Do Relational Risks and Protective Factors Moderate the Linkages between Childhood Aggression and Early Psychological and School Adjustment?

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Abstract

This investigation addressed the question of how relational stressors and supports interface with a known behavioral risk (aggression) to influence early emerging adjustment trajectories. Children's risk for aggression, as well as multiple relational risk and protective factors (i.e., stressful and supportive features of peer and teacher relationships), were assessed in a sample of 396 children and used to predict changes in psychological functioning and school adjustment from the fall of their kindergarten year to the spring of their first-grade year. Results were largely consistent with additive risk – maladjustment models; with few exceptions, relational experiences predicted adjustment beyond children's aggressive risk status. For some adjustment criteria, however, there was evidence to suggest that relational stressors or supports exacerbated or compensated for dysfunctions that were linked with aggressive behavior. Moreover, compared with early onset, the chronicity of children's aggressive risk status and relational stressors and supports bore a stronger association with changes in maladjustment. Analyses conducted by ethnic groups suggested that African American children, who were typically a minority among their European American classmates, were more likely to experience particular stressors (e.g., chronic peer rejection), and were less likely to be afforded some form of support (e.g., stable teacher – child closeness). However, the nature of the predictive linkages found between the relational risk and protective factors and later maladjustment did not differ substantially by SES or ethnicity. The importance of investigating behavioral risks in conjunction with the relational features of children's interpersonal environments is discussed.

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