2014. Vol.5, No.2, 99-103
Published Online February 2014 in SciRes (
Influence of Age and Gender in Acquiring Social Skills
in Portuguese Preschool Education
Rosa Maria Silva Gomes, Anabela Sousa Pereira
Education Department, University of Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal
Received December 20th, 2013; revised January 23rd, 2014; accepted February 18th, 2014
Copyright © 2014 Rosa Maria Silva Gomes, Anabela Sousa Pereira. This is an open access article distributed
under the Creative Co mmons Attribution License, which per mits unrestricted u se, distribution , and reproduction
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The specificity of educational contexts as mediators of social development through positive interactions is
critical to childrens involvement in the kindergarten and therefore for their holistic development. The
qualities of teacher-child interactions enhance the childs self-esteem and autonomy, promoting peer ac-
ceptance and providing a successful learning experience. The purpose of this study was to investigate
whether the characteristic of gender and age are related to the acquisition of social skills of children at-
tending kindergarten in a portuguese-speaking environment. The sample is composed of 581 children, age
from 2 to 7 years old, who attended preschool education on average 18 months ago. Social Skills subscale
(EAS) and Behavior Problems (EPC) was applied to the “Behavioral Scale for Preschool-PKBSpt” (Gomes
& Pereira, 2012), Portuguese version of PKBS-2 (Merrell, 2002), Likert-type, four response levels, which
seeks to assess the social and emotional skills, and behavior problems in early childhood, with the partici-
pation of educators. The Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS), version 17.0 for Windows. The
main results show that there are gender differences in the level of social skills. The girls reveal behaviors
based on Social Cooperation and Social Interaction. The boys show Attention Problems/Overactive and
Antisocial Behavior/Aggressive. Older children have the highest average level Social Cooperation and
Social Independence. In the dimensions of behavior problems, the youngest children (3 and 4 years) had
higher mean values, either in the factor Attention Problem/Overactive or the Antisocial/Aggressive. Older
children (6 years old) had statistically significant differences in the problems of the type Social With-
drawal and Anxiety-Somatic problems. The childs gender and age variables are important factors and
should be included in educational practices, taking into account the development of social skills of chil-
dren attending in preschool. Promoting articulated and differentiated development can prevent maladap-
tive behaviors in young adults. Finally thoughts are given on the implications of this study in the level of
children’s involvement within their educational contexts.
Keywords: Social Skills; Problem Behavior; Child Psychology; Preschool Education; Education
The curriculum of Preschool Education in Portugal is go-
verned by the Curriculum Guidelines, which adopts a perspec-
tive focused on indications for Educators and not in anticipation
of learning to be performed by children. It assumes educators as
builders and managers of curriculum and outlines the episte-
mological principles that underlie the educational options for
educators, by proposing an integrated and open in different
areas of the curriculum. Personal and social development is one
of those areas that fall within the curriculum, not only as a ne-
cessity of children in this age group, but also as preparation for
future learning.
An analysis of learning preschool education’s impact in the
later development of children concludes that the learning done
at the level of Childhood Education is related to engagement in
the tasks and social skills (Del Prette & Del Prette, 2005). The
predispositions and feelings of the child contribute significantly
to expand their skills and give back success in learning. The
personal, social and emotional development is important (Tri-
anes, 2002) for the realization of children as people and for
their ability to be successful learners. In our concerted efforts to
raise the educational level of children it is of primary impor-
tance that we take into account how we support this develop-
ment, through informed, effective and cross-curricular practices
(Roberts, 2005). A study of Seçer, Çeliköz, Koçyiğit, Seçer, &
Kayılı (2010), to assess the relationship between social skills
and behavior problems through PKBS Merrell (2002) and cog-
nitive style and reflexivity-impulsivity by KRISP scale devel-
oped by Wright (1971), with 6-year-old children, attending
Preschool Education showed that children with impulsive cog-
nitive style show more behavior problems and children with
cognitive style of reflexivity show more social skills. These
studies show that impulsive children are less efficient than the
reflective level of social skills, such as social cooperation, so
cial interaction and social autonomy.
In modern societies, we continue to witness directly or indi-
rectly, situations that demonstrate that many children grow in
contexts and situations that constitute threats to their psycho-
logical health. When facing stressful situations and risk in their
daily lives, they may develop emotional disorders and conduct
problems, becoming vulnerable. However, it is observed that
not all children who experience the same risk situations present
problems. On the contrary, some of them are able to adapt and
overcome these situations, demonstrating, among others, social
skills (Cecconello & Koller, 2000).
Social skills are learned and understood in given a situation
and encompass personal, situational and cultural dimensions
(Del Prette & Del Prette, 2001). To have a good repertoire of
social skills does not guarantee a socially responsible perfor-
mance by itself. Campbell (1995) considers that the initial be-
havior problems for children in the kindergarten remain rela-
tively stable and predicts not only problems in school but also
serious health and behavioral problems in adolescence, includ-
ing depression and anxiety.
In the case of negative social interactions, children tend to be
rejected among peers. This pattern of social behavior will trig-
ger a reaction from others according to the perceived default,
whether positive or negative. Study Domènech-Llaberia (2008)
found that physical aggression is the most common, followed
by verbal aggression and that aggression among peers is asso-
ciated with three-year old male children.
A study conducted in Brazil by Cecconello (2000), to as-
sess social competence and empathy in children (6 to 9 years
old), living in poverty, showed that girls are more socially
competent and more empathic than boys. Likewise, the most
empathetic children tend to be more socially responsible than
others. In general, the studies emphasized the importance of
these two characteristics as protective factors contributing to
resilience and adaptation, in situations of stress and vulnerabil-
ity. The girls prove to be more competent in the use of strate-
gies of conflict resolution, using significantly less often want to
retaliation or physical aggression (Walker, Irving, & Berthelsen,
2002; Gomes, Pereira, Abrantes, Inocêncio, Merrel, & An-
dreucci, 2011). The investigation (Simões & Sanches, 2006),
about age and gender in conflict resolution, with 3 to 14-year-
old children, showed that age has an influence on the strategies
used in conflict resolution and the older children have more
elaborate types of responses. For the authors, the strategies are
aggression, authority, social withdrawal and pro-social res-
ponses. Studies of Walker (2005), with 3 to 5-year-old children,
showed that children aged 4, typically developing, are able to
make inferences about the beliefs and desires of others, use this
information and interpret its behavior. The boys are seen as
more aggressive and girls as more tolerant, dialoguing and pro-
social, although the studies of Simões (2006) have not found a
significant effect of interpersonal conflict on gender differences.
Also the quality of interpersonal relationships among peers
seems to influence social development of children from early
Through positive interactions with peer groups in the early
years of life, children develop the best fit social skills such as
sensitivity, empathy, ability to engage in different contexts and
answer social problems (Lopes, Rutherford, Cruz, Mathur, &
Quinn, 2011). Poor interactions among peers, resulting in rejec-
tion, can trigger poor social, emotional, academic adjustment,
reflected even in adjustment problems in adulthood. Studies of
Asher & Coie (1990) show that those children from preschool
make their friendship choices based on observable behaviors.
The pairs showing positive behaviors establish positive interac-
tions, but the pairs showing negative behaviors are rejected and
are not choosen as partners. Children who are not accepted can
cause anger and aggression as a response to unfair treatment or
they may choose social isolation, as a result of anxiety and
social insecurity (Lopes et al., 2011).
The aim of this study was to evaluate if gender and age are
related to the acquisition of social skills of children attending
the preschool education, in Portuguese-speaking educational con-
Parti cipa nt s
This research involved 581 children, female (52.3%) and
male (47.7%), aged 2 to 7, who attend Preschool Education in
public institutions (37.2%), private institutions of social soli-
darity—IPSS (34.6%) and private institutions (28.2%) on aver-
age for 18 months. Most educators who applied to the instru-
ment were female (99.7%), were on average 35 years with an
average age of 35, and had been practicing for an average of 10
years (s ee Table 1).
The Behavioral Scale for Preschool (PKBSpt) was adapted
for the Portuguese population by Gomes, Pereira & Merrell (200 9),
and validated by Gomes & Pereira (2014) from Preschool and
Kindergarten Behavior Scale, PKBS 2—Merrell (2002) and is
used to evaluate the social skills and problem behaviours of chi ld-
ren. The instruments contain 67 Likert-scale questions.
The children’s social skills were assessed using the Social
Skills Scale—EAS. It is a 29-item, explaining 53.47% of the
total variance and the overall value of the Cronbach’s alpha
coefficient was .95. The school seeks to assess the social and
emotional behaviors of children attending garden for children
aged between 3 and 6. The dimensions of the Social Coopera-
tion scale are a 12-item, which explains 38.2% of the variance
and the coefficient value of Cronbach’s alpha was .92. It as-
sesses behaviors of cooperation with peers, assertiveness and
self; Social Interaction is a 7-item, explaining 5.2% of the va-
riance and the coefficient value of Cronbach’s alpha was .76,
which evaluates respect, friendliness and courtesy pipelines
primarily for colleagues. The Social Independence factor is a
10-item, which explains 10.1% of the variance and the value of
Cronbach’s alpha coefficient was .89. It assesses attitudes of
autonomy, adaptation and acceptance both among peers and
Table 1.
Sample distribution according to age and gender.
Years 2 3 4 5 6 7
Boys N 3 37 78 106 49 -
% 1.1 13.6 28.6 38.8 17.9
Girls N 0 52 75 126 45 1
% - 17.4 25.1 42.1 15.1 0.3
N (total) 3 89 153 239 94 1
% (total) 0.5 15.4 26.4 41.3 16.2 0.2
between adults. Behavior problems were assessed by the Beha-
vior Problems Scale (EPC), a 38-item, which seeks to assess
the social and emotional behavior level of children attending
the kindergarten.
Behavior Problems Scale (EPC), the factors are distributed
by externalizing behavior problems (EPC’I) and internalizing
behavior problems (EPC’I). The EPC’E consists of factor Self-
centered/Explosive and it is a 6-item, explaining 55% of the
variance and Cronbach’s alpha value was .87; Factor Attention
Problem/Overactive is a 9-item explaining 5% of the variance
and Cronbach’s alpha value was .92;
Factor Antisocial/Aggressive is a 10-item explaining 5% of
the variance and Cronbach’s alpha value was .93.
Internalizing behavior problems (EPC’I) are constituted by-
Factor Social Withdrawal is a 6-item, explaining 45.08% of
variance, with the value of Cronb a c hs alpha .85; Factor Anxiety/
Somatic Problems is a 7-item, explaining 10.22% of variance,
with the value of Cronbach’s alpha .83.The answers were given
taking into account a Likert-type, response options range from
0 (never) to 3 (often).
The study was applied to a population of children attending
preschool, whose native language is Portuguese. The sampling
took place during the second quarter of 2009, in the educational
contexts of Portugal, Brazil and Cabo Verde, through anonym-
ous questionnaires and confidential self-report. For this purpose
a group of educators and/or monitors was formed according to
the reality of each country developing teaching activities in
Kindergarten which applied the EAS and EPC questionnaire
assessing children in their rooms in each of the items, supported
by observations made in the last three months, as indicated in
the questionnaire form.
Ethical issues were respected, participation was voluntary
and each questionnaire was accompanied by explanatory in-
formation of the objectives, the conditions of research, confi-
dentiality and anonymity of the data being secured. The SPSS
(Statistical Package for Social Sciences), version 17.0 for MS
Windows was used for data analysis.
The results concerning the characterization of the target pop-
ulation, children age Preschool show a homogeneous distribu-
tion as a function of female (52.3%) and male (47.7%), with
ages ranging from 2 to 7 years (M = 4.58, SD = 0.96).
Geographically, these institutions are distributed in Portugal,
Brazil and Cabo Verde: in Portugal 39.9% of children attending
preschool in the district of Aveiro, 13.9% in the district of Porto
and 11.0% in the district Santarém, in Brazil, 23.4% attending
preschool located in Botucatu, State of São Paulo and 11.7%
attending in kindergarten in the different islands of Cabo Verde.
Most educators who applied to the instrument are on average
35 years old (M = 34.87, SD = 10.03), have been practicing for
an average of 10 years (M = 10.51, SD = 8.95) varying the
service time between 1 and 33 years. The recording of observa-
tions concerning the behavior of each child was produced
within the educational room (62%) and in the kindergarten
If we consider the parametric correlation coefficient, Pearson
correlation between the EAS subscale and the gender and age
variables, we find that the positive associations are weak, but
significant (p ≤ .01), ranging between .165 and .217, in Social
Cooperation. We also found statistically significant differences
between Social Interaction and gender and Social Independence
although weaker (p ≤ .05) (see Table 2).
In the EPC subscale there were significant (p ≤ .01) weak
negative associations but between gender and the factors: At-
tention Problem/Overactive behavior and Antisocial/Aggressive.
The variable age of children also has a weak negative associa-
tion with the factor Attention Problem/Overactive and weak
positive association with Social Withdrawal factor (see Table
There are still strong and significant positive associations
(p ≤ .01), among the factors of each of the scales EAS and
The results of the parametric t-student PKBSpt test showed
that comparing the factors of Social Skills, statistically signifi-
cant differences by gender were found. Girls had higher level of
Social Cooperation mean (M = 27.96, SD = 5.70, t = 3.96, df
= 558, p = .000) and Social Interaction (M = 15.66, SD = 3.84,
t = 3.29, df = 563, p = .001). Regarding EPC also statistically
significant differences between genders were found. However,
it were the boys who had higher mean values, either in the fac-
tor Attention Problem/Overactive (M = 12.79, SD = 7.13, t =
5.56, df = 564, p = .000) or the Antisocial/Aggressive factor (M
= 9.74, SD = 7.41, t = 5.51, df = 562, p = .000) of EPC’E.
These values seem to indicate that the gender variable may be
associated with some of the social skills and behavior problems.
However, these are not related to the problems of Anxiety/
Somatic Problems (see Table 4).
By the analysis of variance ANOVA significant differences
between age and EAS factors wer e a lso found. Old er chi ldren are
the ones who have the hi ghest average in Social Cooperation (M =
28.39, S D = 6. 31, F = 7. 13, p = .000) and S oci al I nd e pen de nc e ( M
= 25.17, SD = 5.09, F = 3.50, p = .004), social skills. In the di-
mensions of behavior problems the youngest children (3 and
Table 2.
Intercorrelations among EAS and gender and age variables.
Factors Gender Age Social Cooperation Social Interaction Social Independence
Gender 1
Age - 1
Social Coope r ation .165** .217** 1
Social Interaction .137** - .554** 1
Social Independence .088* - .592** .645** 1
**p ≤ .01; N = 581; *p ≤ .05.
Table 3.
Intercorrelations among EPC and gender and age variables.
Factors Gender Age Self-Centered/
Explosive Attention
Problem/Overactive Antisocial/
Aggressive Social
Withdrawal Anxiety/Somatic
-Centered/Explosive .089* - 1
Problem/Overactive .228** .121** .795** 1
.226** .90* .786** .862** 1
Social Withdrawal
- .135** .541** .411** .433** 1
Anxiety/Somatic Problems
- - .687** .525** .500** .670** 1
**p ≤ .01; N = 581; *p ≤ .05.
Table 4.
Comparati ve among dimensions and gender.
Subscale Factors Gend er M SD t gl ƿ
Self-Cent ered/Explosive boy 6.66 4.48 2.12 560 .034
girl 5.87 4.35
Attention Problem/Overactive boy 12.79 7.13 5.56 564 .000
girl 9.58 6.61
Antisocial/Aggressive boy 9.74 7.41 5.51 562 .000
girl 6.48 6.65
Social Withdrawal boy 5.31 4.21 1.88 558 .060
girl 4.65 4.15
Anxiety/SomaticPro blems boy 7.45 4.64 0.577 563 .564
girl 7.23 4.57
Social Coope r ation boy 25.88 6.72 -3.96 558 .000
girl 27.96 5.71
Social Interaction boy 14.63 3.54 -3.29 563 .001
girl 15.66 3.84
Social Independenc e boy 24.22 5.09 -2.08 560 .038
girl 25.07 4.60
4 years) were the ones with higher mean values, either in the
Attention Problem/Overactive factor (M = 12.60, SD = 6.75, F
= 3.29 , p = . 006 ) or the Antisocial/Aggressive (M = 9.76, SD
= 7.41, F = 3.450, p = .005) E PC one. Older children (6 years
old) had significant differences in the problems of the Social
Withdrawal behaviors type (M = 7.04, SD = 4.45, F = 5.75, p
= .000) and Anxiety/Somatic problems (M = 9.01, SD = 4.83, F
= 4.00, p = .001).
Through studies of correlations and parametric tests between
the gender variables and factors of the Scale of Social Skills, it
was found that girls showed more social skills based on cooper-
ation and social interaction than boys. These results confirm
some studies such as Cecconello and Koller (2000), Gomes et
al. (2011).
In Scale Behavior Problems the boys have higher average
values in Attention Problem/Overactive and Antisocial/Ag-
gressive behaviors. These data seem to indicate that age and
gender may be associated with some of the social skills. Beha-
vior Problems, however, are not correlated with anxiety prob-
lems. These data can be explained by the fact that the girls
prove to be more competent in the use of strategies in resolving
conflicts, using significantly less often want to retaliation or
physical aggression (Walker, Irving, & Berthelsen, 2002). The
results also indicate that the age of children is correlated with
social withdrawal. Study (Simões & Sanches, 2006) showed
that age has an influence on the strategies used in conflict reso-
lution and the older children had more elaborate types of res-
ponses. For the authors, the strategies were aggression, appeal
to authority and avoidance or escape responses of pro-social
Gomes (2012) shows that early childhood educators with
more years of service develop teaching activities in public in-
stitutions which value more the social behaviors of the coopera-
tion and social interaction kind between children. However,
educators with less service time had more difficulty in dealing
with children with behavior problems Self-centered/Explosive,
Attention Problem/Overactive, Antisocial/Aggressive, Social
Withdrawal and Anxiety/Somatic Problems. For instance, Zhang
and Sun (2011) found reciprocal relations between externaliz-
ing problems and teacher-child conflict in preschool education.
Hence the need to intervene in specialized training. Some au-
thors (Alarcão, 2003; Alonso, 2003; Craft, 2004), show that
professionalism reflects on the ability of early childhood edu-
cators to, through a critical and creative analysis, regulate their
practice, deepen their knowledge and adapt their educational
action to specificity of students and the school.
Educators as professionals can help in the resolution of be-
havioral and emotional problems in children in an educational
context (Herrera & Little, 2005; Gomes, Pereira, & Vagos,
2013). Not to intervene in a reductive way, but proactively in
order to provide children, even at an early stage, with tech-
niques and set methods, such as cooperative learning, how to
deal with anger, how to reduce stress, especially for children
with predisposition to aggressive responses through relaxation
techniques, self-monitoring and cognitive coping strategies,
techniques of self-dialogue and troubleshooting. It’s very im-
portant to create healthy and constructive environments where
children participate. This must be a concern of current educa-
tional societies, because experiential components in self-regu-
lation, such as enjoyment of an activity, would be associated
with well-being.
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