Teacher-Child Pre-K Relations Predict Peer Victimization

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

This School Mental Health Minute episode focuses on how teacher-child relationships in pre-K predict children who will be victimized by classmates.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKhbw-L_s4Q&feature=youtu.be

We are featuring a journal article this week titled Teacher-child relationship, child withdrawal and aggression in the development of peer victimization. Young children can be targeted by their classmates starting in pre-kindergarten. Researchers have focused on the role of children’s peers in targeting particular classmates and how to intervene before the targeting occurs. The authors of this study wanted to look at another factor that could be contributing to this in the form of children’s interactions with their teachers.

The authors looked at close to 400 Australian children who were in pre-K and measured the conflict and closeness of the teacher-child relationship. They also looked at the children’s level of social withdrawal and aggression.

What the authors found is that children who have high levels of conflict with their teachers in pre-K are more likely to be victimized by their classmates and that the victimization continues into first grade. Those who are closer to their teachers are less likely to be victimized.

This finding emphasizes the important role of teachers in regards to setting classroom behavioral norms which children use as a way to judge their classmates. Frequent conflict with the teacher implies to classmates that those children are in the out-group and can be targeted. The victimization is more severe for children who are socially withdrawn in addition to having high levels of conflict with the teacher.

The takeaway is that pre-K teachers wield a powerful influence on children in their first years of schooling including establishing classroom norms of behavior and how to interact with other children. Schools should make these teachers more aware and provide training regarding the influence they have on their students regarding peer victimization and how they can influence peer dynamics.


Runions, K.C. & Shaw, T. (2013). Teacher-child relationship, child withdrawal and aggression in the development of peer victimization. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 34, 319-327.

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