Background: Although the prevalence of bully/victim problems in school-age children and adolescents has been investigated in many countries, only a few studies have been carried out among younger children. This study examines social behaviors and peer relationships of children involved in bully/victim problems in kindergarten.
Methods: Three hundred and forty-four five- to seven-year-old children participated. Children were categorized as victims, bully-victims, bullies, and non-involved by means of teacher ratings and peer nominations. Teachers completed questionnaires on children's social behavior patterns. Peer relationships were assessed by means of peer nominations and social cluster mapping.
Results: Compared to non-involved children, victims were more submissive, had fewer leadership skills, were more withdrawn, more isolated, less cooperative, less sociable, and frequently had no playmates. As expected, bullies and bully-victims were generally more aggressive than their peers. In addition, bully-victims were less cooperative, less sociable, and more frequently had no playmates than non-involved children. Bullies were less prosocial, and had more leadership skills than non-involved children. Bullies belonged to larger social clusters and were frequently affiliated with other bullies or bully-victims.
Conclusions: We were able to establish distinct behavior patterns for bullies, bully-victims, and victims. Some of these social behaviors may be considered as risk factors for being victimized or becoming a bully. Our findings also emphasize the significance of peer relationships in bully/victim problems. On the one hand, victimized children's lack of friends might render them psychologically and socially vulnerable, and thus more prone to becoming easy targets. On the other hand, bullies seemed to be preferred playmates, particularly for other aggressive boys. This affiliation of aggressive children might lead to an increase in bullying behavior. Our understanding of the social and interactional nature of bullying and victimization has practical implications for prevention and intervention against bully/victim problems.