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A tool for identifying preschoolers' deficits in social competence: the Preschool Taxonomy of Problem Situations.

The purpose of this article is twofold. First, the article describes the development of the Preschool Taxonomy taxonomy: see classification.

In biology, the classification of organisms into a hierarchy of groupings, from the general to the particular, that reflect evolutionary and usually morphological relationships: kingdom, phylum, class, order,
 of Problem Situations (PTOPS PTOPS Pilot Transportation Operational Personal Property Standard System ), a preschool age-appropriate version of the Taxonomy of Problematic Social Situations. The PTOPS is a measure of preschoolers' social competence across specific social contexts. Second, the psychometric psy·cho·met·rics  
n. (used with a sing. verb)
The branch of psychology that deals with the design, administration, and interpretation of quantitative tests for the measurement of psychological variables such as intelligence, aptitude, and
 properties of the PTOPS are examined using a clinical sample of maltreated children, a population that is frequently characterized by social incompetence in·com·pe·tence or in·com·pe·ten·cy
1. The quality of being incompetent or incapable of performing a function, as the failure of the cardiac valves to close properly.

. The findings reveal that the PTOPS subscales demonstrate high internal reliability. The PTOPS subscales are also highly convergent with subscales of a widely used measure of preschoolers' problem behavior, the Preschool Behavior Questionnaire. However, the PTOPS subscales are not correlated cor·re·late  
v. cor·re·lat·ed, cor·re·lat·ing, cor·re·lates
1. To put or bring into causal, complementary, parallel, or reciprocal relation.

 with another frequently used measure of preschoolers' behavior, the Child Behavior Checklist/2-3. Possible explanations for this discrepancy DISCREPANCY. A difference between one thing and another, between one writing and another; a variance. (q.v.)
     2. Discrepancies are material and immaterial.
 are discussed, as well as potential practical applications of the PTOPS, and suggestions for future research with the measure.


Child maltreatment child maltreatment '…intentional harm or threat of harm to a child by someone acting in the role of a caretaker, for even a short time…Categories Physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect…', the last being most common.  has been repeatedly linked to the outcome of young children's difficulties with social interactions. In particular, maltreated children are at high risk for exhibiting aggressive behavior (Downey & Walker, 1992; Hoffman-Plotkin & Twentyman, 1984) and withdrawal (Kendall-Tacket, Williams, & Finkelhor, 1993). They are also less likely than nonmaltreated children to respond to friendly overtures o·ver·ture  
1. Music
a. An instrumental composition intended especially as an introduction to an extended work, such as an opera or oratorio.

 by adults (George & Maine, 1979). Because young maltreated children often demonstrate difficulties with social interactions, it is particularly important for practitioners who plan treatment programs for them to assess these children's social competence. Doing so may assist practitioners with both prevention and intervention efforts targeted toward improving children's social competence (Dodge, McClaskey, & Feldman, 1985).

The primary goal of this study was to develop a context-specific measure for practitioners working with preschoolers who have difficulties in social situations. This was accomplished by expanding on the Taxonomy of Problematic Social Situations (TOPS; Dodge et al., 1985). The TOPS, a paper and pencil survey that is completed by elementary school elementary school: see school.  teachers, is an exception to most social competence measures in that it acknowledges the significance of the social context on children's behavior. The TOPS consists of items that enable practitioners to identify the situational contexts that lead to social difficulties for target children. Findings from Dodge et al.'s (1985) research on 73 elementary school age children revealed that socially rejected children were rated by their teachers as responding less competently than the nonrejected children overall to the TOPS items. However, the socially rejected children were not reported as being incompetent incompetent adj. 1) referring to a person who is not able to manage his/her affairs due to mental deficiency (lack of I.Q., deterioration, illness or psychosis) or sometimes physical disability.  in all situations depicted de·pict  
tr.v. de·pict·ed, de·pict·ing, de·picts
1. To represent in a picture or sculpture.

2. To represent in words; describe. See Synonyms at represent.
 in the TOPS. Rather, they were conside red incompetent in particular situations, only those situations where they had been provoked by a peer. Dodge's findings demonstrate the clinical utility of the TOPS for use with socially incompetent children. For example, a clinician clinician /cli·ni·cian/ (kli-nish´in) an expert clinical physician and teacher.

 may target a child's behavior, such as aggression, that requires intervention. Since that behavior likely varies across different social situations in which the child is engaged, the TOPS may be used to identify the situational contexts that are particularly problematic for the child (Dodge et al., 1985).

Treatment planning In radiotherapy, Treatment Planning is the process in which a team consisting of radiation oncologists, medical radiation physicists and dosimetrists plan the appropriate external beam radiotherapy treatment technique for a patient with cancer. Typically, medical imaging (i.e.  for maltreated children can be even further facilitated if the measure of social competence being used identifies the specific situational contexts that are partic ularly problematic for those children. While numerous studies have focused on children's social competence (Coie, Dodge, Terry, & Wright, 1991; Foster, Inderbitzen, & Nangle, 1993), they typically do not address the contextual influence on children's social behavior In biology, psychology and sociology social behavior is behavior directed towards, or taking place between, members of the same species. Behavior such as predation which involves members of different species is not social. . The social contexts in which children interact are important to examine because they influence peer interactions, and consequently they influence the development of children's social competencies, such as turn-taking (Sinclair, Pettit, Harrist, Dodge, & Bates Bates   , Katherine Lee 1859-1929.

American educator and writer best known for her poem "America the Beautiful," written in 1893 and revised in 1904 and 1911.
, 1994), assertiveness assertiveness /as·ser·tive·ness/ (ah-ser´tiv-nes) the quality or state of bold or confident self-expression, neither aggressive nor submissive.  (Benenson, Aikins-Ford, & Apostoleris, 1998), and response to other children's aggression (DeRosier, Cillessen, Coie, & Dodge, 1994).

Nangle, Ellis, and Hansen (1994) further support the clinical utility of the TOPS instrument. Their investigation of 30 fifth graders demonstrates the instrument's high temporal stability and its convergence with three commonly used peer measures: (a) peer nominations of liking, or who the children like most and who they like least (Asher & Dodge, 1986; Dodge, Coie, & Brakke, 1982), (b) peer ratings of liking, or how much the children like to play with and work with each classmate (Kalfus & Berler, 1985), and (c) peer ratings on cooperativeness, disruptiveness, acting shy, starting fights, and leadership (Coie & Dodge, 1983). Teachers completed the TOPS on two occasions that were separated by an 8-week interval. The stability coefficients for the TOPS total and factor scores across the 8-week interval were all significant (p < .05), ranging from r = .57 to r = .91. The TOPS total and factor scores were significantly correlated with most of the peer ratings, except whom the child likes most (peer nominations of liking) and ratings of classmates' shyness (peer ratings of behavioral descriptors). Unlike the peer measures of children's social competence that are typically used, the TOPS does not require clinicians to confront the ethical issue of having children negatively evaluate their peers. Consequently, the TOPS may be the preferred social competence measure chosen by practitioners (Nangle et at., 1994). In addition, the TOPS measure requires less time to administer and score than the peer measures do. Furthermore, the peer measures that are typically administered to measure children's social competence do not identify specific s ocial situations that are problematic for children.

While the TOPS survey has been found to be quite useful as a measure of children's social competence (Dodge et al., 1985; Nangle et al., 1994), the items of the instrument are age-appropriate only to elementary school age children (e.g., references to school work and joining clubs). However, many patterns of social interaction appear at a younger age, during the preschool years. For example, cooperative behavior among siblings siblings npl (formal) → frères et sœurs mpl (de mêmes parents)  has been found to increase significantly from the ages of 18 months to 24 months (Dunn & Munn, 1986). Social conflict behaviors are also evident as early as the second year of life (Hartup & Laursen, 1993). Aggression is also found in preschoolers, particularly in maltreated preschoolers (George & Main, 1979; Haskett & Kistner, 1991). Perhaps the increase in aggression, as well as other social behaviors, during preschool age is the result of the increase in contact with peers over the preschool years (Bryant, 1985). Sinclair et al. (1994) found that preschool age children are indeed alr eady quite active in social networks, such as in play groups (e.g., Sunday school Sunday school, institution for instruction in religion and morals, usually conducted in churches as part of the church organization but sometimes maintained by other religious or philanthropic bodies.

In England during the 18th cent.
, dance lessons), and their neighborhoods. The evidence indicating that many social interaction patterns are present by preschool age suggests that a preschool age-appropriate version of the TOPS is warranted. It should be noted that while some measures currently being used were developed to assess preschoolers' behaviors (e.g., Preschool Behavior Questionnaire; Behar & Stringfield, 1974), unlike the TOPS measure, they do not take into consideration the situational context in which the behaviors occur.

The purpose of the study, therefore, was to expand on the TOPS in two ways. First, a preschool age-appropriate version of the TOPS instrument was developed. The preschool version, like the TOPS instrument, measures situation-specific social competence in children. Second, the psychometric properties of the revised measure, the Preschool Taxonomy of Problem Situations (PTOPS), were assessed employing a clinical sample of maltreated preschoolers. This particular sample was used because maltreated children constitute a population that is frequently characterized by difficulties with social interactions. In particular, the psychometric properties of the PTOPS that were assessed included internal reliability, and convergent validity Convergent validity is the degree to which an operation is similar to (converges on) other operations that it theoretically should also be similar to. For instance, to show the convergent validity of a test of mathematics skills, the scores on the test can be correlated with scores  of the measure with two frequently used measures of preschoolers' behavior, the Preschool Behavior Questionnaire (PBQ PBQ Poor Build Quality (UK electronics industry) ; Behar & Stringfield, 1974) and the Child Behavior Checklist/2-3 (CBCL/2-3; Achenbach, 1992).


Construction of the PTOPS

The Taxonomy of Problematic Social Situations

Since the PTOPS is a revised version Revised Version
A British and American revision of the King James Version of the Bible, completed in 1885.

Revised Version
 of the TOPS measure, an overview of the TOPS is first provided, followed by a description of the development of the PTOPS. In order to develop the TOPS, Dodge et al. (1985) enlisted en·list·ed  
Of, relating to, or being a member of a military rank below a commissioned officer or warrant officer.

 the assistance of elementary school teachers and clinical psychologists This list includes notable Clinical Psychologists and contributors to Clinical psychology, some of whom may not have thought of themselves primarily as Clinical psychologists but are included here because of their important contributions to the discipline.  in identifying social situations that are likely to result in relationship problems among school-age children and their peers. The resulting measure consisted of 44 items that constituted the following six clusters: (a) Peer Group Entry, (b) Response to Provocation Conduct by which one induces another to do a particular deed; the act of inducing rage, anger, or resentment in another person that may cause that person to engage in an illegal act. , (c) Response to Failure, (d) Response to Success, (e) Social Expectations, and (f) Teacher Expectations. Sixteen aggression-related items constituting two clusters, Reactive Aggression and Proactive Aggression, were later added. The resulting TOPS instrument consists of 60 items that constitute eight clusters. Items are rated on a Likert-type scale ranging from (1) the "situation is never a problem for the child" to (5) the "situation is almost always a problem for the child." A high subscale score indicates that the child frequently exhibits a problem in the area.

The Preschool Taxonomy of Problem Situations (PTOPS)

A preschool version of the Taxonomy of Problem Situations was created by revising the original TOPS with the author's permission (K. A. Dodge, personal communication, December 15, 1993). The instrument was revised so that it would be age-appropriate to preschoolers, yet retain as closely as possible the situational contexts identified in the TOPS, allowing for children's social competence to be measured in various contexts (e.g., when a peer calls the child a bad name).

Nine TOPS items were initially identified by the principal investigator Noun 1. principal investigator - the scientist in charge of an experiment or research project

scientist - a person with advanced knowledge of one or more sciences
 as requiring revisions. Six of those items were age-inappropriate because they referred to the child's school work or assignments, one item referred to peers starting a club, one item referred to a peer asking how the target child was feeling, and one item referred to a situation when the teacher was not in the room. While these items describe situations in which elementary school children may find themselves, the situations are not as likely to occur in preschool classrooms. Therefore, age-appropriate replacements for the unsuitable TOPS items were developed.

Preschool teachers and child development faculty at a Midwestern university The P.A. Program is a 2-year program that starts in the summer. The D.O.,Pharm D., and Psy.D are 4-year programs. The D.O. degree is the legal and professional equivalent of the M.D.  were then asked to be involved in developing the PTOPS. Specifically, they were asked to review the proposed changes, provide examples for items, and make additional suggestions. A common response from those who returned their suggestions was that, since competitive games were not encouraged in a developmentally appropriate preschool classroom, the word "games" needed to be replaced in several items (e.g., When a peer takes this child's turn during a game). For five of the twelve game-related items, it was possible to simply omit o·mit  
tr.v. o·mit·ted, o·mit·ting, o·mits
1. To fail to include or mention; leave out: omit a word.

a. To pass over; neglect.

 the term "game" without changing the meaning of the items (e.g., When this child is asked by a peer to share his or her toy or game). The other seven game-related items required revisions that resulted in slight changes in the meaning of the items. Another suggestion was that the words "he," "she," "him," and "her" be changed to "s/he" and "him/her." Teachers and faculty also suggested that specific examples be provided for three items, which aided in clarifying the items. The following are examples of some original TOPS items and their corresponding PTOPS items.
TOPS item                            PTOPS item

When a peer performs better than     When a peer performs better than
this child in schoolwork.            this child on a project or activity
                                     (such as painting a picture or
                                     climbing a play structure).

When a group of peers have started   When peers start to play as a group
a club or a group and have not       and do not include this child.
included this child.

When this child is in the classroom  When this child is in the classroom
with peers and the teacher must      with peers and the teacher is not
leave the room for a short period    nearby.
of time.

When this child has won a game       When this child does better at
against a peer.                      an activity than a peer.

After all revisions were made, 23 items, which were now more preschool-age appropriate than those on the original TOPS, were combined with the non-revised TOPS items to constitute the new measure. Revisions were then submitted to the author of the TOPS, who approved use of the revised TOPS version (K. A. Dodge, personal communication, February 27, 1994). The revised measure, the Preschool Taxonomy of Problem Situations (PTOPS), will be described more thoroughly later, along

with the other measures used in the study.


The sample of preschoolers was selected from a Midwestern metropolitan area treatment center serving maltreated children and their families. This sample of 42 maltreated children was selected because maltreated children often have social competence problems. The children's ages ranged from 2.8 to 5.1 years (M = 4.1 years). Of the preschoolers, 24 were males, and 18 were females. Race was represented by 25 African American African American Multiculture A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. See Race.  children and 17 Caucasian children. Half the maltreated children (21) were enrolled in the extended treatment program (weekly therapy sessions and family group activities at the center) and the remaining 21 preschoolers were enrolled in the day treatment program (attended the center five days a week). All 42 children were in levels of treatment commensurate com·men·su·rate  
1. Of the same size, extent, or duration as another.

2. Corresponding in size or degree; proportionate: a salary commensurate with my performance.

 with the level of maltreatment maltreatment Social medicine Any of a number of types of unreasonable interactions with another adult. See Child maltreatment, Cf Child abuse. . Of the children, 16 had been neglected, 9 had been sexually abused, 11 had been both physically abused and neglected, and the remaining 6 had been victims of multiple types of maltreatment (e.g., neglect, s exual abuse, and physical abuse; neglect and sexual abuse).

The adults who were asked to complete the measures were primary caregivers and teachers/therapists of the preschoolers at the treatment center. The caregivers consisted of 14 parents, 12 grandparents, 11 non-relative foster parents, and 5 aunts/uncles. The length of time that foster parents had known the target child ranged from 5 to 24 months. In no instance was the caregiver care·giv·er
1. An individual, such as a physician, nurse, or social worker, who assists in the identification, prevention, or treatment of an illness or disability.

 also the perpetrator A term commonly used by law enforcement officers to designate a person who actually commits a crime.  of the child abuse. Four teachers of children enrolled in day treatment and eight therapists of children enrolled in extended treatment also served as respondents. The therapists, like the teachers, were familiar with the children's peer interactions in the treatment center classrooms. The teachers and therapists completed different questionnaires from those completed by the caregivers.


The intent of this study was to develop a preschool age-appropriate version of the TOPS, and to examine the psychometric properties of the revised instrument, including internal reliability and convergent validity. In line with recommendations from researchers (Conaway & Hansen, 1989; Reid, Kavanagh, & Baldwin, 1987), assessment of the participating children's behavior was not limited to one respondent's ratings on one instrument. The instruments used in the present study consisted of three paper and pencil measures, two of which were completed by treatment center teachers/therapists and one that was completed by caregivers. Specifically, the measures used in the study included the PTOPS and the Preschool Behavior Questionnaire (Behar & Stringfield, 1974), both of which were completed by the treatment center's teachers/therapists. The third measure, the Child Behavior Checklist/2-3 (Achenbach, 1992), was completed by each child's caregiver. The PBQ and CBCL/2-3 were used to test the convergent validity of the PTOPS.

The Preschool Taxonomy of Problem Behaviors (PTOPS)

The PTOPS is a 60-item paper and pencil questionnaire used to assess children's responses to problematic social situations. The intended respondents of the PTOPS are preschool teachers and practitioners familiar with the target preschoolers' peer interactions in classroom-type settings. Similar to the original TOPS, items are rated on a scale ranging from (1) the "situation is never a problem for the child" to (5) the "situation is almost always a problem for the child." The PTOPS scale is scored the same as that of the TOPS scale, by summing the items. The PTOPS consists of the same eight subscales that were part of the TOPS instrument. A high subscale score indicates that the child frequently exhibits a problem in the area. A brief description of each subscale follows.

Peer Group Entry refers to the preschooler's attempts to join a group of peers and his/her response to being rejected by the group. Response to Provocation refers to the child's response to peers' accidental or purposeful pur·pose·ful  
1. Having a purpose; intentional: a purposeful musician.

2. Having or manifesting purpose; determined: entered the room with a purposeful look.
 provocation, such as calling the child a name. While the Response to Failure subscale addresses how the child responds to not doing well at activities, Response to Success taps into how the child reacts to excelling at activities. Social Expectations refers to the child's abilities to adhere to adhere to
verb 1. follow, keep, maintain, respect, observe, be true, fulfil, obey, heed, keep to, abide by, be loyal, mind, be constant, be faithful

 social norms, such as sharing, cooperating, and communicating appropriately with peers. The subscale, Teacher Expectations, addresses how the child meets requests from the teacher, as well as how the child interacts with peers when the teacher is not nearby. Reactive Aggression is the subscale that targets if and when the child reacts aggressively to provocation by peers, while Proactive Aggression refers to if and when the child aggresses against his/her peers without prior provocation.

The PTOPS is intended to be a tool for both prevention and intervention efforts. Specifically, one purpose of the PTOPS is to aid in the identification of preschoolers who have deficits in social competence and, consequently, are at risk for later maladaptive Maladaptive
Unsuitable or counterproductive; for example, maladaptive behavior is behavior that is inappropriate to a given situation.

Mentioned in: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
 outcomes. Moreover, the specific contexts of the preschooler's social maladjustment social maladjustment Psychiatry An extreme difficulty in dealing appropriately with other people  may be identified by using the PTOPS. As a result, the measure may be particularly useful in planning treatments for children who have difficulties with their social skills. For example, a clinician may recognize from the PTOPS results that a preschooler's difficulties with social interactions occur only in response to being rejected by peers. The clinician may then tailor the intervention accordingly. In addition, the PTOPS may be used longitudinally lon·gi·tu·di·nal  
a. Of or relating to longitude or length: a longitudinal reckoning by the navigator; made longitudinal measurements of the hull.

 to monitor the effects of intervention programs that target preschoolers with deficits in social competence.

The Preschool Behavior Questionnaire (PBQ)

The PBQ (Behar & Stringfield, 1974) is a 30-item paper and pencil instrument that assesses behavioral and emotional problems. The items are relevant to situations that are likely to occur in a classroom or treatment setting and, therefore, may be completed by teachers or therapists. Items are rated on a scale of (0) "doesn't apply," (1) "applies sometimes," and (2) "certainly applies." The PBQ consists of three subscales: (a) Hostile-Aggressive, (b) Anxious-Fearful, and (c) Hyperactive-Distractible. Scores for the PBQ subscales are obtained by summing the responses for the items constituting the subscales. High subscale scores are indicative of the preschooler pre·school·er  
1. A child who is not old enough to attend kindergarten.

2. A child who is enrolled in a preschool.

Noun 1.
 having behavioral difficulties in the area. Interrater reliability of the PBQ was reported by the author of the instrument to be .81. Test-retest reliability (3-month interval) was .87 (Behar, 1977). For the present study, Cronbach's alpha Cronbach's (alpha) has an important use as a measure of the reliability of a psychometric instrument. It was first named as alpha by Cronbach (1951), as he had intended to continue with further instruments.  was .91.

The Child Behavior Checklist/2-3 (CBLC/2-3)

The CBCL/2-3 (Achenbach, 1992) is a 100-item paper and pencil instrument designed to obtain from caregivers ratings of their preschoolers' behavioral and emotional problems. Respondents rate the child on items with a scale ranging from 0 to 2, indicating a range from "not true" to "very true or often." Items from the CBCL/2-3 constitute six syndromes, or problems that tend to occur in conjunction with one another. They are (a) Anxious/Depressed, (b) Withdrawn, (c) Sleep Problems, (d) Somatic somatic /so·mat·ic/ (so-mat´ik)
1. pertaining to or characteristic of the soma or body.

2. pertaining to the body wall in contrast to the viscera.

 Problems, (e) Aggressive Behavior, and (f) Destructive Behavior. Items are summed to create each subscale score. A high subscale score indicates that the preschooler frequently exhibits problems in that area. Interrater reliability of the CBCL/2-3 was reported by the author of the measure to be .67 and .60 for parents of 2- and 3-year-olds, respectively. The test-retest reliability (1 week interval) was .91 (Achenbach, 1992). Evidence of the CBCL/2-3's construct validity construct validity,
n the degree to which an experimentally-determined definition matches the theoretical definition.
 with the Behavior Checklist (Richman, Stevenson, & Graham, 1982) has been noted in two separate studies. A correlation of .62 was obtained in a study by Koot and Verhulst (as cited in Achenbach, 1992), and Spiker, Kraemer, Constantine, and Bryant obtained a correlation of .77 (as cited in Achenbach, 1992). For the present study, the internal reliability of the CBCL/2-3 was .95.


The children's teachers/therapists at the treatment center completed the PTOPS and PBQ measures. Specifically, day treatment participants' teachers were given the PTOPS and PBQ to complete for each research participant in their class. Therapists of children enrolled in extended treatment completed the PTOPS and PBQ for their clients who were participants in the present study. Measures were collected from the teachers and therapists approximately two weeks after they were distributed.

The caregivers completed the consent forms and CBCL/2-3 at the treatment center. They were then given remuneration REMUNERATION. Reward; recompense; salary. Dig. 17, 1, 7.  upon completion of the forms. Caregivers of children enrolled in day treatment were given $50.00 because they were required to make a special trip to the treatment center to participate in the study. Extended treatment caregivers, however, were already at the treatment center for their child's therapy session when the data were collected. Therefore, they were given $25.00 remuneration. In most cases, the target child's caregiver and teacher completed their questionnaires within the same two week time range. This was done to prevent any effects of the time of response. For both the day treatment and extended treatment groups of caregivers, a research assistant and staff member of the treatment center who was involved in the research project distributed the forms to the caregivers and were available for assistance in completing the forms when necessary.

Since the data were collected within only a three-month time frame, the length of time that the target children had been in treatment varied. At the time of data collection, the mean length of time in treatment was 8.3 months. The range was 2 months to 2 years and 6 months in treatment. The majority (82%) of the children had been in treatment a year or less.


Means, standard deviations, and ranges of scores were calculated for the three measures used in the study (see Table 1).

Internal Reliability

To test for internal reliability, Cronbach's alpha correlation coefficients were calculated for each of the eight PTOPS subscales. Similar to the original TOPS subscales, the PTOPS subscales were found to have high internal consistency In statistics and research, internal consistency is a measure based on the correlations between different items on the same test (or the same subscale on a larger test). It measures whether several items that propose to measure the same general construct produce similar scores.  (see Table 2). The subscales' alphas ranged from .89 to .95. The alpha correlation coefficient Correlation Coefficient

A measure that determines the degree to which two variable's movements are associated.

The correlation coefficient is calculated as:
 for the total PTOPS scale, identical to that of the original TOPS correlation coefficient, was .98.

Convergent Validity

To determine the convergent validity of the PTOPS measure, Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients were calculated between the PTOPS subscales and the subscales of the PBQ and the CBCL/2-3. The Bonferonni family-wise correction was calculated, and the resulting criterion significance levels were .002 for the PTOPS-PBQ correlations, and .001 for the PTOPS-CBCL/2-3 correlations. Some evidence of convergent validity was found as the PTOPS subscales were significantly correlated with all three PBQ subscales (see Table 3). As expected, the significant correlations were all positive. For example, scores on the PTOPS subscale of Peer Group Entry (for which high scores indicated problem social behavior with peer group entry) were positively correlated with the PBQ subscale of Hostile-Aggression. Thus, preschoolers who were rated as having high aggression with peers were more likely to have difficulties with the social situations related to peer group entry.

There was no evidence of convergence of the PTOPS and CBCL/2-3 measures. After using the Bonferonni test to correct for significant correlations occurring merely due to chance, none of the PTOPS subscales were significantly correlated with the CBCL/2-3 subscales (see Table 4).


The findings of the present study provide some support for the use of the PTOPS as a measure of preschool-aged children's social behaviors. Although future psychometric analyses are warranted to substantiate To establish the existence or truth of a particular fact through the use of competent evidence; to verify.

For example, an Eyewitness might be called by a party to a lawsuit to substantiate that party's testimony.
 the validity and clinical utility of the PTOPS, findings from this study indicate that the PTOPS clearly shows promise. Unlike other measures of preschoolers' behavior that address only a few areas of behavior (e.g., the Preschool Behavior Questionnaire; Behar & Stringfield, 1974), the PTOPS has eight subscales, which were found to have high internal consistency. Furthermore, subscales of the PTOPS were found to be convergent with subscales of the PBQ, which is frequently used to assess preschool children's problem behavior.

It is important to note that while the PTOPS subscales were significantly correlated with all three PBQ subscales, they were correlated with none of the CBCL/2-3 subscales. This suggests that the PTOPS, which is completed by teachers (or others familiar with a preschooler's classroom social behaviors), has greater convergent validity with another teacher-completed measure, the PBQ than with the caregiver-completed measure, the CBCL/2-3. Perhaps reporter effects contributed to the discrepancy between the PBQ and CBCL/2-3 in the validity analyses. That is, the PTOPS and PBQ were completed by the same set of respondents, while the CBCL/2-3 was completed by a different set of respondents.

In addition, the discrepancy in the validity findings may have been due, in part, to the fact that the settings in which the two sets of respondents observed the target children differed. That is, teachers/therapists based their responses on observations of the target children made in the classroom, while caregivers may have responded based on observations made primarily in the home. Children's social interactions may very well differ between the classroom and home settings. For example, the classroom setting is likely to involve more structured activities than the home, consequently resulting in different social interactions for the children when they are in the classroom versus the home. Furthermore, teachers'/therapists' classroom observations were based on target children's peer interactions. However, caregivers' observations made in the home are likely to be based on the target children's interactions with siblings and/or other relatives, as well as peers. A child's interactions with siblings may differ from their interactions with peers. For example, Dunn (1988) suggests that young sibling sibling /sib·ling/ (sib´ling) any of two or more offspring of the same parents; a brother or sister.

 relationships are distinctive from other relationships in their competitiveness. Thus, the PBQ and CBCL/2-3 may have inadvertently been used in the present study to measure two different types of social interactions: those with peers and those with siblings or other relatives, such as cousins.

Another possible explanation for why there was convergence of the PTOPS and PBQ, but not the PTOPS and CBCL/2-3, may be related to the target children's ages. Over half (24) of the children were 4- or 5-year-olds. While the PBQ is appropriate for observations of 3- to 6-year-olds, the CBCL/2-3 targets only 2- and 3-year-olds. Consequently, it is possible that the CBCL/2-3 did not provide valid scores for the 4- and 5-year-olds, thus serving as a source of error in the analysis.

Implications for Practitioners and Future Research

The PTOPS, as a measure of preschoolers' deficits in social competence, has the potential for clinical utility. Specifically, the PTOPS (a) is convergent with subscales of another measure of preschoolers' social behavior, (b) is internally consistent, (c) identifies specific social situations that may be particularly problematic for some preschoolers, and (d) is relatively easy for practitioners to administer and score, and therefore offers the potential to be a very valuable clinical tool for purposes of social skills intervention. Using the PTOPS may, therefore, assist practitioners in planning their treatment program so that it more specifically addresses the needs of the target child. That is, they may use the PTOPS to reliably assess preschoolers' social competence, and to do so while identifying the specific social situations that are particularly problematic for the preschoolers. Moreover, longitudinal lon·gi·tu·di·nal
Running in the direction of the long axis of the body or any of its parts.
 use of the PTOPS may help determine the effects of social skills intervention.

Future research on the PTOPS is warranted. As the present study was an initial step in addressing the role of the social context on preschoolers' difficulties with social interactions, the study has limitations, including those related to the sample. Only 42 participants were involved in the present study. In future research with the PTOPS, inclusion of a larger sample would allow for a factor analysis to be conducted on the PTOPS, in order to determine if it truly is a preschool-age equivalent to the original TOPS measure. Furthermore, inclusion of both a clinical group and a non-clinical group of preschoolers in the sample would be beneficial, in order to provide support for the clinical utility of the PTOPS. That is, analyses could be conducted to determine if the PTOPS accurately discriminates between the preschoolers of the clinical group versus the non-clinical group.

An additional recommendation is that future research assess age effects on children's social competence. Hartup and Laursen (1993) reported that while toddlers have conflict most often over possessions, by the time children start school, they are just as likely to engage in conflict over social, or interpersonal in·ter·per·son·al  
1. Of or relating to the interactions between individuals: interpersonal skills.

, issues. Therefore, some situations identified in the PTOPS may have been more problematic for some participants than others merely as a function of their ages. The ages of the children in the present study ranged from 2.8 years to 5.1 years. Although there was a relatively large age range represented, there were insufficient numbers at particular ages; therefore, age effects were not examined.

In conclusion, the present study has taken initial steps in developing a measure for assessing preschoolers' deficits in social competence. The PTOPS is an important new measure as it has the potential to provide clinical utility for those working with preschoolers who have social competence problems. Most of the social competence measures target elementary school age children. Furthermore, the PTOPS, unlike other measures of preschoolers' social competence, identifies the situational contexts that tend to be most socially problematic for children. In addition, the PTOPS also shows potential for clinical utility because it specifically targets preschool age children, is characterized by high internal reliability, and converges with subscales of another measure of preschoolers' social behavior. Therefore, although it warrants further psychometric analyses, the PTOPS has the potential to be used by practitioners in their prevention and intervention efforts targeted toward preschoolers' problems with social comp comp

See comparison.
 etence. Furthermore, since the PTOPS targets children as young as preschoolers, it offers the potential for earlier intervention than would have been available otherwise.

Means, Standard Deviations, and Ranges of Scores for the PTOPS, PBQ, and
CBCL (N = 42)

Measure  M       SD     Range of Scores

PTOPS    150.90  40.97  63 - 218
PBQ       15.44   9.27   3 - 33
CBCL      67.74  28.97   4 - 138
Table 2

Cronbach's Alpha Correlation Coefficients for PTOPS and TOPS Subscales

Subscale                 TOPS    PTOPS

Peer Group Entry         .95 **  .91 *
Response to Provocation  .97 **  .94 **
Response to Failure      .95 **  .89 **
Response to Success      .89 **  .92 *
Social Expectations      .94 **  .95 **
Teacher Expectations     .95 **  .89 **
Reactive Aggression      -       .94 **
Proactive Aggression     -       .91 **
Total Scale              .98 **  .98 **

Note. The Reactive and Proactive Aggression subscales were added to the
TOPS scale after the instrument was published. Therefore, their
respective Cronbach's alpha correlation coefficients were not available.

* p<.01

** p<.001
Table 3

Convergent Validity of the PTOPS Subscale Scores with PBQ Subscale
Scores: Pearson Product-Moment Correlations

                                PTOPS Subscale
PBQ           Peer Group  Response to  Response to  Response to
Subscale      Entry       Provocation  Failure      Success

Hostile-      .66 *       .81 *        .71 *        .43
Anxious       .60 *       .56 *        .53 *        .21
Hyperactive-  .57 *       .59 *        .34          .02

                                 PTOPS Subscale
PBQ           Social        Teacher       Reactive    Proactive
Subscale      Expectations  Expectations  Aggression  Aggression

Hostile-      .71 *         .65 *         .79 *       .61 *
Anxious       .57 *         .53 *         .56 *       .36
Hyperactive-  .60 *         .76 *         .40         .21

Note. Bonferonni's family-wise correction was calculated for the
PTOPS-PBQ correlations. The resulting criterion alpha level was .002.

* p < .002
Table 4

Convergent Validity of the PTOPS Subscale Scores with CBCL/2-3 Subscale
Scores: Pearson Product- Moment Correlations

                                  PTOPS Subscale
CBCL            Peer Group  Response to  Response to  Response to
Subscale        Entry       Provocation  Failure      Success

Anxious          .23         .04         .03          .19
Withdrawn        .31         .07         .09          .30
Sleep Problems  -.10        -.18         .06          .35
Somatic          .15         .23         .25          .39
Aggression       .25         .13         .22          .28
Destructive      .20         .25         .27          .10

                                   PTOPS Subscale
CBCL            Social        Teacher       Reactive    Proactive
Subscale        Expectations  Expectations  Aggression  Aggression

Anxious          .17           .04          -.02        -.09
Withdrawn        .19           .08           .00         .09
Sleep Problems  -.10          -.28          -.11         .15
Somatic          .29           .16           .23         .16
Aggression       .35           .24           .05        -.07
Destructive      .31           .31           .12        -.07

Note. Bonferonni's family-wise correlations was calculated for the
PTOPS-CBCL/2-3 correlations. The resulting criterion alpha level was
.001. None of the correlations were significant at this level.


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Date:May 1, 2002
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