only provide shy children with emotional support but also build affectionate and intimate relationships with them to support their peer play and to reduce their feelings of loneliness.
Chapter
Social withdrawal is defined as the process of removing oneself from opportunities for social interactions (Coplan and Rubin, 2010). Historically, social withdrawal has been conceptualized as a broad risk factor for negative peer experiences (e.g., exclusion, victimization) and internalizing problems (e.g., anxiety, depression) (Rubin et al., 2009). Contemporary researchers now espouse more complex conceptual models to describe social withdrawal, shifting from a unidimensional to a multidimensional approach (Asendorpf, 1990; Coplan et al., 2015a). As a result, contemporary researchers now conceptualize three subtypes of social withdrawal (shyness, unsociability, and social avoidance) that have different underlying emotional, motivational, and psychological substrates, and are uniquely related to indices of socio-emotional functioning (e.g., Coplan et al., 2018a). The aim of this article is to describe the different subtypes of social withdrawal and their socio-emotional characteristics in childhood and adolescence.
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Research Findings: The goal of this study was to investigate the role of play behaviors in the links between child shyness and teacher-child relationship quality in preschool. Participants were 212 (102 girls) young children (M = 58.32 months, SD = 10.72) recruited from 10 classrooms in three preschools in central Italy. Parents evaluated children’s shyness and teachers rated their relationships with children as well as play behaviors at preschools. Results from path analysis showed that shyness predicted the display of reticent behaviors (onlooking, unoccupied), which in turn, was associated with dependent teacher-child relationships. Shyness also predicted less social play, which in turn was related to less closeness with teachers. Practice or Policy: The findings provide evidence of the role of social play in impacting the quality of teacher relationships with shy preschool children. Teachers’ understanding that children’s characteristics may influence the quality of teacher-child relationships could be part of teacher training at preschool.
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Social withdrawal has been associated with adjustment difficulties across development. Although much is known about shyness, little is known about preference-for-solitude; even less is known about its relations with adjustment across different periods of adolescence. We examined whether preference-for-solitude might be differentially associated with adjustment difficulties in early and late adolescence. Self- and parent-reports of withdrawal motivations and adjustment were collected from 234 eighth graders (113 boys; M age = 13.43) and 204 twelfth graders (91 boys; M age = 17.25). Results from structural equation modeling demonstrated that above and beyond the effects of shyness, preference-for-solitude was more strongly associated with adjustment difficulties in 8th grade than in 12th grade. Preference-for-solitude was associated with greater anxiety/depression, emotion dysregulation, and lower self-esteem in 8th grade; these relations were not found in 12th grade. Although preference-for-solitude was associated with lower social competence in both 8th and 12th grades, this relation was significantly stronger in 8th grade than in 12th grade. Findings suggest preference-for-solitude has closer ties to maladjustment in early adolescence than in late adolescence. Interventions targeting preferred-solitary youth in early adolescence may be particularly fruitful.
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The goal of this study was to explore the socioemotional adjustment of unsociable (versus shy) children in middle childhood. The participants in this study were 186 children aged 6–8 years (Mage = 7.59 years, SD = .31). Multisource assessment was employed, including maternal ratings, teacher ratings, and individual child interviews. Results provided some of the first evidence to suggest that unsociability can be distinguished from shyness in middle childhood. Shy children evidenced more internalizing problems, peer difficulties, and loneliness as compared to unsociable and nonwithdrawn comparison children. In contrast, aside from a greater tendency to play alone, unsociable children did not differ from nonwithdrawn comparison peers. However, a gender difference emerged, with unsociable boys appearing to be more prone to experiencing difficulties with peers. Results are discussed in terms of the assessment, meaning, and implications of different forms of social withdrawal in middle childhood.
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People are often seen as social creatures and, consequently, solitary behaviors are often cast in a negative light. However, the authors hypothesized that the act of spending time alone is not necessarily related to negative outcomes; rather, individuals' motivation for doing so plays a key role. On the basis of self-determination theory (E. L Deci & R. M. Ryan, 2000; R. M. Ryan & E. L. Deci, 2000), the authors predicted and found that when individuals spend time alone in a volitional and autonomous manner, they counterintuitively report lower levels of loneliness and higher levels of well-being.
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The goal of this study was to develop and validate an interview assessment of preference for solitary activities for use with young children. We also tested the postulation that negative peer experiences would heighten preference for solitude, particularly among young shy children. Participants were N = 193 children (87 boys, 106 girls; Mage = 65.76 mos, SD = 12.68) attending preschools and elementary schools (kindergarten, grade 1) located in south-eastern Ontario, Canada. Self-reported preference for solitude was measured with the newly developed Preference for Solitary Play Interview (PSPI). Children also reported their perceived peer acceptance. Mothers provided ratings of children's social withdrawal (shyness and unsociability) and social engagement outside of school, and teachers assessed children's socio-emotional functioning at school. Among the results, the newly developed PSPI displayed good psychometric properties and evidence of construct/convergent validity. For example, preference for solitary play was positively related to indices of social withdrawal, and negatively associated with social engagement, prosocial behaviour, and perceived peer acceptance. In addition, peer exclusion was found to exacerbate the association between shyness and preference for solitary play. Results are discussed in terms of the assessment and implications of preference for solitude in early childhood. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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The primary goals of this study were to test a conceptual model linking social approach and avoidance motivations, socially withdrawn behaviors, and peer difficulties in later childhood and to compare the socioemotional functioning of different subtypes of withdrawn children (shy, unsociable, avoidant). Participants were 367 children, aged 9-12 years. Measures included assessments of social motivations (i.e., self-reported shyness and preference for solitude) and social withdrawal (observations of solitary behaviors in the schoolyard and self-reports of solitary activities outside of school), as well as self- and parent-reported peer difficulties and internalizing problems. Among the results, both shyness and preference for solitude were associated with socially withdrawn behaviors, which in turn predicted peer difficulties. However, only shyness (but not preference for solitude) also displayed a direct path to peer difficulties. As well, results from person-oriented analyses indicated that different subtypes of socially withdrawn children displayed decidedly different profiles with regard to indices of internalizing problems. For example, whereas unsociable children did not differ from their nonwithdrawn peers on indices of internalizing problems, socially avoidant (i.e., high in both shyness and unsociability) children reported the most pervasive socioemotional difficulties. Findings are discussed in terms of the implications of different forms of social withdrawal for socioemotional functioning in later childhood. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).
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Past research suggests that solitude can have either a positive or a negative impact on a person′s well-being. How time away from others affects people may depend on the person′s general preference for solitude. We present a scale to measure individual differences in preference for solitude. Experiments 1 and 2 report on the development of the Preference for Solitude Scale and provide evidence of its reliability. Experiments 3 and 4 provide discriminant and convergent validity data for the scale. Experiments 5 and 6 use self-report data to demonstrate that scale scores predict the extent to which people spend time by themselves and with others. Experiment 7 uses scale scores to predict the amount of social interaction in a laboratory setting. Experiment 8 demonstrates that scale scores can predict the amount of time people spend alone beyond that predicted by introversion-extraversion. Taken together, the data indicate that the Preference for Solitude Scale assesses individual differences in the extent to which people prefer to spend time alone.