Emotional development in preschoolers and socialization
Suad Abdalkareem Alwaely
, Nagwa Babiker Abdalla Yousif
and Alexey Mikhaylov
Department of Preparation of Arabic language teacher and Islamic education, Al Ain University, Abu Dhabi, United
Department of Sociology, College of Humanities and Sciences, Ajman University, Ajman, United Arab
Research Center of Monetary Relations, Financial University under the Government of the Russian
Federation, Moscow, Russia
This work aims to determine the relationship between the emotional
development variables and later adaptation in society for preschoolers
living in Omdurman, Sudan. The secondary objective is to study the
socio-emotional problems the 4-year-old boys and girls coming from
families with diﬀerent structure deal with. The article is based on a study
that involved 300 children aged 4–5 years, attending Omdurman twon
kindergartens. The children’s emotion knowledge was measured
through the Emotion Matching Task and the social competence was
measured using the shortened version of the Social Competence and
Behavior Evaluation scale, introduced by LaFreniere. The research results
may be utilized for the creation of emotional development programmes
for Sudan kindergartens. These ﬁndings allow preventing the
development of abnormal behavioural tendencies, which are linked to
the emotional intelligence, social adaptation, and anxiety in preschoolers.
Received 30 November 2019
Accepted 14 January 2020
Emotions; preschool age;
social competence; anxiety;
The emotional development of preschool children is a subject of strong debate among scientists
(Denham, Bassett, Zinsser, & Wyatt, 2014; Rademacher & Koglin, 2019). Child development specialists
from various ﬁelds (e.g. education, medicine, child welfare) recognize the crucial role of positive social
and emotional development in the child’s welfare (Darling-Churchill & Lippman, 2016; Isakson,
Higgins, Davidson, & Cooper, 2009).
Emotional knowledge and emotional self-regulation both aﬀect the ability of preschool children to
adapt to the social standards of behaviour (Di Maggio, Zappulla, Pace, & Izard, 2016). A child is
immersed into the system of relations from a very early age in and through which (s)he acquires
emotional experience and forms one’s own pattern of behaviour (Kiernan & Huerta, 2008). The
ability to understand the very concept of emotions, or emotional knowledge, represents a multicom-
ponent construct, which embraces (1) the children’s knowledge about the nature of emotions and
factors inﬂuencing the presence of positivity/negativity resonance; and (2) the children’s realization
of their ability to keep one’s own emotions under control (Ewing, Herres, Dilks, Rahim, & Trentacosta,
2019; Molina et al., 2014). The studies reveal a positive connection between self-regulation and devel-
opmental abilities such as emotional and social competencies (van der Pol et al., 2016). You can start
building a foundation for emotional development in children when they hit the age of four. At this
age, they learn the essential and begin to deﬁne emotions (Powell & Dunlap, 2009). This is the stage
known as the initiative vs guilt stage, according to the Erickson’s 8 Stages of Psychosocial Develop-
ment, at which the preschooler learns how to take the initiative, make decisions independently,
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CONTACT Nagwa Abdalla Yousif Babiker ϔχύϝχϟмрЮύϓχϏϒͨωϕϓͥϔχύϝχψόχϚϏϓχЮύϓχϏϒͨωϕϓ
EARLY CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND CARE
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and be in charge of something (McLeod & Erikson, 2008). Preschoolers (3–4 years old) begin to build
emotional contacts outside the family by entering in friendship relations. They are learning the diﬀer-
ence between socially acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and gain speciﬁc skills like persever-
ance when completing diﬃcult tasks; endurance (i.e. paying attention for longer periods of time;
expressing emotions in a socially acceptable manner; and resolving social issues independently
(Hemmeter, Ostrosky, & Fox, 2006; Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015)). Emotional self-regulation
is a component of emotional development, which allows for the promotion of speciﬁc abilities.
Among these, self-distancing, empathy, and sympathy. For instance, as the child copes better with
one’s own emotions, (s)he enters into an empathic state by passing three distinct psychological
stages: mentalizing; aﬀect matching; and empathic motivation (Yi, Gentzler, Ramsey, & Root, 2016).
The emotional development of a 3–4 year-old is characterized by the expression of aﬀection for
family members and a friendly attitude towards others. An emphatic child is capable of understand-
ing the feelings of another and emotively respond to them (e.g. console and help a peer in the
moment of emotional suﬀering). Such a child may be ashamed that his/her deeds are ‘bad’but
this and abovementioned feelings do not last long (Johnson, Hawes, Eisenberg, Kohlhoﬀ,&
Empirical evidence indicates that the child–parent relationships in Russa adoptive and birth
families have similarities in the degree of parental care for children, and diﬀerences in the quality
of positive emotions, their direction and parenting empathy channels (Yashkova, Buyanova, Sukhar-
eva, & Alaeva, 2019).
Today, children are emotionally immature and this sets a challenge. The child’s best friends these
days are digital gadgets and TV, and their favourite ways to spend time are to watch animation
movies and to play computer games. The extended screen time may result in little to zero communi-
cation with adults and peers in the future. In so far as it concerns the preschoolers’leisure activity, one
should keep in mind that children may become insensitive and incapable of controlling one’sown
emotions at an early age (Poletaeva & Merzlyakova, 2018; Watanabe et al., 2019). Alongside the per-
sonal characteristics of preschoolers, a bunch of external factors such as family relations, the teacher’s
behaviour, and the country in which they live inﬂuence the socioemotional development (Breaux,
Harvey, & Lugo-Candelas, 2016). In recent studies, it was shown that children who do not live with
both parents together deal with more problems compared to those who live in full families. Addition-
ally, when stratifying by custody arrangement, girls in rural areas living alternately with each parent
had more problems compared to those in urban areas (Eurenius et al., 2019).
The problem of making preschoolers tap into the social norms remains one of the leading ones in
personality development. The accumulation of social experience accomplished by the child indepen-
dently and under the guidance of adults contributes to the exploitation of potential. It also allows for
the development of school readiness skills and lifetime abilities necessary to cope with the adult life.
Hence, the preschool years represent a period during which the foundations for child’s social maturity
(competence) are laid down (Garner & Parker, 2018). This preconditions his/her development path
and facilitates the adaptation eﬀorts (Zakharova, 2011). Social development is a complex process
during which the child appropriates the objectively set norms of behaviour and constantly discovers
oneself as a social subject (Garner & Estep, 2001).
For preschoolers, the main mechanisms of socialization are social orientation (time spend in
contact with a social partner), reﬂex regulation, mimicry/imitation tasks, and normative regulation
(refers to the set of social rules that a child must follow). To ensure successful socialization,
parents must take an active part in this process, adjusting the behaviour of their child (van der Pol
et al., 2015).
Social experience is one of the leading mechanisms in socialization and it plays a signiﬁcant role in
the emotional and cognitive development. It also serves as a major factor inﬂuencing the formation
of values, attitudes, and a behavioural style (Warren & Stifter, 2008).
Between 2010 and 2015, the United Arab Emirates has been putting into action the Friendship
Program, designed to provide social skills training to schoolchildren in the community that are
2S. A. ALWAELY ET AL.
referred to it. Such programmes address psychosocial concerns reported by them and their families
that are typical to those experienced in a Western culture –such as having few or no friends, shyness
and/or anxiety, dealing with bullying, diﬃculty with peer or teacher relationships, and various other
issues of simply ‘not ﬁtting in’. Families in UAE are generally enthusiastic about enrolling their chil-
dren in this social skills programme, as any potential stigma in attending a ‘therapy group’is mini-
mized (including changing the marketed name to ‘Friendship Group’instead of ‘Social Skills Group
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), preschool institutions should focus on the socio-emotional
component of development more in order to prepare children for school. The social-emotional com-
petence is a crucial marker of school readiness. As of late, the UAE is going through changes in the
preschool education (Al-Momani, Ihmeideh, & Momani, 2008). Parents are increasingly taking active
participation in the upbringing of children. The supportive eﬀorts vary though, depending on the
educational background, curriculum complexity, and the school, which their children attend
(Mahmoud, 2018). The UAE recognizes the role of moral education in helping young children
develop their own values and beliefs and lays the groundwork for a sustainable society based on
respect and tolerance.
In Sudan, there is large group of children that should be in pre-primary school but are not. Sudan
has both the largest number and the highest out-of-school children rate in the Middle East and North
Africa region. The 2010 Education Management Information System data indicates that a total of 3
million children between the ages 5–13 are out of school in Sudan. This comprises 490,673 children
of pre-primary age (5 years), (UNICEF, 2015). Exclusion of pre-primary children from access to quality
education was based on their socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, language, disability and
In Sudanese kindergartens, there are children from three years and nine months to ﬁve years and
ten months. Besides, the number of children in a kindergarten classroom could range from ﬁve to
sixty children. In addition, one teacher can be responsible for six and up to thirty-eight children.
From an educator’s point of view, one might argue that it is a diﬃcult task for any teacher to
provide developmentally appropriate teaching for that wide range of age and number of children.
Pre-primary is oﬃcially recognized as a subsystem of the general education system that must fulﬁl
the following criteria:
.be oﬀered for two years for children aged 3–5 years;
.ensure that children are ready for primary school;
.provide quality learning opportunities;
.be widely available;
.provide two classrooms in each public primary school;
.be suﬃciently ﬁnanced by the government (Habib, 2005).
In order to teach in pre-primary school, a teacher must have a secondary school certiﬁcate or
diploma and teaching qualiﬁcation from a recognized teacher training institute (Ministry of
General Education and Instruction, 2012). Policy requires that every pre-primary school should be
attached to a primary school (with some physical separation between the two), have a secure play-
ground equipped with outdoor play equipment, and that the distance to pre-primary schools should
not exceed one kilometre. Further, the teacher to learner ratio should be 1:20, and pre-primary
schools should conduct regular assessments of student learning outcomes to guide grading and pro-
motion. There are currently seven learning areas (subjects) in the pre-primary curriculum including:
language activities, creative activities, mathematics activities, outdoor and physical activities, musical
activities, environmental, personal and social activities and religious education activities (Saima,
EARLY CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND CARE 3
This work aims to determine the relationship between the emotional development variables and
later adaptation in society for preschoolers living in the Omdurman, Sudan, having diﬀerent gender,
age, and family structure of households.
To achieve the research objectives, the following tasks were set:
(1) Measure the emotion knowledge in children.
(2) Explore the children’s social adaptation.
(3) Identify if these children deal with socio-emotional problems.
(4) Determine the psychometric characteristics of preschool children.
The children’s emotion knowledge is expected to be positively related to emotional self-regulation
and, consequently, to social adaptation.
The study involved 300 children, 142 boys and 158 girls, at the age of four (N= 199) to ﬁve (N= 111),
recruited from two state kindergartens in Omdurman, Sudan. The mean age of this group was 4.36;
SD, 0.76. Ninety-six children were excluded from the study due to a missing parental consent. Of
these 300 children, 97 were raised in single-parent households (51 boys and 46 girls).
Before the beginning of the study, parents and teachers were invited to a preliminary meeting
with the researchers at which they were informed about the research goals and methods. Demo-
graphic information was obtained through a short list of questions attached to the said form. The
pre-school director and the kindergarten teachers were assisting throughout the course of the
study. None of the parents was against the participation of their child in the study and everyone com-
pleted the informed consent form)
The emotion knowledge testing
To measure the emotion knowledge (EK) of each child individually, an Emotion Matching Task (EMT)
was performed, as suggested in (Di Maggio et al., 2016; Izard, Haskins, Schultz, Trentacosta, & King,
2003) and translated and adapted for Arab children. This measure allows evaluating the child’s
ability to recognize happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and surprise. The EMT consists of four parts:
(1) emotion expression matching; (2) emotion situation knowledge; (3) expressive EK; and (4) recep-
tive EK. It allows for the overall assessment of EK as well as the assessment of individual EK com-
ponents. Each EMT part consists of 12 items, scoring 0 or 1 so that the overall score can vary
between 0 and 12. Higher score indicates better EK. The composite ENT score (48 tops) can be
obtained by summing the four separate scores.
To measure the social competence of children, a 30-item version of the Social Competence and Behavior
Evaluation (SCBE-30) Scale (LaFreniere & Dumas, 1996) was used with Arabic translation. Teachers were
asked to ﬁll out the SCBE-30 questionnaire, which was composed of three factors, among which social com-
petence (pro-social behaviour), anxiety-withdrawal (internalizing behaviour), and anger-aggression (exter-
nalizing behaviour). Items were rated on a 6-point Likert-type scale, where 1 was‘never,’and 6 was ‘always.’
Social-emotional problems of children aged 42–53 months
The socio-emotional screening was performed using the ASQ:SE questionnaire, developed by
Squires, Bricker, Heo, and Twombly (2002), namely the adapted Arabic version of A-ASQ-3 Squires
4S. A. ALWAELY ET AL.
et al. (2018)Q5
. Studies have shown that A-ASQ-3 has suﬃcient reliability (Charafeddine et al., 2019). All
items on the A-ASQ-3 were reviewed and discussed with a child psychologist, a pediatric occu-
pational therapist, and an early child education expert. Items that were found to be culturally sensi-
tive were modiﬁed; for example, the item ‘shopping cart’was removed and replaced by ‘other toys on
For this study, children at the age between 42 and 53 months were selected, 91 boys and 105 girls
(total, 196 subjects). The questionnaire consists of 36 items. Out of these, 33 items are divided into the
following psychological domains: self-regulation, compliance, adaptive functioning, autonomy,
aﬀect, communication and interaction (Squires et al, 2018). For 33 items, the parent indicated on a
three-point Likert scale how they perceived their child’s behaviour. This leads to a total score of 0–
495 points. If the score was higher than 70, then the child was considered as one that has social
and emotional problems (Squires et al., 2018). The ASQ:SE User’s Guide was followed when calculat-
ing the total mean score for all children. For each item, the distribution of responses was calculated,
separately for boys and for girls.
Data obtained during the study were analysed using the cross-sectional descriptive and comparative
statistical methods. Pearson correlation analysis was performed to explore the relationship between
age, EK, and socio-emotional problems. The Fisher t-test was used to analysediﬀerences between
variables. For this study, the signiﬁcance level was set 0.05 and the corresponding conﬁdence
level was 95%. Data was analysed using the Statsoft Statistica version 6.0 and the SPSS Statistics
Translation and back-translation of instruments
At the ﬁrst stage of the research process translation of the SCBE-30, an Emotion Matching Task and
back-translation for maintaining conceptual equivalence was done. The original English versions of
both instruments were translated into Arabic by the ﬁrst author. The back-translation was done by
a native speaker of English and ﬂuent in Arabic. Independent back-translations were compared
with the original to identify any items that might not be comparable. These items (11%) were dis-
cussed by a team of bilinguals in order to resolve any translation problems. As a ﬁnal step, these
items were resubmitted to an independent back-translation until all problems were resolved.
Special attention was focused on culturally sensitive items; in addition, the perceived necessary
modiﬁcations were made after reaching a consensus.
Recruits in the study are representatives of urban population only. In addition, we did not take into
account certain diﬀerences between children such as race and social status. Scale of SCBE-30 was not
adapted for Arab children.
Table 1 shows the means and standard deviations for EMT total and SCBE-30 subscales in groups
divided by gender, age, and custody arrangements.
The EK correlated signiﬁcantly with gender (t= 1.45; p< 0.001) and age (t= 2.02, p< 0.001) vari-
ables. The gender had a signiﬁcant eﬀect on both externalizing (t= 0.2, p< 0.05) and pro-social (t
= 0.18, p< 0.05) behaviour, with boys showing higher scores on anger-aggression and lower on
social competence. A signiﬁcant eﬀect of age was found (t= 0.06, p< 0.001). Hence, 4-year-old chil-
dren are less emotionally and pro-socially competent compared to older children.
EARLY CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND CARE 5
No statistically signiﬁcant eﬀects of gender were found on the measure of internalizing behaviour
(t= 0.38, p< 0.001) but such an eﬀect of age was clearly observed. Older children demonstrated
higher scores on anxiety-withdrawal (p< 0.001) (Table 1).
Children in nuclear families had signiﬁcantly higher EMT total (t= 1.45, p< 0.05) and a higher level
of social competence. The analysis revealed an indirect connection between EK and pro-social behav-
iour (95% CI = 0.02–0.05).
Using the correlation analysis, we studied the relationship between the mean age, the EK measure,
and SCBE-30 subscales. The analysis showed that EK is positively associated with social competence
(Table 2) and negatively with the measure of internalizing behaviour. Age is positively correlated with
EK and social competence. A negative correlation was found between social competence and the
anxiety-withdrawal subscale, between age and the measure of internalizing behaviour.
Table 3 provides details regarding the parent-reported social and emotional problems of the 4-
year-old children. The ASQ:SE total score had a mean of 37.7 ± 19.4. Boys had a total mean score
of 35.2 with the range of 0–225 (SD, 19.1) and girls had a total mean score of 27.8 with the range
of 0–200 (SD, 16.6; p< 0.001). Thirteen percent of children (n= 26) had a value above the rec-
ommended cut-oﬀ(70 points). Moreover, boys had more social-emotional problems (14.1%) than
girls (6.1%; p< 0.005).
Boys had a signiﬁcantly higher mean total score for 20 out of 33 items (55%). This result indicates a
greater number of socio-emotional problems (Table 3). Girls scored highest on self-regulation (p<
0.041). The highest scores were obtained in categories communication and aﬀect.
Studies show that emotional development and socialization problems of preschoolers are closely
related to the family situation. For instance, more socio-emotional problems were found in children
living with one parent (Table 4).
To conclude this section, we will indicate that socio-emotional problems in 4-year-olds are posi-
tively correlated with the EK measure (r= 0.58).
This study showed that children’s emotion knowledge positively aﬀects their social adaptation. Note
that the child’s age has an impact on his/her emotional development. For instance, the child receives
Table 1. Distribution of mean scores (SD) in EMT and SCBE-30 for age, sex, and family structure.
Emotion knowledgеSocial competence Anger-aggression Anxiety-withdrawal
Boys М(SD) 40.2 (6.26) 3.74(0.92) 2.0(0.87) 3.01(0.99)
Girls М(SD) 42.3(6.46) 3.92(0.95) 1.76 (0.84) 2.99 (0.99)
4М(SD) 31.2(5.63) 3.86 (0.87) 1.83(0.75) 1.88 (0.78)
5М(SD) 36.1(5.62) 3.94(1.1) 1.74(0.76) 2.22 (0.65)
Nuclear М(SD) 37.5(6.16) 3.75(0.96) 1.24(0.65) 2.22(0.78)
Single-Parent М(SD) 35.5(6.26) 3.34(1.01) 1.44(0.45) 2.67(0.88)
Table 2. Intercorrelations between EK measure and SCBE-30 subscales.
Emotion knowledgеSocial competence Anger-aggression Anxiety-withdrawal
Age 0.44* 0.24 0.18 −0.1
Emotion Knowledgе0.40** −0.12 0.4
Social Competence −0.86*** −0.62***
*p< 0. 05.
6S. A. ALWAELY ET AL.
emotion knowledge that is more conscious at the age of ﬁve. The study shows that 11% of subjects
had parent-reported socio-emotional problems. The gender patterns in emotional development were
established, with girls being more socially competent and adaptable than boys. On the other hand,
boys had two times more socio-emotional problems compared to girls. Parents who did not live
together reported more social and emotional problems in their children than those living together
(Jee et al., 2010). The study revealed that the emotional state of preschoolers aﬀects their communi-
cation with peers. The emotional development of preschool-age children occurs through situational
communication and peer-peer interaction experience (Scrimgeour, Davis, & Buss, 2016). In children
with emotional disorders (emotional distress), negative emotions such as fear, grief, anger, shame,
and disgust prevail. Similar results were obtained in this study. They have increased anxiety and
feel positive emotions on rare occasions. We have shown that emotional knowledge is negatively cor-
related with anger and anxiety. Therefore, special attention must be paid to the psychological and
pedagogical conditions in the preschool institutions (Semenova, 2019). Previous researchers have
conceptualized the relationship between emotion regulation and attachment from a unidirectional
perspective, that is, either that children’s emotion regulation predicts the quality of their attachment
to their parents, or that attachment security predicts the development of children’s emotion regu-
lation (Kiel & Kalomiris, 2015). They also found out that when parents seldom used the minimization
reaction, children with poor emotion regulation displayed stronger attachment to their parents than
children with eﬀective emotion regulation (Ahmetoglu, Ilhan Ildiz, Acar, & Encinger, 2018).
Empirical evidence indicates that the child–parent relationships in Russian adoptive and birth
families have similarities in the degree of parental care for children, and diﬀerences in the quality
of positive emotions, their direction and parenting empathy channels (Yashkova et al., 2019).
Studies on the introduction of social skills training programmes in the UAE (Dubai) revealed that
children usually improved at least to some extent in their level of socio-emotional competence with
the specialized training. The developmental progress became more signiﬁcant as time in intervention
increased (e.g. attending more than one programme term). Parents were often very pleased with the
social growth they saw in their children, especially within the groups, and they began to better under-
stand and appreciate how an individual’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of social development
plays out in life (Rios-Habib, 2015).
In this study, the age disparity regarding gender patterns in emotional development and socio-
emotional problems may be a result of various factors (Eurenius et al., 2019). The early and preschool
years are the most productive period for emotional development, since it is the period during which
the personality foundations are laid down (Maksimova, 2013). At an early age, children’s mental
health is mainly assessed through parental observations and questionnaires, while older children’s
mental health is usually self-reported (Salisch, 2001). Boys’expressions of emotional-psychological
Table 3. Distribution of ASQ:SE mean total scores for boys and girls at age four.
Domain Boys (%), Girls (%) pvalue
0 5 10 15 0 5 10 15 0.041
Self-regulation 78.2 11.3 9.9 0.6 88.5 10.4 0.9 0.2 0.02
Compliance 59.4 38.9 1.5 0.2 66.9 32.1 0.8 0.2 0.00
Communication 90.1 5.4 3.8 0.7 93.3 5.1 1.3 0.3 0.00
Adaptive function 92.7 5.8 1.3 0.2 98.1 1.5 0.3 0.1 0.02
Autonomy 64.1 30.6 5.1 0.2 64.2 30.8 4.9 0.1 0.03
Aﬀect 98.0 1.3 0.7 0 98.2 1.2 0.4 0 0.01
Interaction 89.7 7.9 2.2 0.2 94.1 5.6 0.2 0.1 0.06
Table 4. ASQ:SE mean total scores (SD) for boys and girls at age four in relation to family structure.
Nuclear family Single-parent family
Boys (n= 68) Girls (n= 51) Boys (n= 41) Girls (n= 36)
33.1(18) 25.2(19.1) 42.5(21.3) 35(22.1)
EARLY CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND CARE 7
problems are easier to observe, as these are more externalized and therefore to a larger extent
reported by parents (Kato, Yanagawa, Fujiwara, & Morawska, 2015). Internalized psychological symp-
toms are more common among girls and demand more developed communication skills to be ver-
balized, and thus could easily be missed in reports by parents of younger children (Song &
Trommsdorﬀ,2016). A qualitative analysis of data regarding the measures of emotional competence
revealed that children recognize no more than seven emotions but this ability is heterogeneous: pre-
school children ﬁnd it easier to match emotions with their corresponding word-names than to ident-
ify them by photographs and reproduce (Kilic, 2015; Scrimgeour et al., 2016).
This study shows that emotion knowledge in children needs to be developed from an early age, as it
is connected with later social adaptation. Findings reveal that emotion knowledge is positively associ-
ated with social competence and negatively with the measure of internalizing behaviour. Gender and
age turned out to be important in social development, as evidenced by statistically signiﬁcant diﬀer-
ences that were found for these variables (p< 0.001). Children in single-parent families had more
socio-emotional problems. A negative correlation was found between the pro-social behaviour
The research results may be utilized for the creation of emotional development programmes for
Sudan kindergartens. These ﬁndings allow preventing the development of abnormal behavioural ten-
dencies, which are linked to the emotional intelligence, social adaptation, and anxiety in
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the authorsQ6
Nagwa Babiker Abdalla Yousif http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5237-5347
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