Faculty Publications


Family dynamics, preschoolers’ family representations, and preschool peer relationships.

SelectedWorks Author Profiles:

James P. McHale

Document Type


Publication Date


Date Issued

January 1999

Date Available

March 2012


Most prior studies of family-peer linkages during the preschool years have asked how mothers’ or fathers’ parenting practices contribute to early social competence. However, recent evidence from studies of family group-level processes raise the possibility that coparenting and family group process may also influence early social competence. This study traces pathways between family group-level dynamics, preschoolers’ family imagery, and peer behavior at nursery school, testing the hypothesis that children’s perceptions of family anger and aggression provide a link (through mediation and other indirect connections) between family process and early peer behavior. 43 four-year-olds used a set of doll family figures to tell stories about happy, sad, mad and worried families, and participated in a puppet interview in which they answered questions about family activities and family anger. Children’s projection of aggression into the doll family task and discomfort during the puppet interview were each related to both parent-child and family-level dynamics. Family-level variables were also associated with observed social behavior at preschool, with effects strongest for boys. Pathways linking low levels of support and mutuality in the coparenting relationship to problematic peer relationships were indirect and mediated rather than direct, with children’s family representations playing an intermediary role. By contrast, there was a direct pathway linking the family’s affective climate to positive peer behavior; children from families showing warm, positive relations among all family members displayed more positive and prosocial peer behavior at school. We propose that studies of early peer competence could benefit from a broadened definition of family process and from the inclusion of information about how preschoolers conceive of relationship dynamics within the family.


Abstract only. Full-text article is available only through licensed access provided by the publisher. Published in Early Education & Development, 10(3), 373-401. Members of the USF System may access the full-text of the article through the authenticated link provided.




Psychology Press