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Pretend and Physical Play: Links to Preschoolers’ Affective Social Competence

This study investigated different forms of pretend and physical play as predictors of preschool children’s affective social competence (ASC). Data were collected from 122 preschool children (57 boys, 65 girls; 86 European American, 9 African American, 17 Hispanic, and 10 other ethnicity) over a 2-year period. Children participated in emotion knowledge interviews, mothers rated children’s emotion regulation skill, and observations were conducted of children’s emotional expressiveness with peers in both Years 1 and 2. Naturalistic observations of children’s peer play behavior were conducted to assess the proportion of time children spend in pretend and physical play in Year 1. Analyses revealed that sociodramatic play predicted children’s emotional expressiveness, emotion knowledge, and emotion regulation 1 year later, after controlling for Year 1 ASC skills. Rough-and-tumble play predicted children’s emotional expressiveness and emotion regulation 1 year later, whereas exercise play predicted only emotion regulation. Some associations between sociodramatic play and rough-and-tumble play and children’s ASC were moderated by gender.