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This article was published 26/10/2011 (3043 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
MONTREAL - Fostering a good relationship with their teachers could pay dividends for children beyond the classroom, protecting them from acting out aggressively and being targeted by their peers, a Canadian-led study suggests.
Psychology professor Mara Brendgen from the University of Quebec at Montreal led the study, which also involved researchers at Laval University, the University of Montreal, the University of Alabama and University College Dublin.
Published in the journal Child Development, the study set out to explore the source of aggression in children and the role of genetic factors and social interactions in their everyday environment influencing aggressive behaviour.
Researchers say that children's relationships with peers and teachers are key to their social and behavioural development. As a result, conflicts that may arise between students and both classmates and instructors can potentially aggravate aggression in some kids.
"Problematic relationships with peers and teachers may not only play an important role in maintaining or increasing aggressive behaviour in the child, but such negative relationship experiences may themselves be fostered by a child’s aggressive behaviour," researchers write.
The study looked at Grade 1 students in the greater Montreal area, specifically 217 pairs of identical and fraternal twins with an average age of seven when assessed. Data were only used in the analysis of twins who were in different classrooms.
Classmates were asked to rate the level of aggressive behaviour exhibited by the twins and the extent to which they were victimized by peers. Meanwhile, the twins' teachers were asked to rate the quality of their relationship with each child, assessed through their ratings of items from the closeness and conflict sub scales of the Teacher–Child Relationships scale.
The study estimated the genetic effects on aggression by comparing the similarity in behaviours of both identical and fraternal twin pairs.
The research revealed that the kids who were genetically vulnerable to being aggressive were more susceptible to being victimized by their peers than other students. Yet in those instances, kids were protected from acting out aggressively or being targeted by other kids if they had a very good relationship with their teacher — one that was warm, affectionate and involved open communication.
Researchers acknowledge the study has several limitations including that the teacher-child relationship only measures and reflects the perspective of the adult.
They write that in future studies, inclusion of the child’s perspective or direct observations of the teacher-child relationship would provide important additional information. Findings also need to be replicated with more comprehensive measures and larger samples, while testing potential differences between the sexes when looking at the gene-environment linkages between child aggression, peer victimization and the teacher-child relationship.
But despite limitations, researchers write that the current study offers important insights into the link between aggressive behaviour as well as kids' relationships with peers and teachers.
"Our results show that, while a possible genetic propensity to aggressive behaviour may increase a child’s risk of victimization by the peer group, a positive relationship with the teacher might indirectly offset this risk by reducing the expression of this genetic propensity," researchers wrote.
Results also emphasize the importance of teaching social interaction skills promoting positive social relations not just with preventive measures for at-risk kids but also in early education teacher training, researchers concluded.