Indirect Socialization in Preschool: How Teachers Harness Children’s Ability to Shape Peer Behavior

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Qualitative Sociology





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How do teachers use children to shape the behaviors of their peers, and which students benefit? In this qualitative case study of a half-day preschool classroom, I find that teachers encourage children to shape one another’s behavior in ways they regard as classroom-appropriate in order to prepare them for the student role in kindergarten and beyond. At the beginning of the school year, children use varying techniques to shape peer behavior, with some employing rudimentary strategies which may be effective but regarded as inappropriate for the classroom. To encourage preschoolers to influence their peers to behave in more appropriate ways, the teachers sequentially introduce three sets of strategies—simple communication, situational exclusion, and rewarding inclusion strategies—which prescribe increasingly nuanced rules for the children’s provision or denial of attention and inclusion as a means of influencing their peers to comply with classroom expectations. When, in their own peer interactions, the children interpretively reproduce the strategies learned in creative and occasionally excessive ways, the teachers intervene to provide coaching or more effective classroom-appropriate strategies. I show that this manner of teaching and learning school norms and rules advantages children who begin the year demonstrating classroom-appropriate behaviors and disadvantages those whose behaviors are initially less appropriate. These differential advantages have implications for students’ future interactions with the school disciplinary system.


Early childhood education, Preschool, Peer influence, Socialization, Teaching, Learning


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Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences